Is Something Amiss with the Draft Process?
In years past, one never heard a litany of Steelers veterans speak out so vehemently about young players not listening – not like we’ve heard this season. Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark have all spoken out about their frustrations with some of the younger players. Veteran defensive end Brett Keisel went so far as to say that the veterans have tried getting the younger players to listen when they tell them they need to work harder – but that the younger players simply “weren’t listening to them.”
This invoked questions about the leadership capabilities of these veterans. But ultimately what power do veterans have over other players? And to take the matter further, why has it become such an issue…now?
Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have drafted a number of players with issues. Not so much the character issues – like those of Chris Rainey who was just today arrested on domestic battery charges (he was also arrested for similar charges at the University of Florida), Mike Adams (failed drug test), Sean Spence (involved in a school scandal). More to the issue are the work ethic issues. Cameron Heyward has been called out for playing too nice and taking plays off. Mendenhall has been benched a few times for not preparing well and other issues. Curtis Brown admitted to not properly preparing for the Steelers game versus Baltimore. Keenan Lewis just this season decided to become more focused. Ditto Evander Hood on getting in shape. Keith Butler this season called out Lamarr Woodley for not staying in shape, hence his hamstring issues that kept him out much of the season. Butler also said Jason Worilds was not playing hard enough – not giving it his all. Jonathan Dwyer has yet to prove he can stay in shape. Alamaeda Ta’amu was drafted with known weight issues. And of course…there’s Mike Wallace.
This latest draft class alone, by the way, has had four players now with legal issue. Alameda, Spence, Adams, and Rainey.
This team was desperate enough this season to reach out to Plexico Burress, as Tomlin called him, as a source of leadership to its young receivers. Plexico Burress. As a source of leadership.
In that aforementioned mix are three first round picks, two second round picks and a few third round picks. These aren’t the low-round picks you can afford to take character/work ethic issue flyers on.
And we’re starting to see the impact.
Who are the next group of leaders on this team? Maurkice Pouncey has the look of a leader. But, who else? Sean Spence may fill that role – he has a reputation for being so. But this group of young players seems separate and apart from the character of Steelers players we’ve seen this team draft in the past.
Is it a trend? If so, is it a Steelers trend, or a societal trend of more “me-me” people in general?
Or is it an issue with how the Steelers now approach the draft? If so, what changed? Are they taking more risks? Are they foregoing character for talent more so than in the past?
Whatever the cause, this draft needs to turn the tide. Talent can’t overcome work ethic concerns – not in the NFL. And if there’s another draft class of Mendenhalls and Wallaces – this team could find itself resembling the Bengals teams of years past, where players are more concerned about personal stats than winning, and where in-fighting occurs.
The biggest concern – this group of younger players will be the mentors for all that come after them, just as the veterans have mentored them and so on over the years. How comfortable do you feel with these young players acting as mentors to the next wave of draftees?
Keep in mind the sanctity of that mentoring culture in Pittsburgh too. Few if any teams have such a mentoring culture as does the Steelers, where players put aside their own job security concerns daily to coach up the young players that very well may replace them. I’m not certain that is appreciated enough about this team by fans. This uniqueness of this culture in the NFL – really, anywhere.
And it’s in danger of being lost, or corrupted, by this new core of young players who seem much less reliable in this regard.
This draft needs to have the character of the drafts that have delivered the likes of Hines Ward and Carnell Lake, of Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu. If not for the present, for the sake of all the draftees that come after them.