There is no doubt that the Pittsburgh Steelers have added significant amount of talent to their roster with their first four selections in the 2018 NFL Draft. Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds is an athletic specimen with all the physical tools needed to be a playmaker. Next, the Steelers took Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington and quarterback Mason Rudolph, who may be the heir to the quarterback position. And to cap off day two, Western Michigan tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was added to bolster the offensive line. Besides all being talented, the four selections also share one more important trait.
Edmunds was a leader in the Virginia Tech secondary and his leadership will be valuable to a Steelers defense that was plagued with communication issues throughout last season. Head coach Mike Tomlin also shined light on the traits Edmunds brings to the team after his selection at 28th overall.
“We got a sharp, young, versatile guy that is a very good communicator that plays with physicality. Quite simply he checked all of the boxes for us,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers began reshaping the culture within their wide receiving group early Thursday night, trading Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round pick. In his first season back since his suspension, Bryant showed flashes of the receiver many expected him to be. Unfortunately, these highlights were sprinkled amongst a few off-field issues with Bryant’s social media presence. Ultimately, a third-round pick was too good to pass up and Bryant was replaced with another high character selection in James Washington.
Washington is more likely to make headlines for his play on the field rather than his actions off it. Though he led the NCAA in receiving yards in 2017 with 1549 yards, Washington has remained humbled throughout the process, never searching for the limelight.
“Let it come to you and if and when it comes, then share it with the people around you. Never draw attention to yourself. When you do that, you show your character,” Washington said in an interview with Bleacher Report’s Adam Kramer.
With the departure of Bryant and addition of Washington, the Steelers were able to maintain the talent in their receiving core but also improve the group’s character. Not too shabby, considering the team also added an additional third round pick in the process.
The Steelers turned that third-round pick into Rudolph, a big armed quarterback who led Oklahoma State’s offense over the last three seasons. While it is nearly impossible to be a successful NFL quarterback without impeccable leadership qualities, Rudolph has extended his outreach off the field as well.
The grandson of a pastor, Rudolph has used his fame to help and inspire others off the field. His hospitality and community work are documented immensely in a NewsOK feature. There’s the story of Gavin King, a young child undergoing chemo that Rudolph befriended. There’s the time Rudolph took it upon himself to visit a hospital in Stillwater to visit victims of the Oklahoma State homecoming parade crash.
While Rudolph may have fell to day two, his character has always been second to none.
The theme continues with Okorafor, the Western Michigan tackle. Immigrating from Botswana just eight years ago, the tackle’s play and character have done enough to warrant the attention of the Steelers. A late learner of the game, Okorafor had to rely on drive and technique rather than size and raw talent to make up for his late start. While his size is massive at 6’6 and 320 lbs, the Western Michigan tackle talked about his passion for studying film in order to improve.
“Honestly, I’ve improved every part of my game by watching and studying film. After practice, I always stay back to watch more film. I learned a lot by just watching other people play the game at a high level,” Okorafor said in an interview with Draft Wire.
A player with the size and work ethic to succeed, Okorafor looks like a perfect pick for offensive line coach Mike Munchak. A player who enjoys watching others play a high level, he will have a first-row seat to the likes of Marcus Gilbert, David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey in the coming years.
A team that perhaps spent more time than they would like in the media’s crosshairs last season, the Steelers have been quietly reshaping the culture this offseason. Gone are the soundbite and media favorites in Mike Mitchell and Bryant and in are the high character pieces such as Edmunds, Washington, Rudolph and Okorafor.