After a wait that he described as humbling, former Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer said he’s excited to be a Steeler.
At one time projected to be a first-round pick, a combination of factors saw Dwyer tumble all the way to the sixth round of the NFL Draft, where Pittsburgh made him the 188th player selected.
“It was very hard [ to wait],” Dwyer said. “It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. It made me think about a lot of things. I’ve got to come in and be ready to work and that’s what I’m going to do.”
He wasn’t supposed to last that long. After rushing for 1,395 yards as a sophomore to earn ACC player of the year honors, he rushed for 1,395 more as a junior last season to help the Yellow Jackets win the ACC. When he submitted his early-entry paperwork to the NFL in December, coach Paul Johnson said it came back with a first- or second-round pick projection.
Instead, Dwyer became a polarizing player, with some draft analysts slotting him high and others very low. It seemed the more that analysts looked at him, the more they found they didn’t like. They questioned his weight and speed. They didn’t like his pass-blocking and pass-catching skills, neither of which he was asked to do at Tech because of the nature of the run-focused offense. In the end, he was the 12th running back taken behind notables from Kentucky and Southern Illinois.
“It could have been a lot of things, but it’s over now,” Dwyer said. “As long as the team’s winning, I’m fine.”
Dwyer played at around 242 pounds in Tech’s spread-option. A toe injury sustained in the Orange Bowl hampered his training and conditioning in the weeks leading up to the NFL Combine. As a result, he weighed 229 pounds, four more than his target weight, and ran a relatively slow 40 time. But the toe healed and a slimmer Dwyer (225 pounds) bounced back at Tech’s pro day a month later to run a 4.52, seven-hundredths faster than his time at the Combine and within the top-10 times posted there. NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on Saturday that he never saw a burst from Dwyer during workouts. He had 15 plays of at least 20 yards or more last season, including a pass, an indication that he is fast enough to run away from tacklers.
Analysts also wondered whether Dwyer could transition from lining up close to the line of scrimmage, as he did in Tech’s spread-option, to the deeper start required in a pro-style offense. Dwyer pointed out after Tech’s pro day that he was used in that formation during his freshman season at Tech when Chan Gailey was coach.
Lastly, a week before the draft, foxsports.com reported that Dwyer flunked a drug test at the Combine. However, Dwyer had previously alerted the NFL that he has been taking prescription mediciation for ADD since he was in the 5th grade. Dwyer said one of the doctors who reviewed the drug tests mistakenly omitted him from the list of previously cleared patients. Dwyer’s agent, Adisa Bakari, said every NFL team knew about the medicine before the draft, calling it a “non-issue.”
As Dwyer said, it’s over now. He will report to Pittsburgh’s mini-camp next week. He said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wants him to learn the playbook as quickly as possible. The team features one running back who dominates the snaps, Rashard Mendenhall. Dwyer said he can be a third-down back, if not more.
“I will do whatever it takes to get on the field,” he said.
Should he make the squad, Atlanta fans can watch him when the Falcons open against the Steelers on Sept. 12 at Heinz Field.
Dwyer is the fourth Yellow Jacket taken in this year’s draft, following defensive end Derrick Morgan to Tennessee with the 16th pick, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to Denver with the 22nd pick, and safety Morgan Burnett to Green Bay in the third round (71st overall) on Friday.