Jon Gruden: Veteran leadership allows teams to roll dice on some players

Former NFL coach Jon Gruden has an interesting philosophy when it comes to drafting talented players with character concerns.

“I see a lot of these teams that are willing to bring in a player that’s had a checkered past,” Gruden, now an ESPN NFL analyst, said on Tuesday. “If you have some veteran leadership you can sometimes go that route. But if you don’t have a lot of leadership on your team you probably shouldn’t go this way.”

That belief raises a heck of a question for the Pittsburgh Steelers if they have a legitimate interest in Washington cornerback Marcus Peters.

The Steelers have hosted Peters for a pre-draft visit and he could be a steal at No. 22 if his dismissal from the Huskies last November proves to be an aberration.

There is no guarantee that Peters, who is widely considered the most talented cornerback in the draft, will even be available when the Steelers make their first pick in little more than a week.

Or if they are willing to take a gamble on a player whose talent wasn’t enough for Washington to keep him on the team last season after several run-ins with a new coaching staff.

One thing that can’t be debated is that the complexion of the Steelers’ locker room has changed dramatically.

The turnover that started in 2012 when the Steelers released defensive stalwarts James Farrior and Aaron Smith continued this year. The Steelers released defensive end Brett Keisel in March and strong safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor have since retired.

How much of a leadership void that leaves in the locker room remains to be seen. It is undeniable that the Steelers no longer have the veteran leadership that has long been associated with the team -- or at least the level of it -- especially on defense.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said he is “not concerned” that Peters’ issues last season will carry over to the NFL.

“It was a disagreement with coaches at Washington and when new staffs take over sometimes issues occur. [Former Washington linebacker] Shaq Thompson and players rave about this kid. He’s the best cornerback in this draft from evaluating tape. I think he should be a top-10 pick based on ability.”