Momma Looks at the Actual Draft: Round 2

photo via Steelers.com/ Karl Roser

I won’t repeat my rather ambling preamble to the first post—feel free to read it if you’ve got a cup of coffee and some extra time. Let’s get right to it:

There was fairly general agreement among those writing about the Steelers’ likely draft, at least among those who are actually knowledgeable about the Steelers, that the Steelers would take a wide receiver at some point, maybe even as high as the 2nd or 3rd round. While it wasn’t exactly a major point of need, there were a couple of factors driving it—first, Martavis Bryant wouldn’t be with the team in 2019, and second, the Steelers like to do that.

Let’s look at the first point. By the time I was doing my reading, everyone believed Kevin Colbert’s statement that the Steelers were not going to trade Martavis Bryant. The unspoken reason behind that, and one which all sensible people believed, was that no one was going to offer enough to make it worthwhile for the Steelers, despite the fact that Bryant would undoubtedly be gone a year later, one way or the other. There were several possibilities:

  1. He would have a terrific 2018 season, and thus price himself out of the Steelers’ range
  2. He would have an annoying 2018 season, with uneven production punctuated by more pouting and unfortunate tweets, in which case someone else might want him, but the Steelers certainly wouldn’t, or
  3. He would do something stupid and get himself suspended indefinitely, in which case he might not even be available to the Steelers in 2018.

Of course, any other team could make the same assessment and come to the same conclusions, which is why Colbert et al assumed they wouldn’t get enough offered for Bryant to make it worth it to trade him.

You could take the view that the most likely scenario was No. 2, and you would be well rid of him for a bag of balls, or however it was people were describing the Santonio Holmes trade back in 2010. Of course, we all know what that “bag of balls” (5th round pick from the Jets) turned into—Bryant McFadden and Antonio Brown. McFadden was serviceable in 2010. Brown turned out relatively well, or so I hear.

But given the Steelers’ many needs and limited picks (including the lack of even one in the 4th round) it isn’t difficult to see why the Steelers came to the conclusion they were better off getting what they could out of Bryant this coming season, and addressing the WR need in the 2019 draft if need be.

Instead, they found someone desperate enough (I guess that’s what it was) to risk a 3rd round pick on Bryant—and a relatively high 3rd at that—in the Raiders. And suddenly the need for another receiver moved way up the priority list.

I don’t know about you, but I love the ideas the Steelers have for the revamped defense. However, I’m not sure it is going to be effective sufficiently early in the season to prevent a lot of bleeding of points from the defense. I’m really hoping I’ll be wrong. I’m hoping that Tuitt and Hargrave were both injured enough to greatly reduce their effectiveness, and they will be back at full strength this year. This will in turn reduce the pressure to some degree on the secondary and give the linebackers a better working environment, if you will. But I can just as easily see other stuff going wrong. T.J. Watt gets injured—or any of the defensive linemen, for that matter. Bud Dupree continues to not impress. The hybrid ILB/safety core struggles. The corners struggle. So even if this new scheme is effective, there are lots of ways it could go wrong.

Which brings us back to our multi-million dollar offense. An awful lot of the money on this team is invested in them, and they need to play like it.

Hence the need for a stud third receiver. Enter James Washington.

But once again I’ve let myself get sucked into footbally matters. Let’s look at Mr. Washington from a personal perspective. I didn’t cover him in my mocks, as there were several other receivers I considered to be more handsome. I’m still pining a bit for Equanimeous St. Brown, the tri-lingual threat, but at least he went to Green Bay and not to an AFC North team.

But Washington turns out to have unexpected depths. He was born in Abilene, Texas, although his family lives in Stamford now. Not Stanford—Stamford, Texas, where they own a ranch. And this life is one Washington has chosen for his future, even assuming he has a successful NFL career. (We hope you do too, James, for what it’s worth : )

An article on the OSU Athletics site shows just what he gave up for that. Basically, he had three choices—1) declare for the draft as a junior, which would mean deferring his agribusiness major (with extra studies in ranch management) until after his NFL career, 2) change his major to University Studies and graduate in December of 2017, which would allow him to focus on football and draft prep, or 3) what he actually did.

Which was to take a 17-hour course load in the fall, while playing football, and a nine hour course load in the spring while preparing for the Combine. All of the courses were high-level, intensive courses required to complete his major. As he said:

I worked hard all the way to this point. Why not work a little harder to get what I want?

That was a hard time, I’ll tell you that. But I had a bunch of people that were by my side here that helped me get through it.

