While the Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed their opportunity to serve as spectators through the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, perhaps accompanied by a rolling highlight reel of plays that Minkah Fitzpatrick made for the team over 14 games last season in an All-Pro year, today is the day that their draft really begins. In spite of the unusual complications of this offseason, are they ready?
That was the message that general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin conveyed earlier this week during their pre-draft press conference, emphasizing that, while some obstacles were strewn about in their path, particularly in terms of interactive availability with prospects, they found ways to adjust and adapt.
“Same level of preparedness and comfort that I normally have going into the draft week”, Colbert said in his opening comments on Monday. “Areas where we may be lacking, but we’re probably stronger in other areas. I feel really good from a preparedness standpoint in terms of the tape, the value that we’ve placed on the tape. I had a real good opportunity to really delve into that, probably more so than when we’re traveling a bunch”.
While they of course had a lot more time for tape study, that was only a byproduct of their inability to get out on the road and attend Pro Days, a typically critical opportunity for them to get up-close and personal with prospects. With that not being an option, they immediately shifted to virtual FaceTime and Zoom meetings.
“Once the Pro Days got shut down, we almost immediately started our meetings”, Tomlin said. “And so there was never a sense or feeling of being rushed through the developmental process, and we were able to adjust to the unusual circumstances with the significant amount of time that Kevin allotted for the meeting element of the process”.
“We do glean a lot of information from the face-to-face opportunities with the young people and being on their campuses”, he admitted, “but as Kevin mentioned, the calls and so forth have been very productive for us. We’re not worried about how or why this is different. It’s the same for all the people that we’re competing against, and that we’re in this process with, so from that standpoint, it’s fair”.
After the Steelers come out and discuss the picks that they made, it’s a very common theme to hear them talk about intangible qualities and attributes that have nothing to do with running, catching, blocking, tackling, throwing, or generally with routine physical acts common to the game of football.
This is the information that Tomlin talked about gleaning from those in-person opportunities, some of which will have inevitably been lost as a result of their inability to meet with players on the road or to bring them in for pre-draft visits.
If it is to have any effect, it will perhaps be in the narrowing of their draft board, prioritizing players they’ve had the opportunity to get to know. Colbert said that he expects their six picks to come from a pool of roughly 140 players, which is a bit lower than their norm. But they are high on the talent that is available within that group, and in some ways, even more confident than usual in their abilities.