We’ve been hearing for months that this year’s draft class is one of the deepest in decades. Sure, it may not have a top player that will simply be taken first overall regardless of what happens between now and the draft, but it seems to be loaded throughout.
On Thursday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert gave us something new to identify this draft class by – immature.
"Experience has told us that a lot of these younger players aren't ready for this," Colbert said Thursday at the NFL Combine. "It's a huge leap. I don't think a lot of them understand that until they actually get on a playing field and see the increase in the quality of play."
In case you need a translation, Colbert is pointing out something we’ve been seeing more and more as the NFL’s popularity and level of play have risen over the years. Rookies are expected to be impact players as soon as they’re selected, and that pressure is greater now than ever before, especially for players on teams beginning their rebuilding processes.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Colbert would be commenting on the immaturity of this draft class, especially with underclassman entering the draft in record force. There’s really no avoiding immaturity for teams; so, how do teams fit immature rookies into a well-oiled machine?
Obviously, teams with a group of veteran leaders will fare better than teams loaded with young talent. Keeping that in mind, teams like the Steelers, Patriots and Broncos should have no trouble getting their young players up to speed. Teams with little in the way of a foundation such as the Jaguars, Browns and Buccaneers will have trouble helping their rookies get ready before the season. Of course, rookies playing on those teams will eventually get up to speed too, but it may hit them like a ton of bricks in week one of the regular season.
Beyond player leadership, teams with even-keeled coaching staffs will likely be able to do more, sooner with their rookies as well. Let’s be honest. Bill Belichick will have his rookies in line and doing their job up to his expectations by the time the season starts. Other, less established head coaches and coaching staffs may have more difficulty getting the same results out of their rookie players.
Ultimately, whether we’re talking about players or coaches, veteran leadership will be what helps immature rookies stay out of trouble, which in many cases can simply mean staying out of their own way. There’s no doubting the depth of this year’s draft class, if for no other reason than the large turnout from underclassman ditching college early. Still, an abundance of talent needs to be able to translate to performance on the field, and without that veteran leadership, that talent has the potential to be permanently wasted. Each team will deal with immature players in its own way, but when real football starts in September, it’ll be easy to determine which teams have the best group of leaders simply by watching that team’s rookies on the field and off.