The Pittsburgh Steelers got a fantastic level of production out of their 2016 rookie draft class, featuring three starters who combined for four interceptions, about half a dozen sacks, and a fumble recovered for a touchdown during the regular season, in addition to about 150 tackles.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin knows better than to expect to duplicate that sort of success in terms of first-year production entering the 2017 NFL Draft, the creation of which was the byproduct of a combination of factors, not the least of which was the opportunity for each of those players to ascend, which is often not the case.
“I am not going to use the success of those three men to talk about our process”, Tomlin said when discussing how the team goes about their business leading up to the draft, as though it’s just a matter of doing things the right way to get the same results every year.
Those three men are first-round cornerback Artie Burns, second-round safety Sean Davis, and third-round defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Each of them entered the starting lineup at different points of the season, but all played a critical role for the defensive during the home stretch.
“I think, really, it’s just a reflection of those three men”, Tomlin said about witnessing the sort of productivity the Steelers were able to get from their top three picks in the last draft. “The talent that they brought and the work that they were willing to put in, and really the opportunity that was presented to them, it takes all three”.
That is, of course, the crux of the discussion right there, with Tomlin highlighting the fact that a myriad of factors play into just about any instance of a young player ascending into a prominent role virtually off the bat.
It starts with having the raw ability to be able to perform at the level required for the job, and it must be accompanied by the willingness to put in the work that it takes to harness that talent successfully in a way that allows you to perform your job consistently. And most importantly, there must be the opportunity for that upward mobility in terms of not significant challenges to the starting job.
The Steelers filled three holes in the starting lineup last year, and there aren’t many left. I would be hard to imagine the team managing to find any more than perhaps one player in the 2017 NFL Draft that works his way into the starting lineup by the end of his rookie season, if even that, and it would likely require an outside linebacker, a tight end, or maybe a cornerback in the first or second round to measure up.
In other words, don’t start using last year’s draft class and their impact on the team during their rookie season as the measuring stick for expectations this year, or really any year, unless the Steelers really bottom out and their roster is gutted of talent. Generally, you don’t want to have opportunities for rookies to start.