Defensive line coach Karl Dunbar maintained the Steelers didn’t anticipate the sixth round of the NFL Draft progressing and Alabama defensive end Isaiah Buggs remaining among the pool of players available to be selected.
“We were surprised he was still on the board,” Dunbar insisted.
That’s heard often enough from NFL types as a draft day refrain to have long since become a draft day cliche.
But Buggs, too, was puzzled.
“I expected to be called earlier on draft day but things happen for a reason,” he offered during rookie minicamp.
It might be that Buggs simply had to wait his turn.
He became the 10th Alabama player drafted when the Steelers summoned him with the second of their three sixth-round selections (192nd overall).
Three of those Crimson Tide prospects were first-round picks (nose tackle Quinnen Williams, third overall to the Jets; offensive tackle Jonah Williams, 11th overall to the Bengals; and running back Josh Jacobs, 24th overall to the Raiders), which matched Clemson and Mississippi State for the most players taken on the first round.
Alabama had an NCAA-high 15 first-round selections from 2013 through 2018.
“I think one of the things you get when you get our players, if you talk to our players in the league, they’re all going to say, ‘I was really challenged at Alabama because of the guy I had to practice against,’” Alabama head coach Nick Saban told the NFL Network during coverage of the Senior Bowl. “I think people sort of underestimate that a little bit in terms of how guys develop in our program.”
Buggs, too, credited the Alabama program after his later-than-anticipated selection by the Steelers.
“Just a great coach, a great program,” he said. “Coach Saban, you have to buy into his system, do what he tells you to do and you’ll be successful.”
There aren’t any guarantees.
The Steelers drafted defensive lineman Joshua Frazier on the seventh round out of Alabama in 2018 (246th overall), and that didn’t pan out.
But Buggs considers players such as Frazier the exception to the rule among his Alabama teammates.
“Out of 100 percent of them, probably 99 percent of them are in the league,” Buggs suggested. “Just from Coach Saban, doing what you’re supposed to do and buying in. It’ll get you where you need to be.
“When you get there you don’t think about the NFL. You think about getting better, working each day and the NFL will find you.”
He might have been exaggerating, overestimating or miscalculating the 99 percent estimation.
But there’s no mistaking what Buggs perceives to be the difference at Alabama.
“Just the whole team buying in because they want to win,” he said. “When you get a group of guys that buy into the program and do what they’re supposed to do, the whole team will be successful.
“Not only will you be successful yourself, you’ll be successful for others.”
The eventual draft round is relative.
In Buggs’ case, it was later than he thought it would be.
So be it.
“I went to Alabama, did what I was supposed to do, still made it to the league,” he said.
“From here on out I just have to continue get better.”
View photos of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 sixth round pick, DE, Isaiah Buggs