It is rare that a rookie class ever works so well that every single one makes the 53-man roster. That the Pittsburgh Steelers actually had a game last season in which every single one of their six drafted rookies dressed for a game was remarkable, and, as best I can tell, the first in franchise history.
To get every single player you draft to be a capable contributor simply cannot be counted upon. But you can help stack the deck by scouting for specific traits, such as competitiveness, which is one of the thematic qualities that head coach Mike Tomlin has identified in his group this year.
“They run to the competition, not away from it”, he said following Tuesday’s practice. “You guys have seen us work enough that, you know what that looks like. You never have to look for 22 [Najee Harris] in competition periods. Not only does he seek reps, but he seeks the most competitive reps. And that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for guys that run toward the competition”.
Harris, the Steelers’ first-round rookie running back out of Alabama, has been the poster child for most of Tomlin’s talking points whenever discussing the 2021 draft class, which is understandable given the significant nature of first-round draft picks.
But he also has an innate competitive tendency, something that he discussed with reporters earlier this week, when he talked about volunteering for the most difficult reps in the backs on backers blocking drill, for example, knowing that the end result was the make everybody better.
It’s not just Harris, though. Others, such as second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth, the offensive linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr., outside linebacker, Quincy Roche, and even punter Pressley Harvin III, have shown that competitive spirit throughout camp, all of them, in one way or another, vying for roles or roster spots.
It is possible that all of them make the 53-man roster this year, though I believe Roche will have the hardest time. After adding veteran Melvin Ingram, he was bumped down the depth chart, and the Steelers are still running Cassius Marsh with the second team, while first-year Jamir Jones has impressed in his own right.
One thing he can’t be faulted for, though, is competitiveness, and nor defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk, who is amply willing to chase plays down the field, or seventh-round defensive back Tre Norwood, who is ready and willing to move around the field as soon as the Steelers feel comfortable allowing him to do that.
It’s a damn good thing these young men have that competitive fight, too, because it will be needed this year. Some of them are going to be full-time starters, like Harris and Green, while others may have the opportunity to contribute in significant ways as well. And you had better be able to get yourself up for the fight if you have made it to this level of the game.