Labriola On

Labriola on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft

Love it or hate it, the one point that's inarguable is that it was historic.

The Pittsburgh Steelers completed their 2022 NFL Draft with four picks on Saturday to complete a seven-player class that was notable for two distinct reasons:

More than one quarterback was picked by the team in the same draft class for the first time since 1968 when Danny Holman of San Jose State was the eighth-round pick and Kim King of Georgia Tech was the 11th-round pick. Neither one made the team in the final of the 36-season period of what can be referred to as the Dark Ages of a Steelers franchise that was to be transformed forever in 1969 by the hiring of Coach Chuck Noll and the selection of Joe Greene on the first round of that draft.

The other historic element of the Steelers 2022 NFL Draft was that it represented the final one of Kevin Colbert's tenure as the head of the franchise's personnel department, and while Colbert wasn't on board for either the Dark Ages or the Renaissance, he was an integral part of the period when the Steelers expanded their collection of Lombardi trophies from four to six.

After Colbert opened the traditional post-draft news conference with a rundown of the seven choices the Steelers had made over the previous three days, it was Coach Mike Tomlin's turn to speak.

"I'd like to open by acknowledging this guy to my left here, his contributions to this organization for 22-plus years have been exceptional and need no endorsement from me. I think it quite simply speaks for itself," said Tomlin. "I've had an opportunity to come alongside this gentleman for 15 of those years, and I just want to say it has been an absolute pleasure, not only in terms of results but the process itself. It's a pleasure to come alongside him and evaluate talent and make the critical decisions. There's a lot of challenges in our business, but the spirit in which you attack them is everything, and it's just been a pleasure to work with him. His mark and impact on us will continue to be felt, played out in the lives of the men we selected here today, and I just wanted to say that. Thank you for 15 quality years."

With that, the door was opened to questions, and Colbert handled them deftly until he was posed with: "Do you like how you left the franchise?"

"I don't want to say 'better than,'" began Colbert. "I'm proud that we've added to that (trophy) room. It was four trophies … there were four when we got here, and you knew the task. (At this point, Colbert paused for a long moment to gather himself.) You think about (Dan Rooney) and being able to add to that room means a ton. But it doesn't mean it's over. The next step, I mean, we've always got to get more than, and we'll never lose that. But it means a lot."

In terms of the here and now, the team's Class of 2022 added those two quarterbacks – a potential top of the depth chart talent in Kenny Pickett on the first round and a developmental backup type who can serve as a camp arm in the meantime in Chris Oladokun of South Dakota State in the seventh round.

It also added a pair of wide receivers – one with a difference-making combination of size and speed in second-round pick George Pickens and the other with beep-beep speed in the form of fourth-round pick Calvin Austin III. The other three players were an athletic, versatile defensive lineman in DeMarvin Leal, a tight end/fullback/special teams ace with proven NFL bloodlines in Connor Heyward, and a running back who began at Presbyterian University then became an inside linebacker at Ole Miss with a stop in between at Southeast Missouri in Mark Robinson.

WR CALVIN AUSTIN III
Pick your cliché: You can't coach speed. Speed kills. Everything else in the game can be taught, but speed is a gift from God.

Based on the show he put on during the NFL Combine, Calvin Austin III is either an uncoachable killer, or a highly blessed young man. At 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, Austin, the Steelers' fourth-round pick and the 138th overall selection of the 2022 NFL Draft, is certainly not the biggest wide receiver to come off the board during the three-day pickfest that ended on Saturday, but he was awfully close to the fastest, while also putting together a show worthy of a decathlete.

Austin ran a 4.32 to finish third among all receivers at the Combine; his 39-inch vertical was tied-for-third among receivers; his 11-3 broad jump was tied-for-second; his 4.07 time in the 20-yard shuttle led all wide receivers; and his 6.65 in the 3-cone drill also led all receivers.

Coming out of Harding Academy of Memphis, Austin was the polar opposite of highly recruited, and he ended up at Memphis because the college's track coach showed the most interest.

"Whatever school I was going to go to, I was going to do both (sports)," said Austin. "I wanted to go to Memphis, so the track coach started recruiting me. I was like, 'The only way I can come is if I can play football, too.' I had been to all the Memphis camps in the past. I was like, 'I'll run track there, but I want to play football, too.' He talked to the football coach the next day and they offered me a preferred walk-on, so I walked on for both football and track. Then in 2019, after we played Houston, I earned my scholarship for football. (The track coach) would have offered me a full ride scholarship for track, but I wanted to play football. Football has always been where my heart is, so there was no way I was going to take that just to run track. I was going to have to play football."

During his track career at Memphis, Austin ran a leg of the 4x100 meter relay, a leg of the 4x400 meter relay, plus the 60 meters and 200 meters. In his final two football seasons there, Austin caught 137 passes for 2,204 yards (16.1 average) and 19 touchdowns.

"I mean, he's a tough dude," said wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson. "You see the track speed, but you see the football player in him, and that was important to me. He went to Memphis on a track scholarship, but I wanted to see the toughness, the competitiveness, and I saw those things on tape. When you're scouting a guy who has that track background, you worry about that whether or not he's a track player who just happened to be playing football. So, I'm excited to get him in the room because he shows those toughness things that we want in our group."

Austin's toughness was beaten into him, sometimes literally, by pickup games of tackle football played with cousins.

"Just from growing up is where I became fearless," said Austin. "I have a whole bunch of older cousins and we would go to the park and play tackle football all the time and from that point on, I've just always been tough because they wouldn't take it easy on me and I'm the type where I like to show off. If I do get hit or anything like that, I'm the type who wants to get right back up fast and go through it again because I'm never scared when I'm on the field."

FB-TE CONNOR HEYWARD
Even though the Steelers started the day with three sets of brothers on their 90-man roster – T.J. and Derek Watt, Trey and Terrell Edmunds, and Carlos and Khalil Davis, Tomlin was emphatic on one point: the decision to draft Connor Hayward had nothing to do with his big brother being the Steelers' multiple-time first-team All-Pro defensive lineman.

"It was none of Cam's business," said Tomlin when asked whether there was a conscious decision to keep the decision to draft Connor a secret from Cam. "Cam just happens to be his big brother. But I say that, and I mean it. Connor's resume speaks for itself. He's a Swiss Army knife. He's very talented. He has a nice skill set. He's a capable runner. He's a capable blitz pickup guy. He's very good in terms of the screen game, timing and feel. He made some plays down the field as a tight end in that offense. He's a physical guy.

"We imagine that he could be a contributor on teams, and so he was very worthy of that consideration, and I didn't want to water that down in any way by including big brother (in the decision-making process)."

LB MARK ROBINSON
Colbert served as the perfect narrator to the Mark Robinson saga.

"Mark Robinson is a real interesting story. Mark was a scholarship running back at Presbyterian University. Presbyterian dropped scholarships, so he looked for another opportunity, and he went to Southeast Missouri as a scholarship player. Southeast Missouri, during the COVID season in 2020, didn't play, so because Mark didn't want to sit out a whole year, he had a friend, an ex-teammate from back home who was at the University of Mississippi, encourage him to come down there.

"Mark went there as a walk-on running back. Mississippi gave him some looks on defense as a scout team player, and all of a sudden, they're seeing, wait a minute, this young man can play defense. About midway through the season, Mark actually had started nine games as an inside linebacker and really caught our attention. He has a real explosive tackling demeanor about him. He's a very, very interesting young man and really a self-made guy."

QB CHRIS OLADOKUN
"Chris Oladokun is another guy who he was a triple transfer and started off at South Florida," said Colbert, "Then he went to Samford University, and then graduated from Samford and took a graduate transfer year at South Dakota State and really did a nice job."

In 2019 at Samford, Oladokun posted a 4-4 record as a starter, and he completed 62.1 percent for 2,058 yards, with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Then in his only season at South Dakota State, Oladokun posted a 12-3 record in his 15 starts, during which he completed 62.3 percent for 3,164 yards, with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Over his final three college seasons, Oladokun also had 12 rushing touchdowns.

"We had good grades on him coming out of (South Dakota State)," said Colbert. "He played in the NFLPA All-Star Game. We wanted to add another quarterback to our roster, and we brought this young man in for a pre-draft visit. Very mature, very smart, impressed us, not only on the field but with his off-the-field talents and intelligence and just his demeanor."

Barring something unforeseen, the Steelers now are set at quarterback for the rest of the offseason and into training camp, with Pickett and Oladokun joining veterans Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky to give the team the four quarterbacks it likes to take into each preseason.

With that, another draft was in the books. This 2022 version was different in its own way, and even though it marked a milestone for Kevin Colbert, his dedication and singular focus won out in the end, as expected.

"You don't think about these things until you get away from the task at hand, but there will be time to reflect on it," said Colbert. "I share Coach's appreciation. I appreciate what he and his staff and his demeanor have done for this organization, and I just can't say how happy I've been to be able to work beside Coach Tomlin for 15 of my 22 years, and of course Coach Cowher for those first seven.

"We know what the task is, and we've tried to accomplish that as best we can, but we just told the personnel department and the coaches it's time to start another year. Again, I appreciate everything, but it's time for 2022."

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