Draft stock matters. Like it or not, a player will in some way always be tied to notions of where they were taken during the NFL Draft. Or even if they were not taken at all. Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker was an undrafted free agent and cut multiple times, only to later become the franchise’s sack leader.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, arguably the greatest player to ever play the game, has five Super Bowl rings, and yet he still teared up during an interview in which he discussed what he went through psychologically during the draft as he waited all the way until the sixth round to be selected.
It works the other way, too. A very recent example would be former Buccaneers kicker Roberto Aguayo, whom the team arguably inadvisably used a second-round draft pick on just last year. Aguayo has struggled with consistency, and that resulted in his being released recently. He said that he felt the pressure of his draft stock during his stay in Tampa.
The Steelers themselves have begun to assemble somewhat of a collection of former “draft busts”, players who never lived up to their reputations with the teams that drafted them. Most notable would be Mike Mitchell, a second-round pick of the Raiders who is entering his fourth season as a starter.
Another Raiders bust, top-10 pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, has transformed himself into a utility player who has been with the team for three years. While he is facing a tough roster battle, his reinvention and redemption has been noteworthy.
The Steelers have taken on two more redemption projects of sorts this offseason with former second-round wide receiver Justin Hunter and top-10 defensive lineman Tyson Alualu. Neither of them were brought in to be a starter.
Alualu has carved out a fine and lengthy career for himself in spite of being given the “bust” label by some, but he admits that it is a brand that still follows him. “You want to prove other people wrong that think you were a bad pick”, he told Jeremy Fowler.
Regarding his time with the Jaguars, he told the ESPN reporter that the expectations for him to perform caused him to press early on, and did not aid him on the field. “It probably did turn into stress, hearing people say he’s not playing how he should play as a top-10 pick”, he said.
“A lot of people don’t understand what you do go through, injuries, things that you face. It was tough. You have to stay true to who you are”.
Often enough, the best thing for a former “draft bust” to do is to relocate. The Steelers have had success helping such players find somewhat of a second career lately. If John Mitchell’s enthusiasm is anything to go by, Alualu is going to fit in, in more ways than one.