The days of March are clicking off the calendar and there are only 44 days now until draft day. The Pro Days are also winding down and the Steelers will soon be entertaining draft prospect visitors down at the South Side later this month and into April. In my recent post about 1st round tackles drafted from 1995-2010 I showed how just because you might need a tackle while drafting late in the first round, it might very well not be the best course of action. David Todd and I even elaborated more on this in the latest episode of the Terrible Podcast.
Without a doubt, we can pretty well safely assume the Steelers will at least spend a pick on both on an offensive lineman and a corner somewhere in the upcoming draft, but to lock them into definitely drafting either position in the 1st round is pretty foolish. When you pick late in drafts, you have to let the draft come to you. The Steelers are notorious for neglecting a perceived need by us, the fans, and we have often seen instances where it appears they have taken what they considered the best player on the board as it relates to scheme and overall need. Let\’s look at the 2009 draft for example. The Ziggy Hood pick surprised a big majority of Steeler Nation, me included. Now we knew a quarterback, running back and tight end would not likely be their number one pick and you could possibly even throw in the linebacking position as well when you look at the state of the team at that time. Most of Steeler Nation was clamoring for an offensive lineman and cornerback in the first round of that draft. What a surprise. They did however draft two linemen and two corners in that draft.
Was defensive end a need in that draft? Somewhat, sure. The Steelers certainly needed some depth at the position behind Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel. When you look back at that draft board and who was selected, Hood was the 2nd true defensive end off the board after Tyson Jackson was picked 3rd overall by the Chiefs. Now some might argue about Aaron Maybin, Brian Orakpo and Robert Ayers, but these players were all transformed into outside linebacker types by the teams that drafted them. Peria Jerry was projected 3-technique guy as well. Hood by most accounts was primed for being a 5-technique guy and a perfect fit for the Steelers 3-4 defense. Considering the defensive scheme and the somewhat need the Steelers had, Hood was easily the best player available on the board for the Steelers with that pick.
Too often as fans we get caught up looking at what we deem are the biggest needs for the team and instantly try to correlate that with the mock drafts and player rankings. Too many times we overlook the big picture as well of what player fits what scheme. This is done quite a bit with defensive players more than offensive players, but offensive line blocking schemes and types of offenses certainly play a role as well in matching best fits.
Let\’s go back to just last year. The Steelers probably had a little easier time in narrowing down there first round big board as they were picking 18th overall. Guess who the first center/guard type that was that drafted in 2010. Yep, Maurkice Pouncey. Now the Steelers had likely envisioned him as a guard first with the idea of eventually moving him to center. We all know how that ended up. They got a guy who could play both positions and play them well. Can you say best player off the board that also met a need? Jackpot. Would the Steelers had the success they had in 2010 with Justin Hartwig playing center? Probably not and you probably agree.
As I eluded to in my underclassman cornerbacks post, that is a mighty risky thing to do based off history. I\’ll admit that Brandon Harris sure looks impressive in not only his combine work, but also his play on the field with Miami. He might even climb further up the draft board come April. If you look at the top 5 tackles and cornerbacks this year with perceived first round grades, the top 3 if not 4 might very well be off the board by the time the Steelers pick if they do not trade up. Would the Steelers draft the 5th best tackle or 5th best cornerback on the board if that were the case? Are the Steelers tackle and cornerback positions such a dire need that you just take the best of the rest in round 1? I think the answer is no. It is also highly unlikely that a first round tackle or corner could come in and contribute instantly even if that were the case. Especially the corner position in a Dick LeBeau defense.
Now just because best player available is the talk here does not mean that the Steelers should draft running back Mikel LeShoure, who could still be on the board when the Steelers pick. He also is considered the 2nd rated running back in this years draft. It also does not mean that they should draft Jake Locker should he fall. There is a place where BPA (best player available) meets a team need, especially when a first round pick is concerned. I expect the Steelers to once again to use that strategy unless they trade up. No reason to think otherwise.
So what position would BPA meet some need with the Steelers at 31? Guard perhaps? Although old for a rookie, Danny Watkins could likely be had there at 31. By many accounts he is the 2nd best interior lineman in the draft. He could likely even contribute in his rookie season at right guard at some point. What about linebacker Martez Wilson? His skill set is pretty amazing and he could cut his teeth on special teams early on. There is a chance he could be on the board at 31 as well. Those are just two off the cuff examples.
As you move forward now with your draft expectations, I think you will see that the Steelers certainly could disappoint those that have tackle and corner as an automatic position the Steelers will draft in the 1st round. Put you Kevin Colbert hat on for a few days and measure the other team needs against best player available method along with the skill set of the players in relation to the Steelers offensive and defensive schemes. You will likely see the bigger picture and method of the Steelers draft madness as it relates to the best player available and overall team need.