The Pittsburgh Steelers came out of the 2023 NFL Draft with seven players selected, and seven players they feel good about. They’ve had varying degrees of contact with each of them during the course of the pre-draft process—and in the case of second-round pick Joey Porter Jr., that goes back decades.
But at the end of the day the Steelers’ decisions were driven by one principle above all, as assistant general manager Andy Weidl explained on Friday during a post-draft press conference that he held on his own.
“It was the talent first”, he said, in response to a question posed to him about how much they factor in a player’s potential upside when drafting a player, via the team’s website. Talent first. “Then the player, their makeup, their football character”, he added.
That the Steelers drafted two players who have family ties to the organization—Porter is the son of a former Steelers player and coach, third-round linebacker Nick Herbig is the younger brother of an offensive lineman that they signed in March—was not exactly coincidental, but nor is the fact that they happen to be talented.
After all, Pittsburgh’s scouting department will have been evaluating Herbig for years. They didn’t just start paying attention to him when they signed Nate Herbig as a backup offensive lineman. And he has other ties to Pittsburgh, anyway, with T.J. Watt being a prominent Wisconsin alumnus, the two having had some contact. Watt keeps in touch with his alma mater.
Of course you don’t add any player to your locker room based solely on tape, on talent. That’s true in all walks of life, at least ideally. You have to fit with the people you work with in order to foster a harmonious environment conducive to success. There are plenty of players over the years the Steelers will have passed over because they didn’t believe he was a character fit for their organization.
And likewise, especially the earlier you’re drafting, the talent still has to prevail over the upside. Broderick Jones, for example, is a player many regard as possessing a lot of upside as he comes into the league. But the Steelers also believe he has the talent to succeed now, which is why they were comfortable trading up to draft him.
“That was a nice thing that happened”, he said about their draft, being able to add talented players with good tape who can get even better. “I think with the way we stacked it and how we vetted these players…we noticed that”, he acknowledged, about the room for growth common to many of the players they valued.
Yet at the end of the day, as they say, tape don’t lie. What you do on film is the most essential part of your resume. If your tape doesn’t speak for itself, then it doesn’t matter who you know. If it costs anything to bring you in, you better be able to bring it as soon as you step off the bus.