2017 Offseason Questions: ‘Hearts And Smarts’ A Deliberate Pattern In Draft?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Was the high focus on personal and football character a deliberate theme in the Steelers’ 2017 draft class?

Following the 2017 NFL Draft, during the teams’ post-draft press conference, it was mentioned that their class could to a degree by characterized by “hearts and smarts”, and there’s certainly plenty of evidence to support that claim.

You can just look at players such as T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, and Joshua Dobbs and see what kind of character that they have, both on and off the field.

Sutton and Dobbs together led their program in Tennessee, which is something that we have talked about previously, but they also live the football life. So do the others mentioned, and Watt has it in his bloodline. His brother would never let it go if he didn’t give the game everything he could.

Smith-Schuster was said to have some ‘diva’ qualities to him which those more in the know attributed rather to an innate distaste for losing, and for those who do not do everything in their power to escape a loss.

Sutton, during his senior season, broke his ankle, yet returned to the field a week early, and was talking about returning already two weeks prior to that. Dobbs said that football was the sport he couldn’t see himself not playing when he had to choose between that and baseball. Conner trained with his teammates while undergoing chemotherapy, wearing a mask to protect himself from infection.

It’s more than evident that this draft class was filled with high-character individuals and strong-minded ones as well. The question is whether or not this was a quality that was directly sought out, specifically for this draft, in a way that is beyond their norm.

The Steelers have had their run-ins with off-field issues in recent years. They also suffered the passing of Dan Rooney, who famously wanted to know the man more than the football player or the coach. As legend goes, he didn’t even speak to Bill Cowher about football, but rather about himself, and about life in general, during his interview process. Did all of these factors influence the team’s draft direction this year, or was it a coincidental emphasis?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Jeff McNeill

    I certainly hope it was deliberate.

  • Dorian James

    I said this days after the draft, ounce the interviews and stories about these guys started to pore in it was obvious.
    Though I’m not 100% in agreement, I get it, and I’m fully on board with it.
    Let’s honor mr. Rooney and rebuild the image of our Steelers. ZERO TOLERANCE GO STEELERS GO

  • Conserv_58

    IMO, It was a deliberate choice to make character a key prerequisite in their selection process.

  • Burgh Ball

    Interesting segment on 60 minutes last night on the cubs and how they started drafting high character players 5 years ago…. led to a championship. I’m 100% behind this.

  • Jim Foles

    High Character relates to being teachable and having a good football iq… This will only help us beat the Pats in the AFCCG. The Pats offense has a high football iq.

  • Mike Lloyd

    There’s no downside to drafting ‘hearts and smarts’ unless you are reaching for players and not getting value at their draft slot.
    I believe some experts thought a few player’s in this years draft were reaches. Some fans did too.
    I had no problem with the picks. If this is where they derive some or part of their scouting on a player, and select hearts and smarts over a player who they may have a higher score on, but negative score on their intellect and desire, I’m ok with that.

  • mem359

    I was thinking that football IQ was part of the equation too. Field vision and choice-making don’t have easy metrics like a 40 time or a long jump, but it is why Brady is ahead of more physically gifted QBs who have less between the ears.

  • Wayne

    I love the smarts part and character is a good thing. And should impact a draft grade move in the 1st/2nd round. You don’t pass on Bryant in the 4th or Brown in the 6th because of slight character issues or smarts. Can’t rule out possible massive football talent on character and smarts alone. But yes it should impact every players grade.

  • Craig M

    The Rooney Legacy is built on the view of the future, for the team and for football. I think the Rooney brand is all over this years draft- for the benefit of the teams future plans in the players selected on quality/ need and in the future of the game in the character of the players chosen. IMO

  • Jim Foles

    i look at like this… especially for defense. fast is great.. but going fast two steps in the wrong direction is worse then a bit slower and reading the play…

  • Dakoda Baxley

    Lets look at it this way. In the First round we could’ve had Foster, a top 5 talent on the football field, but with plenty of off the field issues. We could’ve taken the risk with him and maybe had an amazing player. Or we could’ve had another player that couldn’t even play because of suspensions. What’s the point of a good player if he’s not on the field? The more i think about it, the more I enjoy the draft!

  • Dakoda Baxley

    Oh and for those Connor haters, Le’veon Bell was a ‘reach’ too. I’ll trust the front office

  • will

    Do the Steeler coaches have a high football IQ? This is the key! (along with players with high football IQ).

  • J Jones

    I think this started last yr. Between guys like Artie, Sean, Grave Digger and Dirty Red the team has obviously chosen hard workers who have had to overcome adversity. This years class has similar traits. Think we could be building something special

  • Marcel Chris Chauvet

    I’m hearing the term “will index” replaying in my mind as I read this article. I think it was certainly a factor in this year’s draft. I think Tomlin said as much if you read between the lines.

  • Jim Foles

    I think Josh McDaniels has Tomlin’s number…. He makes Tomlin’s defense look like a college team.

  • SfSteeler

    these kinds of pics have a higher probability of developing into men that take charge, accept challenges and criticism, then proceed with a plan for success…


    I agree with you Mike 100%!

  • Matthew Marczi

    To be fair, the thing with Foster was more than just off-field stuff too. A lot of people were concerned about his shoulder. I’m sure both played a role in their evaluation, but they very well may have wanted Watt anyway, which I can definitely understand.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I’m a little troubled by the two “football justice” picks made in the past two drafts. Also the Machiavellian side of me sees that they both played in state or even in Connors case the same city. I see a comfortable middle ground between polite losers and the Bungles.

  • Brenton deed

    Agree but after Jarvis Jones they’re not going to use a high pick on anyone who isn’t athletically elite for his position… good character notwithstanding.