At noon on Monday, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin sat down to give a press conference ahead of the upcoming 2015 NFL Draft. Colbert confirmed that the team has nearly made their final preparations outside of medical clearances and gathering information about the character of players the Steelers may place on their draft board. Tomlin was clear that the coaching staff, scouts and front office varied little from their traditional process. That being said, there were five takeaways that show how the Steelers not only prepare for the draft, but the methods that help them select the players they feel will best suit the team overall.
Colbert and Tomlin appear to be on the same page as far as how much character plays into the evaluation process of draft prospects in Pittsburgh. One area Colbert said differs in recent years is the part that social media plays. “Social media makes it everybody’s business as to what a player’s transgressions may have been in college,” Colbert admitted. “Maybe in the past the public didn’t know about it. It was up to the teams to maybe manage the issues that you were dealing with. Now that doesn’t exist anymore.” Tomlin and Colbert agreed that meetings with players allows them to properly evaluate the young men who may be selected. “I’m not afforded an opportunity to watch (players) play in person, but there is value in terms of sharing the same space with a person (and) getting to watch them in their setting at their university interacting among their peers,” Tomlin said. “To hear what others, formally and informally, have to say about them.”
When asked if issues such as drug usage or being kicked off of a team eliminates the possibility of a player not being selected by the Steelers, Colbert said, “No. I think again any one situation you try to find out what the exact circumstance was. Why a guy was suspended. Why a guy tested positive…There’s a story behind everything that goes on: right, wrong or indifferent. It’s our job to get to the root of the matter and figure out whether we want to take the chance or not.”
Players Drafted Will Not Just Be Based On Need
When asked at the NFL Scouting Combine if the Steelers were open to drafting any position, Colbert answered to the affirmative and restated that position today. “I got some ridicule because, well they said, ‘You’re not going to draft a quarterback’,” Colbert said. “But at that point we hadn’t signed (Ben Roethlisberger) to a five-year deal.” Colbert said that passing up players that are exceptional at their position could be a mistake that teams regret, making every player a potential draft choice. Tomlin added, “We’re open to the possibilities of great players falling in our lap or great opportunities falling in our lap. I think if we don’t take that approach then we’re missing the boat.”
As for drafting based solely on need, Colbert reiterated that the Steelers would not approach the draft based on that idea. “Again, first round, second round, third round, if we pass up a great (player) to fill a position of need it will be a mistake and it will bite us,” Colbert stated. “Somewhere, somehow we’ll regret that move.”
“We’ve had these discussions many times over the years,” Tomlin added. “I just think invariably as you push through the draft, whatever draft it is, it takes care of itself.”
Grading Players Includes Past Injuries and Medical Risk
Colbert explained in a bit more detail than in the past what the Steelers look into when it comes to prospects who have had issues with injuries or are currently rehabbing one as they enter the draft. While he would not say that the team would take such a player in the first round, Colbert said, “We will question the doctors if we have a question about if a guy is a medical risk.”
Colbert joked that he and Tomlin think they are doctors, smiling, but that there is a process they go through when grading players in regard to injuries. “The first thing we say is that he played. He hasn’t missed a game. He hasn’t missed a practice,” said Colbert. “And they will explain the details of the injury and the potential for future injury.” Overall, trust is placed in the information that is shared. “There are combine re-checks,” Tomlin pointed out. “So if a guy sustains an injury of some kind after the combine at his pro day, he would come back to the combine re-checks.” Colbert stated that re-checks were conducted the second week in April (2015).
Scouting on Tape, In Person Leads to Draft Selection
Colbert and the scouts for the Pittsburgh Steelers are active during the fall due to the fact that coaches are not allowed to reach out to potential players during college seasons. Colbert admitted during the press conference that he feels every type of exposure is important. “Even though we know what (a player’s) measurables are,” Colbert said, “sometimes you need to see them in a uniform. See how they act during the game. See how they act in the pregame. Who’s the call-up guy? Who’s the leader? How do they act through adversity during a game or during a practice when a coach is getting after him? All those things are important…” According to Colbert, he and Tomlin may talk to 130 players in individual one-on-one meetings and pair their information with that of scouts, psychologists, the league and other assessments in order to base their opinion of a player.
When asked how often the Steelers draft a player that has not had a meeting with either he or coach Tomlin, Colbert answered, “There’s probably been a handful since Coach and I have been together…very rarely have we drafted someone that we didn’t interview.” Tomlin and Colbert have been working together in their current positions for nine seasons.
Trust in The Draft Board and The Process
Colbert and Tomlin were both comfortable in saying that they believe in the process they’ve developed. Neither put much emphasis on rumors or misinformation that may spread leading up to selection days. As for how much time is spent selecting players in earlier rounds as opposed to later rounds from their draft board, Colbert said, “We really divide it into three sections. There’s the free agent group: the group that we don’t think will get drafted…And then we’ll try to really hone in.” Colbert outlined the process as one where scouts do the majority of the work deciding who may fall into the free agent group versus the players who will be selected in the draft. However, Colbert said that regardless of the position the player may be selected in – the time used is essentially the same. Colbert affirmed that the Steelers already have an idea who their round one selection will be (number 22 overall). “Once day one is done,” said Colbert, “we’ll reconfigure based on what we did…and look at what day two looks like and so on…”
As for pre-draft rumors, Colbert pointed out why he and the organization do not use it for verification. “There’s so much misinformation and it’s really irresponsible on whoever puts information into the media,” said Colbert. “I think it’s really bad for our profession when people put whatever means they use to get information out to influence a draft and they talk about a kid’s test score, a kid’s injury, a kid’s character. I think that’s awful. I think it’s disrespectful…”
As for how Colbert, Tomlin and the Steelers will proceed; Colbert said that instead of wading through mock drafts and misinformation that tempt many, “We’ll just be true to what we do and feel good about it and live in it.” Colbert said you could “lose your mind” if you tried to rationalize or analyze the moves of everyone else.
Colbert and Tomlin do, however, get lobbied from assistant coaches with the team. Colbert admitted he and Tomlin have laughed about it, even this very morning. “We were talking about some things,” Colbert said. “And one-by-one (the assistants) tried to trickle in until they see Coach sitting in the room. And they turn around and leave.” Tomlin added, “They are all politely aggressive.”
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