While there isn’t a team in the league that relies exclusively on tape evaluation and athletic numbers to evaluate players, the Pittsburgh Steelers, more than most, seek out a much fuller portrait, not of a player but of a person.
From an organizational level starting with ownership, the Steelers prioritize adding the right fits to the organization, both on and off the field. They want to know who these players are, how their personalities mesh, and generally what they can bring to the table—and what they won’t.
“That’s why [general manager] Omar [Khan] and myself travel as much as we do this time of year”, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said earlier this week at the annual league meetings, via the team’s website. “Pro Days and so forth, Senior Bowl, Combine. I know some of those things are less en vogue now by our peers, but we’re just really interested in the things that you can’t see on tape”.
The Steelers prioritize this to such a degree that it also greatly affects the hires that they make in the front office and on the coaching staff. You are likely to find, for example, director of pro scouting Sheldon White making the Pro Day rounds far more frequently than just about anybody else in an equivalent role around the league.
One interesting thing to note is that it doesn’t appear new assistant general manager Andy Weidl has had his proverbial boots on the ground this offseason as much as he has had in past years in Philadelphia and Baltimore.
A scout at heart with more than a decade working that beat around the league before rising to the level of front office executive, Weidl is known around the league for having a deep Rolodex of contacts throughout the college circuit, which he exploits to gain as much inside information about prospects as possible.
“Those are the intangible qualities, the relationship things, the things that really make teams go”, Tomlin continued from above in explaining why they value so much in-person work at this time of year. “We’re pretty intentional about unearthing as much information in those areas as we can”.
It’s taken as a given at this point that Tomlin will take a few key prospects the night before certain Pro Days to dinner, during which he looks to get to know them on a deeper level. We routinely hear stories from players who come to the organization many years later recalling the very positive interactions they had with Tomlin during the pre-draft process, whether that was two years or a decade earlier.
Of course, finding personality fits doesn’t always guarantee that things are going to work out on the field and is going to produce a quality football roster. After all, this is a team that hasn’t won a playoff game in six years. But they’ll draft their team captains and take another whack at it in 2023, as they always do.