On Monday morning, Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan and HC Mike Tomlin spoke to the media in their annual pre-draft press conference. Aired live on the team’s YouTube channel, they talked about the team’s offseason moves this offseason and previewed the 2023 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday night in Kansas City.
When asked about getting WR Allen Robinson II via trade with the Los Angeles Rams to complement the room with a bigger option in the slot, Tomlin mentioned that Robinson was a player he and former GM Kevin Colbert had a significant amount of interest dating back to the 2014 NFL Draft and that he fits the mold of what the Steelers look for in veteran acquisitions based on the pre-draft process.
“He’s an example of our general free agent interest,” Tomlin said of Robinson. “It goes all the way back to when he was at Penn State. Kevin Colbert and I spent a great deal of time with he and his family through this draft process. He was a diaper dandy. He was a 20-year-old when he came into the draft. We held him in high regard. We liked his football character. We liked his talents. We liked his upside. We followed him throughout his NFL journey and the interest still remains. And those are generally the stories… that’s the framing of the people that we generally do free agent business with.”
While not a free agent, Robinson was on the trading block after a down season when he missed the end of 2022 due to a foot injury. Given his cap hit, the Rams were looking to shed his salary. That made him available for the Steelers for the measly price of exchanging seventh round picks, with Los Angeles eating some of his 2023 cap hit to complete the deal.
While Robinson hasn’t played to the level we’ve become accustomed to seeing the last two seasons, Tomlin is correct that he still is a quality player. Having conducted a film room on Robinson shortly after news broke about the trade, I still see some of the traits that made him a tantalizing draft prospect nearly a decade ago. Those include his combat-catch ability and movement skills as a bigger-bodied WR.
Robinson was a star coming out of Penn State, posting back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the Nittany Lions. He declared early as a junior for the 2014 NFL Draft and entering the league at just 20-year-old, having room for even more growth. His talent popped in the pros, but the intangibles stuck out to Tomlin and the Steelers organizations as well. That made him the ideal player to fill a need when the opportunity to acquire him for next to nothing came available.
According to Tomlin, the pre-draft process tends to be the backbone of how the Pittsburgh Steelers approach their veteran/free agent acquisitions.
“Same thing could be said for [Elandon] Roberts,” Tomlin continued. “I remember being down at Houston when we were there for his Pro Day and Kevin [Colbert] and I stood in the parking lot and talked to he and his parents for maybe 45 minutes after his Pro Day was over. That’s how we play free agency. We build our team primarily through the draft because we do a great deal of research and work regarding these guys in draft prep. And so, our professional interest if usually a continuation of that.”
When looking to add players to your football team, you want to have a good idea of what you are getting, not only on the field, but also off the field. For Tomlin and the Steelers, it makes sense to pursue free agents and veterans on the trade block whom they have done extensive homework on in the past, having a sense of comfort knowing what they bring to the table and would fit into their franchise.
Acquiring Allen Robinson II and signing Elandon Roberts this offseason are clear examples of that, adding players that they envisioned becoming Steelers on draft night or sometime down the road.