Evaluating the Steelers’ 2016 Draft Picks: CB Senquez Golston

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via Steelers.com

“Wait a moment,” you may be saying, along with a few unflattering observations about this writer, “Senquez Golson isn’t a 2016 draft pick. He was chosen in the 2015 draft.” How true.

It is also true that the Steelers have indicated they intend to treat him like a second year player, because he’s been around for a whole year. But let’s be honest. He had a good opportunity to watch and learn during the course of the year, and will presumably be a good bit ahead in those terms of a guy coming straight out of college, but he hasn’t played a single snap more for the Steelers than the incoming draftees. As I see it, he isn’t that much farther ahead in the things that count than the rookies, because he hasn’t had a chance to feel it.
And besides, he’s a pretty interesting guy. So let’s take a look at what we’ve got.

One surprising fact about Golson is that he was drafted twice. The first time was in 2011, when the Boston Red Sox picked him up in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball  draft. Golson is obviously an all-around athlete, having lettered in football, baseball and track in high school.

Golson turned down the Red Sox, including a reported 1.35 million signing bonus, because he preferred football. He told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN last year:

“It came down to what I love to do every day, and that’s football,” said Golson, who finished with 10 interceptions in 2014. “Not knowing which direction I wanted to take, I relied on my football ability.”

It was a big gamble for a small guy to take. Golson is 5’9″, scarcely an ideal height for an NFL cornerback. It wasn’t clear it was going to pay off until his senior season, when he broke out in a big way.  According to his NFL.com draft profile:

Golson has the twitch, ball skills and instincts to be an outstanding cornerback in the NFL. Despite playing so much zone in college, there is no reason to believe he can’t transition to any coverage asked of him. He’s well put-together, but his lack of height could force some teams to view him as a slot-only corner. Golson has Pro Bowl potential.

But clearly there is another facet to playing defensive back, as the sad saga of Cortez Allen has demonstrated. Allen had the size, he had the skills, but apparently he didn’t have the nerves of steel. Golson, on the other hand, has already been through that fire and come out on the other side.

One of his “highlight reels” is a game during his freshman year in which he replaced the injured starter, only to immediately give up a 76-yard touchdown run as he was juked by Trent Richardson. Part of the problem was, he assumed that, like high school, he could get by with sheer athletic ability. In fact, he had a tough time learning the defense, and was turning from a star recruit to a bench-warmer.

So after his sophomore year he started to get really serious, as reported on ESPN by staff writer Edward Aschoff:

It wasn’t until he began changing his preparation and his body following his sophomore year did he really start to take the game seriously, Golson said.

“I always knew that I could be a pretty good football player, but I just knew that I was going to have to figure it out,” he said.

Now, Golson says he can see things before they happen in games. He recognizes formations and tendencies from film in mere seconds on the field. His brain is buzzing in games, and his body follows.

Physically, he’s become a chiseled 176 pounds. His liquid intake is “straight water and juices every now and then.” He doesn’t drink alcohol or eat late. He went from inhaling McDonald’s to grilling lean protein at home.

Golson also made the weight room his sanctuary, taking workouts more seriously than ever this past offseason.

That’s a lot of self-denial for a college kid. It was also quite a turnaround for a kid whose coach had mentally wondered whether Golson had the “heart, drive and discipline” to succeed.

One of the things I always want to know about players is what they did with their academic opportunity. According to the above-quoted article Golson was “on track” to graduate. He majored in criminal justice, but I can’t seem to determine whether he actually graduated. But if not, it wasn’t because education wasn’t valued in his family. As his mother told WLOX in December 2015:

Tasha Golson says youngsters should always strive to do their best, especially in the classroom.

She said, “I’d like to tell all the kids, you play sports, but in order to play sports you’re going to have to keep your grades up.”

There was also an arrest on Golson’s record—he was supposedly arrested for disorderly conduct after he refused to show ID to a police officer. The charges were later dropped. This incident was well-known, and the Steelers must have been satisfied with Golson’s side of the story, in combination with the lack of prosecution.

Like the touchdown by Richardson and the shoulder surgery which took away his rookie season, Golson has put it all behind him. I look forward to seeing him take his place in the newly-bolstered backfield. I’d love to see a few of those interceptions, too!

 

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