The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Was the high focus on personal and football character a deliberate theme in the Steelers’ 2017 draft class?
Following the 2017 NFL Draft, during the teams’ post-draft press conference, it was mentioned that their class could to a degree by characterized by “hearts and smarts”, and there’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that claim.
You can just look at players such as T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, and Joshua Dobbs and see what kind of character that they have, both on and off the field.
Sutton and Dobbs together led their program in Tennessee, which is something that we have talked about previously, but they also live the football life. So do the others mentioned, and Watt has it in his bloodline. His brother would never let it go if he didn’t give the game everything he could.
Smith-Schuster was said to have some ‘diva’ qualities to him which those more in the know attributed rather to an innate distaste for losing, and for those who do not do everything in their power to escape a loss.
Sutton, during his senior season, broke his ankle, yet returned to the field a week early, and was talking about returning already two weeks prior to that. Dobbs said that football was the sport he couldn’t see himself not playing when he had to choose between that and baseball. Conner trained with his teammates while undergoing chemotherapy, wearing a mask to protect himself from infection.
It’s more than evident that this draft class was filled with high-character individuals and strong-minded ones as well. The question is whether or not this was a quality that was directly sought out, specifically for this draft, in a way that is beyond their norm.
The Steelers have had their run-ins with off-field issues in recent years. They also suffered the passing of Dan Rooney, who famously wanted to know the man more than the football player or the coach. As legend goes, he didn’t even speak to Bill Cowher about football, but rather about himself, and about life in general, during his interview process. Did all of these factors influence the team’s draft direction this year, or was it a coincidental emphasis?