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Character prevalent on Steelers draft board

By Justin McGonigle

Many Steelers fans were likely screaming at their televisions late on the opening night of the 2017 NFL Draft. Rueben Foster, once thought of as a consensus top-10 pick, was sitting there still waiting for his name to be called. He could instantly step in beside Ryan Shazier and solidify the middle of the Steelers’ young defense for years to come, but Foster’s stock had plummeted after reports of a failed drug test. There was also concern over a lingering shoulder injury that could require another surgery. With all that said, the Steelers couldn’t possibly pass on such a great talent, though, could they? They did, and surely they had in mind the recent troubles of the talented wide receiver, Martavis Bryant, and star running back, Le’veon Bell, both of whom have dealt with suspensions recently for multiple missed drug tests.

The Steelers selected edge rusher T.J Watt from Wisconsin. Foster went one pick later when the San Francisco 49ers traded back into the first round to select him. Foster may very well go on to be the next Patrick Willis, but it wasn’t a risk the Steelers were willing to take. Watt comes with pedigree and lineage. He comes with no off the field issues, and no failed drug tests. All of those things have been issues the Steelers have ignored in previous years. A few examples:

Martavis Bryant – failed drug tests at Clemson (4th round, 2014)
Mike Adams – failed drug test at the combine (2nd round, 2012)
Alameda Ta-amu –DUI during the middle of his rookie season (4th round, 2012)
Chris Rainey – charged with aggravated stalking at Florida (5th round, 2012)

Watt comes to the Steelers with only one full season of playing defense at Wisconsin, but he could be way ahead of other incoming rookies due to his preparation heading into the draft. With Watt having two brothers already in the NFL, he has been able to get a head start on the preparation that is required at the next level. Watt likely figures to fit into the Steelers defense in pass rush situations during the early part of the season along with spelling James Harrison.

In the second round the Steelers again decided to skip out on some talented but troubled players in Alabama’s Tim Williams and Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis. Instead, the Steelers decided to give their wide receiver corp some insurance with Southern Cal’s JuJu Smith-Schuster. Even with Bryant being reinstated prior to the draft, there is still a wait-and-see mentality with him. Any more suspensions and Bryant possibly could be barred from the NFL.

Next, the Steelers went with cornerback Cameron Sutton from Tennessee. Sutton was a captain for the Volunteers last season and brings plenty of experience as a leader.

“I was voted captain my senior year, but that leadership role is something I embraced over time in my four years in college,” said Sutton. “I am able to talk to guys and get them going in the right direction.”

Shortly after picking Sutton the Steelers came up on the clock again and quite possibly selected the biggest ‘character guy’ in franchise history. James Conner has walked to hell and back in the past two years. After suffering a season-ending torn MCL in the opening game of the 2015 season, Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system located in the body’s immune system. Conner fought for his life with an entire city behind him. He won. Conner returned to the field in 2016, and, after a slow start, he began to find his stride midway through the season.

“I was probably at about 60% going into last season. Now, I definitely got stronger and better with each game. But, yeah, that’s just real talk. Sixty percent. If that,” Conner stated in a story for the Players’ Tribune

Regardless of how these players respond at the NFL level you won’t ever have to worry about how they respond when they leave the stadium. They will respond with class. They will respond with dignity. If they never make it to a Pro Bowl or are never named All Pro, at the very least, you can thank them for quietly teaching the people around them how to be better humans.

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