While it’s far from unique to Pittsburgh, the Steelers more than most organizations rely on boots-on-the-ground information gathering when they are evaluating college prospects. They go to colleges all around the nation and build relationships that feed their pipeline for many years to come, getting inside knowledge about players.
Assistant general manager Andy Weidl always had this in his background, and he recently talked about how he gleaned information about the two Wisconsin players that the Steelers just drafted from a local coach, which helped fill out their evaluation profile.
It’s not quite that covert ops when you’re talking to a player’s teammates, but after the first day of the 2023 NFL Draft, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin recalled how he took several Georgia players to dinner in 2022 and asked them a simple question. They just drafted the answer.
“I was in Athens a year ago and took a group of his former teammates out 12 months ago, and I said, give me a name that we’re going to be back for in 12 months”, he recalled, via the team’s website. “And universally, Broderick [Jones]’s name was the guy’s name that we got 12 months ago. That was the first time I really heard his name”.
Jones was a backup for much of his time with the Bulldogs, starting a handful of games at the end of the 2021 season. It was only last year that he became a full-time starter and built himself a first-round resume. Now he is set to protect the blindside of quarterback Kenny Pickett. But there was no such process needed for the other Bulldog the Steelers drafted.
“I didn’t have to ask anybody about Darnell. All you’ve got to do is watch Georgia tape. He stands out. He’s an enormous human. So, I had prior knowledge to him”, Tomlin said. “Guys like Broderick, third-year juniors, those are the guys that you ask about sometimes when you’re in places because those are the guys that kind of sneak up on you in draft prep. Washington has a longer resume and had more exposure to him”.
Washington had a longer, more established college resume than did Jones prior to the 2022, though not necessarily substantially. Both Bulldogs really came into their own last season. But Washington was a bigger and more regular contributor to Georgia’s 2021 season than was Jones.
Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference whether or not Tomlin got the early word on Jones. His tape spoke for itself. It’s the reason that the Steelers traded up in the first round to get him at 14, because they were rightfully worried they couldn’t wait any longer or risk losing him.
The big man wasn’t exactly a secret by the time he declared for the 2023 NFL Draft, but it shines a light on how the Steelers operate behind closed doors. It’s all a part of the network that they employ to learn as much about prospects as they can. And what your teammates have to say about you, especially before you’ve “made it”, still speaks volumes. Equally, in Washington’s case, so does the fact that nobody needs to speak on your behalf.