The Steelers draft approach when assessing talent was simple: they chose tangible facts over physical attributes.
Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin explained this theory shortly after the 2015 NFL Draft concluded over the weekend.
During the post-draft press conference, Tomlin and Colbert were asked about whether it was by design that the Steelers drafted two bigger linebackers in Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo, who are 6'4'', 269 pounds and 6'3'', 267 pounds respectively. The same question was asked about the Steelers selection of shorter defensive backs in Senquez Golson, Doran Grant and Golson stands at 5'9'' while Grant stands at 5'10''.
The questions, specifically about the linebackers given that the Steelers drafted smaller linebackers Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones high in the previous two drafts, made sense because it would be understandable that Steelers would want to add some bulk to the position. The same can also be said in regards to the defense backs acquired. Tomlin, a former Super Bowl-winning defensive backs coach, coached perennial Pro Bowl cornerback Ronde Barber at Tampa Bay, who was a smaller defensive back at 5'10'' and 184 pounds, and the thinking could be that Tomlin prefers smaller, more physical defensive backs.
Tomlin and Colbert said 'no' while emphasizing their main criteria when drafting the eight players they selected.
"We didn't talk a lot about potential, or height, weight and speed, but more about tape and productivity," Tomlin said. "We really felt good about the tangible evidence that these guys were good picks as opposed to hypothetical evidence or upside and things of that nature, what they jump, what they ran, how tall they were and things of that nature. These guys had impressive play on 2014 college tape that lends itself for us to believe that we got very good productivity and tangle football players in terms of what they were able to do at the college level."
Colbert added when speaking specifically about the linebackers: "The size is great, but they were productive players. It wasn't by design to get bigger; we just wanted to add competition, whatever size they were."
One intangible that Tomlin and Colbert said they liked was the number 29, the total amount of interceptions that their three drafted defensive backs recorded last season. Another intangible which Colbert specifically mentioned was Chickillo's "motor", which he said was consistent throughout his career at Miami and something he wanted to add to the Steelers' defense.
Specifically, Tomlin mentioned Grant and how he captained a national championship-winning defense last season at Ohio State as one of the main intangibles the Steelers liked about the former Buckeye. Golson, Pittsburgh's first defensive back taken in the second round, intercepted 10 passes in arguably the most competitive conference in college football, the SEC. Tomlin also talked about Holliman, the seventh round pick out of Louisville that won the Jim Thorpe Award last season as the nation's best defensive back but who also faces questions regarding his tacking ability. Tomlin reiterated that secenth round pick Gerod Holliman's strengths, most notably his 14 interceptions last season that tied the single season record for major college football, outweighed his weaknesses heading into the draft.
"None of these prospects are finished products. (Holliman) has a distinguishing characteristic, and that's his ability to anticipate, find angles to the ball, and finish those plays, and that's something that you can build the rest of his game around."
Tomlin said Golson's ball skills and Doran's tackling ability were some of the best he saw in the NFL Draft, which were main reasons that led the Steelers to taking those players. Tomlin said he feels confident about how the newly selected players will contribute to the Steelers' new-look defense.
"I think it's important when you're trying to build a young defense around new emerging leaders, guys like Lawrence (Timmons)- of course, Lawrence is not new but he's new to the leadership position- Cam Heyward and others, that we provide a competitive atmosphere so that the guys know that the playing field is level," Tomlin said. "We don't care about what means guys get here. Capable guys, guys that prove that they can be positive contributors to our efforts will be given an opportunity to play and play quite a bit."