Labriola on Day 2 of the 2024 NFL Draft

As Dan Rooney always said about this special time of year: “The idea is not to try to win the draft. The idea is to try to win the Super Bowl.”

The Steelers entered this 2024 NFL Draft with rather defined needs/wants, and given that this was an offseason of some urgency, there might have been a danger that they would “try to win the draft” in an effort to check off some of the points. things on their wish list. Instead, they went through the Day 2 process adding the center they needed after moving on from 2-year starter Mason Cole, a wide receiver they wanted after trading Diontae Johnson and cutting Allen Robinson , and as fast and athletic an inside linebacker as they could. After the season-ending injuries to Cole Holcomb and Kwon Alexander, they learned the hard way that you can never have enough.

And they accomplished all of this by sticking to their principles, adhering to their process, and not spending their draft capital like drunken sailors on leave.

When the day’s selections began with the second round, the Steelers had the 19th selection in that round, the 51st overall, and their chances of coming out of the weekend with a candidate capable of entering the starting lineup in as a recruit evaporated. When they made Troy Fautanu their first-round pick, their top three options at center hadn’t yet been chosen. But before this round ended, Graham Barton left the board for Tampa Bay. Then on Friday, when the Raiders took Jackson Powers-Johnson off the pile, there was one left, and the Steelers’ second-round pick was still 7 spots away. And while there was some confidence that teams with those picks were in the market for a high-end center, there was a very real possibility that another team in need could trade up. against one of these centers. stains and ruin everything.

Instead of panicking and overpaying to advance themselves, the Steelers held on and were rewarded with the opportunity to select West Virginia center Zach Frazier, which they did quickly and happily.

“We are extremely excited to bring Zach into the program,” said offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. “It’s rare that you find a guy with that kind of pedigree, resume and the amount of snaps he has in college. Of course, there’s his wrestling background. He’s been very successful his whole life , and we couldn’t be more excited to bring Zach into the building.”

Specifically, Frazier was a key part of his high school team that went 38-3 and won a state championship in football; he personally posted a record of 159-2 as a heavyweight wrestler and won this state championship four times. Once he arrived in Morgantown, Frazier started 37 consecutive games at center over his final three seasons and was a three-time captain. He is physical, tough, good in space and excels in the clinch while playing with the leverage and balance needed to be a wrestling champion. Oh, and he got a 4.0 in sports management.

“He has a lot of experience with taking calls out and taking calls,” Smith said. “There’s obviously going to be an adjustment to the National Football League, but that experience really helps. When he was here (for his pre-draft visit), he was telling me he does a lot of woodworking. He builds Just his whole resume is impressive. He’s a very, very mature person for this age coming in here, and that’s why we want him to play center.

As for the wide receiver they wanted, 7 had been chosen in the first round, 4 more in the second round, and when the first pick of the third round was a wide receiver, 12 had been subtracted from the overall pool. But once again, the Steelers hunkered down and stuck to their process. They did not blink and did not spend capital to deal with the situation. They waited and were able to select Michigan’s Roman Wilson with their first of two third-round picks, 84th overall.

Wilson is fast – he ran a 4.39 at the Combine – and in his final two college seasons, he averaged 16.0 yards on 73 catches and had 16 receiving touchdowns for a team that got went 28-1 and won a national championship. And to stay on the field long enough to post such stats, Wilson had to be a willing and skilled blocker in the running game.

When asked what qualities he saw in Wilson that impressed him, he said: “Competitiveness. I think you can see his instincts on tape. I thought he came through in big moments .And he had great energy in him too, when I met him in person.”

During Senior Bowl practice, coach Mike Tomlin encouraged Wilson and cornerback Quinyon Mitchell to compete against each other in drills, as part of his overall “iron sharpens iron” approach.

“The one thing that really stood out to me was he told me to go find Quinyon Mitchell, get some reps against him, go work on him,” Wilson said. “That was one of the big things for me at the Senior Bowl. Just having a guy like Mike Tomlin, I know he’s watching me and he wants me to compete against the best and compete. That’s exactly what I did there and did.”

Wilson’s willingness to take on the challenge of facing the best during Senior Bowl week, and then winning his share of the matchups, made him more than just a guy whose stats were bolstered by being on a team of elite, and this consolidated his worthy status. 2 choices.

A year ago, the Steelers used unrestricted free agency to remake their depth chart at inside linebacker by adding Holcomb, Elandon Roberts and Alexander. But a significant knee injury to Holcomb and an Achilles injury to Alexander had the Steelers scrambling for it in the final month of the regular season. In the first wave of this free agency period, they added Patrick Queen to the defense to pair with Roberts in the starting lineup, and with their second third-round pick (98th overall), they added Payton Wilson from North Carolina State to the mix.

In 2023, Wilson won the Butkus Award, given to the nation’s top linebacker, and the Bednarik Award, awarded to the nation’s top defensive player, and was voted the 2023 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. In his final two college seasons, he had 30 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, 9 passes defensed and 2 fumble recoveries in 23 games. But Payton Wilson was a Day 2 draft pick because he’s not a dynamic passer and has an injury history.

Wilson tore an ACL while in high school, and as a college freshman he suffered another knee injury during training camp and redshirted that season. Then in 2021, Wilson suffered a shoulder injury in the second game that caused him to miss the remainder of the season. But Wilson hasn’t had any knee issues since his freshman year at NC State, and Hines Ward and Greg Lloyd have had long, productive careers with the Steelers without an intact ACL. As for the shoulder injury, football is a tough sport and sometimes things can happen. But this does not make the player prone to injuries.

“I evaluate the tape I watch and let the doctors take care of all the medical stuff,” defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “My job is to evaluate his tape as a football player and how he helps our defense. He brings speed to our defense, he brings some physicality to our defense and an ability to cover guys. It’s what I look at. He can really (run). He’s a quick trigger guy, which is what you like in a linebacker, he sees and diagnoses things pretty quickly, and that allows his speed to really show up in games. .

So on the second day of this draft, the Steelers built on the addition of Fautanu by committing only three picks to fill the hole in the center of their offensive line, to add a fast, competitive and tough at wide receiver. an evolving depth chart and to bolster a position destroyed by injuries throughout the 2023 regular season.

And they did it without being tempted to try to win the draft.

News Source :
Gn sports

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