INDIANAPOLIS -- A record 102 underclassmen declared for the 2014 NFL draft, a development that Steelers GM Kevin Colbert says brings both pros and cons to the table. Colbert called this draft class the most talented he has seen in his 30 years on the job but added "it also might be the most immature."
Do those comments tip the Steelers' hand at all with the draft a little more than two months away? Possibly, though they did use their 2013 Round 1 selection on Jarvis Jones, who declared for the draft following his redshirt junior season at Georgia. (He was 23 at the time of being picked.) The Steelers hold the No. 15 pick in this year's draft.
"They'll grow physically," said Colbert of incoming rookies, "but if you fail emotionally it can be overwhelming and sometimes career-ending."
Colbert called the task of figuring out which players are capable of handling the NFL pressure "an ongoing process" -- "Personal interviews are huge, how they handle sessions here [at the combine] is huge." The trend early in the 2013 draft actually followed Colbert's warnings: seven of the top 10 picks and 11 of the top 16 were seniors. Jones was taken by Pittsburgh at No. 17.
"You still have to go with what you see when they play," Colbert said. "Trust your evaluations, don't get all caught up with all the buzz. Hype's great -- it helps make our sport what it is -- but you try to remove that emotion."
Colbert's comments about the depth of this draft mimic what NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on a conference call earlier in the week. Mayock said this was the "deepest and best draft class I've seen in probably 10 years." Multiple underclassmen could be of interest to a Steelers team that's tight against the projected salary cap, too, including players like DT Louis Nix III, safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor and any number of offensive linemen, linebackers or wide receivers.
But Colbert made clear Thursday that no matter how talented some of those players appear, the Steelers will approach them with extra caution because of their relative inexperience. "A lot of young players aren't ready for this," Colbert said. "I don't think they understand until they are on the field. It's easier to go from senior year [in college] to the pros than as juniors."