As is always the case, after the Pittsburgh Steelers make a first-round selection, it is followed by a press conference held by Head Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert. Yesterday’s press conference was held to talk about the selection of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, whom they added with the 30th-overall pick.
Watt has been regarded by many as a ‘raw’ prospect with a lot of upside, both of which were pointed out to Tomlin, and he seemed to refute both of them. On his unrefined nature, he chose to paint Watt as inexperienced rather than raw.
And when asked why they prefer, he said, “very rarely is that a variable that’s the deciding factor. If two guys are extremely close, it’s a potential that it could be”. He added, “we value young guys because we like the upside, but very rarely is it that significant of a variable where it’s the ultimate decision-maker”.
It may not be the ultimate decision-maker, but there is certainly a strong correlation that can be made, and it applies now to at least their last three first-round draft picks. Last year’s addition of cornerback Artie Burns is certainly the most clear example.
During the press conference, Colbert was asked what sort of player Watt could be if he reached his potential—that is, hits his upside. “I don’t know”, was his response. “I think that’s the exciting part about this.
For Burns, he was not even an every-down starter for a Miami defense that wasn’t particularly renowned, and beyond that, he split his focus between football and track. He was an underclassman on top of everything else. He really was raw, and is still raw to a degree, to use the term loosely. But, as Tomlin said that ‘like the upside’, and that is who Burns was.
That is who Bud Dupree was as well, who was moved to outside linebacker—as Watt was—late in his college career. In Dupree’s case, however, that move didn’t even come with an appropriate position coach to teach him what he’s supposed to be doing. Again, another very athletic specimen with—what was it again?—oh yeah, upside.
You can go all the way back to Tomlin’s first pick in Lawrence Timmons. He was only 20 when the Steelers drafted him in 2007 and I believe was just a one-year starter, though he played in 2005 as well. It took him two years to enter the starting lineup.
Rashard Mendenhall came up next. Yet another underclassman, he came out early after breaking out his junior year with 1681 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. His rookie season was injury-plagued but he became a starter a year later and had a few good years. There are others, as well. Maurkice Pouncey was a junior coming out. His twin waited a year to follow suit.
There is a reason, of course, that the Steelers, particularly under Tomlin, are attracted to such players with ‘upside’, because they have the potential to ascend beyond their draft position more so than a more complete product. You can get a top-10 talent in a couple of years in the late stages of the round, in theory. He may not want to cop to it, but he has a track record of going with upside.