PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is pretty specific about which information he decides to let out in public and which he keeps to himself.
So it was only slightly surprising that in his post-draft press conference with general manager Omar Khan, Tomlin decided to keep his thoughts about scouting the University of Georgia close to the vest.
The Steelers landed two Bulldogs players in the 2023 NFL Draft, trading up to get offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round and then going back to Athens to take a swing a gigantic tackle Darnell Washington in the third round.
When combined with 2022 second-round pick George Pickens, that means the Steelers have landed a Georgia player with three of their Day Two draft picks over the last two seasons.
Now, of course, it’s a good time to be scouting Georgia. The Bulldogs just won back-to-back national championships, unseating Alabama as the team to beat in the SEC in the process. A total of 15 Georgia players were selected in the 2022 NFL Draft to lead all teams, and then 10 more Bulldogs went in 2023, tying with Alabama for the most.
The Steelers landing three of those 25 isn’t so extreme as to be notable, and they aren’t even the team with the most Georgia players in the span. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted two Georgia players in 2022 and three more in 2023, including a pair of first-round picks in Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith, as Tomlin was quick to point out when asked why the Steelers keep going back to that particular well in the draft.
“Georgia, obviously, they’ve won back-to-back National Championships, and you don’t do that without quality players, so we’re not the only ones fishing in that pond,” Tomlin said. “Philadelphia, I think is doing a pretty good job of that.”
But that might be underselling things just a bit if we think a little bit deeper into the choices the Steelers made and why.
Let’s start with 2022, when the team was the first NFL club to feel good about George Pickens, who had a major knee injury in 2021 that limited him to four mostly ineffective games.
It sure seems like the Steelers nailed their medical evaluation of Pickens and got a steal in the second-round of the draft. He was the 11th wide receiver drafted and finished fourth among his rookie class in receptions, receiving yards and tied for third in receiving touchdowns.
In the 2023 class, the Steelers got advance warning about Jones, thanks to their 2022 pro day dinner with the top Bulldogs prospects.
“I said, give me a name that we’re going to be back for in 12 months,” Tomlin said. “And universally, Broderick’s name was the guy’s name that we got 12 months ago. That was the first time I really heard his name.”
The Steelers didn’t just wait until the draft process to follow up on that lead. Assistant general manager Andy Weidl personally scouted Georgia twice this past season, not just to see Jones but also picking up on Washington.
“I went to the South Carolina game, and then I saw him later in the season at the SEC Championship, him and Darnell,” Weidl said on Friday.
The Steelers traded up to get Jones. When a club decides to trade up, it’s converting multiple assets into one pick. It makes it much more important to get that pick right, because the trade up is eliminating some chance of rescuing one poor choice with a better one later.
The Steelers learned that lesson the hard way when they traded up to get Devin Bush in 2019, with that selection failing all the way around. They probably weren’t in a big hurry to do that again unless they were extremely sure of their evaluation of Jones.
Then came Washington, another Georgia player falling down boards with injury concerns and the Steelers were the team that trusted their evaluation and stopped the slide.
It remains to be seen whether Jones and Washington will make that strategy pay off for the Steelers, but evaluating what they’ve done in the last two years, it sure looks like a team that is uncannily certain in its evaluations of Georgia players.
Tomlin declined to reveal what the 2023 Georgia players told him at their pro day dinner about the 2024 prospects. But you should expect the Steelers to be heavily involved once again.
The classes after that will have even more opportunity for up close and personal scouting. Tomlin’s daughter Harley, a senior gymnast at Shady Side Academy, has committed to the Bulldogs in the Class of 2024.
Tomlin might not want to speak up about it, but it seems the Steelers have a very solid Georgia pipeline brewing, and given that team’s success at the college level, that can only be a good thing.