There was a time not too long ago where it seemed as though the Pittsburgh Steelers were among the most successful teams in turning the college free agents they signed after drafts into contributing players. While they still have some from recent years—B.J. Finney the most high-profile, but also Olasunkanmi Adeniyi—it’s been a long time since the group that brought in Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon, and Isaac Redman.
Sure, they have had success with former undrafted free agents after getting their hands on them later in the process. Their projected starting tackle this year—Pro Bowler Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler—would both fall under that category. So would Roosevelt Nix, another Pro Bowl player, and Mike Hilton, as well as their specialists. Add Jordan Dangerfield and Xavier Grimble as well.
Once they all get to rookie minicamp, though, it doesn’t matter where they came from. What matters is what they do with their time there, and one of their former undrafted free agent success stories has some advice for those in attendance.
“You have to do something to open up a coach’s eyes, because if you don’t look the part, they’re quick to get you out of there”, Redman told Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in one of his first pieces on the Steelers beat. “The Steelers do a great job of picking up undrafted guys. They take it just as seriously as draft picks”.
That may well be true, and to be fair, Redman’s experience is already a decade old and he’s been out of football for several years, but their immediate undrafted free agent classes have been left wanting, with few contributors. Aside from Finney, the biggest name in recent years has been Robert Golden.
If the Steelers take the selection of undrafted players as seriously as their draft picks, then they are either not doing as good of a job of scouting as they have in the past, or fewer free agents are seeing them as their best option in terms of destination, or perhaps in signing bonus. This year, the name most people have focused on is safety P.J. Locke.
“I think just hustling around and always trying to be first in drills, being able to show that you can handle everything mentally, working in the weight room, being on time” is what these players need to show the coaches at this time, Redman said. “A lot of times, it doesn’t even have to do with actually being on the field. It’s just showing that you can be professional, be at work on time, you’re trustworthy”.
Hustle and professionalism. That’s not a bad combination for sure.