the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL Draft was extremely focused on the offensive side of football. Whether that was by design or just how the board fell isn’t known, but the team ended up with five new offensive players and only two on defense.
The first defender selected was DeMarvin Leal in Round 3, and no other defender was selected until the 7th Round when the team took Mark Robinson, linebacker out of ole miss.
If you were like me, when the pick was made the first thing you did was try to search and find some information about Robinson. Scouting reports, NFL Scouting Combine results…anything.
What did the search results show? Nothing. And I mean nothing.
The more digging you did, the more you realized just how crazy Robinson’s story was to get to Ole Miss. We’ve all heard it by now. Former running back has his program remove scholarships and transfers. New school shuts down for COVID and gets a chance with Ole Miss. There he is a scout team defender who gets a shot to play and turns it into being a drafted player.
All of that doesn’t answer the question many fans had after the pick.
“Why did the Steelers make this pick?”
If anything, his long and winding road to the draft raises more questions than it does provide answers. After the pick was made, Brian Flores took to the podium to answer the question about what the team saw in Robinson in more ways than one.
“He was a running back for most of his career.” Flores said. “One year at linebacker at Ole Miss. I think that’s part of what we liked about him, there’s some upside here. This is somebody who hasn’t played the position for a long time, but he showed speed, he showed athleticism, he showed toughness, physicality, and a lot of things we liked. He’s a fun guy to watch on film for sure.”
That’s all well and good, but what is it about this former running back which saw the Steelers select him over other prospects in the 7th Round?
“I think he’s got some upside. When you learn a new position, there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve early in the season, but as you watched him progress, going into games five, six, seven and eight, you saw him improve and get better.” Flowers added. “That’s really what you’re looking for. You like to see that as a coach. He’s someone who is a hard-working kid. He kind of got that feeling, and I have that feeling too. It’s important to him, which is a big part of making progress as a player. I know he’ll work to get better.”
Only playing one year at linebacker, even in the SEC, you can imagine the learning curve which will take place for Robinson the first time he steps foot on an NFL practice field. But as Flores noted, he won’t be the only player experiencing a learning curve.
“He’s going to have a big learning curve.” Flores said. “Specifically for him, still being new to the position, but there’s a big learning curve for all rookies in the league getting used to the speed of the game, being in a new city.”
Anyone who has watched the Steelers, especially under Mike Tomlin, knows the path for a rookie who is a Day 3 draft choice to make the team is on special teams, and Robinson is no different.
“He’s played in the kicking game for sure.” Flores said of Robinson’s special teams experience at Ole Miss. “He’ll need to help us in the kicking game for sure. I’ve got some background on special teams, so I’ll try to steer him in the right direction, but Danny [Smith] will take care of that as well.”
So, what exactly did the Steelers, mainly Flores, see in Robinson which made him an attractive selection on Day 3? A lot of intangibles.
“Intangibles are a big thing.” Flores said. “In my experience, the guys who develop in this league are the guys who have the work ethic, the intelligence, and are obsessed with getting better. Those guys improve in this league. There’s a lot of good players in this league, as you all know. The guys who work and improve, often times they move passed other guys.”
Ultimately, Flores sees raw football players, who almost everyone who categorizes Robinson as such, as a challenge. But not just a challenge, but something which excites the former head coach.
“For me, every player is raw, and I think every player can make improvements. As a coach, you get excited about that, finding the things they do well and trying to pinpoint those and put them in positions to do the things that they do well over and over again, and help them improve in the things where they’re not as good.” said Flores. “I think we all have weaknesses in whatever field we’re in. It could be coaching, journalism, football or basketball. I mean, everyone has weaknesses, and try to improve those weaknesses. As a coach, we’re trying to help improve those weaknesses, but we want to play to their strengths as well.”
When you consider all which Brian Flores outlined in his post-pick press conference, you can see why the Steelers chose Robinson over any number of players who most would have had a higher grade on. Robinson’s willingness to adapt, adjust and work at his craft is something the team finds value in.
Can Flores take this player and turn him into a starter? Only time will tell, but the coach is certainly excited about the player he just acquired as his position from him.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamps.