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Steelers’ tantalizing draft haul worth the anxious moments

It got a little tense for the Steelers’ hierarchy as the NFL Draft progressed, as they waited and hoped Troy Fautanu would be there for them on the first round and Zach Frazier on the second.

“I would say that is accurate, yeah,” General Manager Omar Khan confirmed.

Good things, apparently really do come to those who wait.

The Steelers could have been forgiven for trading up in the first round, as they had done last year to secure offensive tackle Broderick Jones, or in the second round in pursuit of Frazier.

Instead, they held their ground, maintained possession of the draft capital it would have taken to make such a move and invested it in more prospects in subsequent rounds, and still got the offensive tackle they wanted and the center they needed.

It wasn’t because they knew the draft would unfold the way it eventually did.

It was because they were prepared enough to have what they perceived to be legitimate options available to them in the event it didn’t.

“I think we're just making decisions moment to moment based on what's available, whether or not it's attractive to us and how much the phone is ringing,” Tomlin maintained. “We roll our sleeves up, we do a lot of work before we get into these scenarios. When you're prepared, it makes for a good weekend.

“We've been working long and hard, obviously, our scouting department over the course of a 12-month calendar, and then (Khan) and I had an opportunity to get shoulder-to-shoulder and do a bunch of traveling, all for the purpose of preparedness so that you could feel the way we felt this weekend and just allow things to happen and make the moves necessary in an effort to round out our group.”

Tomlin’s contributions toward that end included his annual presence at Pro Days and the Senior Bowl (along with the rest of the NFL).

Except Tomlin didn’t just attend Senior Bowl Week, he got knee-deep in it.

He was on the field in Mobile, Ala., not just observing drills but also coaching up the participants when such opportunities arose and even orchestrating matchups in practices.

Perhaps the best example of that was Tomlin convincing Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson and Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell they needed to go 1-on-1 against one another as many times as possible.

“He just kind of pulled us both to the side and was just like, ‘You two tomorrow, every rep,’” Wilson reported.

Those practice reps weren’t conducted exclusively for the Steelers.

The rest of the league was also privy to what transpired when one of the more highly-regarded receivers in the draft class went up against perhaps the best cornerback available for selection.

But the extent to which Tomlin was willing to go to manufacture those individual confrontations speaks to the urgency with which the Steelers have been operating ever since team president Art Rooney II decreed it was time urgency was applied to the franchise’s inability to win playoff games, a drought that has reached seven seasons and counting.

Tomlin, by the way, wasn’t officially a member of either coaching staff in Mobile.

“I was self-appointed,” he acknowledged.

Such energy and enthusiasm, the willingness to put in the required work to achieve the necessary state of preparedness is nothing new for Tomlin.

Nor is it a guarantee that a particular player or a particular draft class will pan out as anticipated.

There’s plenty of recent evidence on the Steelers’ ledger to the contrary.

But if the early returns are any indication, the Steelers hit on two starters (Fautanu and Frazier) and two impact players (Wilson and inside linebacker Payton Wilson) in this year’s NFL Annual Selection Meeting.

They also did that a year ago with Jones, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., defensive tackle Keeanu Benton and outside linebacker Nick Herbig (tight end Darnell Washington may yet join that foursome if the Steelers ever decided to actually throw him the ball).

And when that happens two years in a row, teams tend to get better quickly.

That doesn’t occur without a few anxious moments, but nor does it happen by accident. 


NFL Combine

Photo: Stacy Revere / Getty Images Sport / Getty Images

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