Among the traits that certain subsets of the Pittsburgh Steelers draft class share with one another are size, speed, and versatility. This is the way that head coach Mike Tomlin summarized the collective in the post-draft press conference.
But there’s another trait that a subset of this class also shares, and that would be potential maturity and professional issues, something the team will hope to monitor going forward.
This would encompass half of the draft haul on the final day, which stretched across the fourth round to the seventh round, and includes wide receiver Martavis Bryant, cornerback Shaquille Richardson, and defensive lineman Daniel McCullers.
While McCullers has no known off the field issues, at least that I’m aware of, his chronically fluctuating weight is certainly a concern, as also could potentially be his work ethic.
While he is naturally a very large man, he has as of yet not shown a consistent ability to play to his size. The fact that his weight has yo-yoed over time is something that will be watched.
The receiver, Bryant, has also raised questions about his work ethic and focus on the field, and comes into the league with a bit of a reputation for dropping some passes. He has reportedly struggled to adequately digest a football playbook.
Additionally, his scouting report shows a young man that has done some “stupid” things from time to time, for which he’s been disciplined, such as a throat-slashing gesture on the field. He was also suspended for his team’s bowl game due to academic ineligibility.
Richardson, the cornerback, may have the most red flags in his history of the group; on the other hand, his issues seem further in his past than the other two discussed above. Has he matured and grown past his youthful indiscretions? Parenthood has a tendency to do that.
When Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was coaching at UCLA, he recruited Richardson to play there. Before he could, he and a group of others were caught stealing a woman’s purse. While the charges were later dropped, he transferred to another school shortly thereafter.
In 2011, he was involved in an on-field brawl in a game, which resulted in the suspensions of 10 different players, including Richardson, who was among the primary agents of the fight. He was among the two players ejected during the game for the incident.
Are any of these habits or indiscretions particularly damning or insurmountable? Certainly not. Most likely, they are the products of youth and immaturity, and a lack of understanding of a professional environment.
They now find themselves in that professional environment, with professionals hired to ensure that they maintain a professional attitude. There’s no shortage of role models for hard work and discipline in either the wide receivers or the defensive line room, either, with Antonio Brown and Cameron Heyward being among the most motivated and hardworking members of the team.
As long as these young players get in line behind the rising stars of their respective position groups, and begin to treat their hobby as a profession that requires year-round discipline, they should be fine. Still, it does show that some risk is occasionally required in order to acquire talent in the NFL draft.