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2015 NFL Draft: Why the Pittsburgh Steelers must evaluate character as much as talent leading to the draft

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Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert addressed the media today and talked about how character still has to be evaluated nearly as much as talent when selecting players in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

By Dale Grdnic

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have not shied away from drafting a player with some character issues, with offensive tackle Mike Adams the most recent selection in that class, but with social media running at a fever pitch these days it's more prudent for management to do its due diligence.

There are several players in this year's NFL Draft, which takes place Thursday through Saturday at Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, who could see their stock drop due to various problems. All three are at serious positions of need for the Steelers, and they could be available when the Steelers pick at No. 22 in the first round Thursday night.

Cornerback Marcus Peters was dismissed from the University of Washington at midseason last fall after several incidents, with the final straw being a series of public arguments with the coaching staff. Nebraska outside linebacker Randy Gregory tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, and LSU cornerback Jalen Collins reportedly had multiple failed drug tests during college. Each has had his character come into question leading up the draft.

"(Character) has always been important for us, but it probably has changed because it's a different world,'' Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday. "Social media makes it everybody's business as to what a player's transgressions might have been in college.

"Maybe in the past, the public didn't know about it, but it was up to the teams to manage the issues you were dealing with, but now that doesn't exist any more. There's so much information that's available. So, character is important, and it always has been and always will be important.

"But it's how you manage the public perception of that character,'' Colbert added. "So, we're going to do our due diligence ... and sore out what's real and what's rumor. If you figure out what's real, then you can figure out whether or not you can deal with it or even want to deal with it.''

Colbert believed that while the situations of the aforementioned players are cut-and-dried, since they have been documented, the Steelers always attempt to find out the specific circumstances.

"There's always a story behind it, and it's our job to get at the root of the matter,'' Colbert said. "I think it's really bad for our profession (for a team) to talk about a kid's test score or a kid's injury or a kid's character. I think that's awful. I think that's disrespectful to our profession.

"I think it's disrespectful to the game, and I think it's disrespectful to the kid. I think it's horrible, and know that we don't really pay attention to all the misinformation. We just have to be true to what we do and live with that.''

In order to find out more information about players that interest the Steelers the most, they also interview those players' families. And they have done so more often in recent years. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin swayed he puts a lot of stock in one-on-one interviews with the players and their families.

"I think that's always been on our agenda,'' Tomlin said Monday. "I think increasingly, the pro days have been more of a spectacle and more families have been attending pro days now. So, we're getting more opportunities with them than we were in years past when it wasn't a spectator-like event.''

Tomlin and Colbert said that while the club has exhausted efforts to improve its depth at cornerback and outside linebacker, those positions are strong in this year's draft. There are more cornerbacks than safeties, due to the increase in spread offenses with more coverage needed on wideouts, while the outside linebacker group "probably as good as it's been in 10 or 15 years,'' Colbert added. "It's an exceptional group with a lot of impact-type guys.''

So, there are numerous choices available to fill the Steelers needs.

Notes: This is the ninth NFL Draft with Tomlin as the Steelers head coach and Colbert as the team's top personnel man. ... Colbert said that the club will have more than 200 players listed on its draft board. ... Neither had an update on injured players line Le'Veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, Cortez Allen and Jarvis Jones.