As he noted in an interview for Bleacher Report:

I wanted to be the first in my family to get a college degree. It’s a promise I made to my mom a long time ago, back when I was in middle school. It really wasn’t hard to come back. This is something I wanted to do.

Quite impressive, I think. I love to see a young man who can look squarely at his life after football, even while working towards an NFL career. And he is young—he turned 22 a few weeks before the draft. While that’s rather older than Terrell Edmunds’ brother (who is still 19), in life terms it’s awfully young.

And the “hard time” doesn’t seem to have hurt his draft chances any. After the Combine there were a lot of scouts giving him a first-round grade. As an aside, this makes a pretty impressive set of picks—a receiver with a possible first-round grade at the end of the second, paired with his quarterback, who also had a first-round grade, in the middle of the third. Only time will tell whether this is as impressive as it seems, but as we all know, getting at least a potential “franchise” quarterback in the third round is nothing to sneeze at.

How about character? We can already ascertain something about his character from the preceding. He’s not afraid to delay gratification, he’s not afraid of hard work, he takes the long view, and he keeps his promises. But there’s more—much more.

The Bleacher Report article linked above doesn’t have much to say about Washington’s prowess on the field. That speaks for itself. It is more about who he is and where he’s from. I highly recommend reading the whole article. I will just quote this bit, in which the author talks about Washington’s elder cousins:

They talk about the many photos James took as child while on successful sports teams and the fact that he never stood in front despite always being the star. In many ways, this was where he was more comfortable.

As Washington said about the spotlight:

Let it come to you. And if and when it comes, then share it with the people around you. Never draw attention to yourself. When you do that, you show your character.

To return to his cousins:

They talk about the time he still spends at the church and with the elderly, bringing them Christmas gifts when he gets a few moments away from his football life.

“He doesn’t like making a big deal out of it,” Titania says. “But it’s something he’s always done.

It sounds to me as if we’ve gotten another super high character gem in the second round. Sweet. And it would seem the Steelers didn’t sacrifice anything on-field to do so.

In an article written in March for Newsok.com, the author contends that Washington is the best receiver in the 2018 draft, and part of her reasoning was character based. After listing the tops receivers available in the draft, she says:

[N]one is any better than Washington.

It’s because of his skills, yes. His athleticism, of course. But it’s also his personality — this guy runs completely counter to the selfish, flashy, needy stereotype that often sticks to receivers.

“Teams have asked me, ‘Are you really a receiver? Most receivers, they’re the diva type,’” Washington said, then shrugged. “I’m like, ‘I’ve put plenty of stuff on film. You know my character. When I talk to you, that’s who I am.’

“Never gonna change.”

She talked about his decision to stay in Stillwater and work out with the OSU staff prior to the Combine and Pro Day rather than go to one of the big programs to train.

Of course, he couldn’t go to one of the big programs and also continue his course work. But that speaks to two things—his determination to see his degree through and his confidence in himself and the college staff who got him there.

The author finished up with the following, which was really interesting to me, since she didn’t mention any other teams, and the site is, naturally, based in Oklahoma:

Washington is a big reason why the Pittsburgh Steelers sent half a dozen representatives, including head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, to OSU’s pro day. Washington and Cowboy safety Tre Flowers had dinner with some of them Wednesday night.

Pittsburgh has the No. 28 pick in the draft.

If the Steelers want Washington, they best trade up.

Hoo-wee! as they might say in Oklahoma. Can you imagine the turmoil which would have erupted in our fair city had the Steelers not only not taken a defensive player, but traded up and then not taken an ILB but a wide receiver? Holy mackerel! There would be more than couches burning on the streets of Oakland, I suspect! (That is Oakland as in the part of Pittsburgh in which Pitt resides. When there is great excitement of one sort or another in the city, household furnishings which are probably destined for the landfill at the end of the year anyhow are sometimes set aflame in the student quarter…)

Well, I think we’ve established that Washington is, at least so far, the anti-Bryant. This should make for a refreshing change in the wide receivers room and the Twitterverse.

Let me just say I wish Bryant all the best in California and hope he plays well, unless he should happen to play the Steelers. But I think Ben, Antonio and Le’Veon have the drama component of the team pretty well sewn up, and Bryant was surplus to requirements.

So the final question—Washington clearly didn’t pass Momma’s initial eye test. But honestly, he’s growing on me by the moment. And after all, there is nothing more beautiful than a receiver running into the end zone.

And if he and Ben can develop a relationship anything like that he had with Mason Rudolph, all I can say is, watch out, NFL. We’ll see your 28 points and raise you a few more touchdowns…

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