Do Recent Struggles Merit A Change In Draft Strategy?

Last week, Andy Benoit of Monday Morning Quarterback posted an article entitled “Time for a New Approach in Pittsburgh?”, regarding the team’s draft strategy, particularly since general manager Kevin Colbert has been in charge.

He writes in the article that “the most interesting team to watch in this year’s draft will be the Steelers. Come the second week of May, it will be fascinating to see what GM Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin tell us about their club”.

The reason? To see if they shift their draft philosophy after back-to-back non-playoff seasons, the first such instance in the Colbert era. In Benoit’s words:

For the longest time, the Steelers have had the perfect draft model. They filled holes two or three years in advance, so rookies (even first-round picks) often learned the ropes from the second string. This works when you have good assistant coaches; young players are able to develop under teachers like linebackers coach Keith Butler and secondary coach Carnell Lake, who both work under legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.

Since taking over Pittsburgh’s football operations in 2000, Colbert has drafted 42 players in the first three rounds, with 32 eventually becoming starters. Of those 32, however, only 11 started at least half of the games as rookies.

Despite this shrewd model, the Steelers are coming off a second straight 8-8 disappointment. Only twice in the previous dozen years under Colbert had they failed to post a winning record. Will he and Tomlin be less patient and draft players to fill immediate needs?

The postulation, then, is that the Steelers should consider placing greater emphasis than in the past on team needs when making their draft selections, and in turn getting those selections on the field and in the starting lineup more quickly.

Team president Art Rooney II has publicly commented on the latter in years past, expressing a desire to get the team’s young players up to speed and contributing more quickly. 2013 certainly saw a lot of contributions from rookies.

But the truth of the matter is that no team ever truly drafts the best player available, and rarely do teams ever explicitly and exclusively target positions in order of need. Benoit suggests that David DeCastro and Le’Veon Bell represent draft picks based on need that the Steelers have made in recent years, but is this accurate?

In 2012, the Steelers still had Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky at guard, and would also move Willie Colon to guard as well. Guard wasn’t explicitly a need, but DeCastro was chosen because he was such a high prospect that it was surprising he was available.

Running back, on the other hand, was obviously a clear need, but need and BPA are not incompatible, and it would be hard to argue that Bell wasn’t a strong mid-second-round draft pick. While he filled a need for the team, it certainly wasn’t a reach.

This year, the Steelers’ top needs appear to be cornerback, defensive end, and wide receiver. One can argue that they don’t have a number two receiver or a second starting defensive end. By Benoit’s premise, Pittsburgh’s first pick should inevitably be one of these two positions.

Given where the Steelers find themselves (e.g. back-to-back 8-8 records), should the Steelers put greater emphasis on need in their selections? Is there a fundamental flaw in their draft procedures that needs to be revised, or have they just had some bad luck in recent years? Is it time to start thinking about changing their approach?

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • grw1960

    Some of both. Bad luck with some key injuries. But also some questionable decisions.

    If the would have kept CB K. Lewis. There would be one less highly rated need.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    In decades gone by, careers were longer so they could afford to have them sit and learn for a couple of years. Now, very few players end up having even 10 year careers. Therefore they must slightly change their philosophy. They must still be patient, but it’s probably better to draft younger underclassmen while still planning for needs 2-3 years from now.

    If injuries or phenomenal performance by a rookie dictate that he gets in a little sooner, so be it. That should not be the expectation however.

  • AzheDraven

    Please let it go. It has been over a year about that and you people still don’t realize he wanted to play for his hometown team. We will be ok.

  • dkoy85

    Money talks buddy. That was a key signing that was not capitalized on, and it’s affecting this years draft. That is exactly how the Steelers build the team. He’s just using it as a reason why we’re in a position that warrants an article to be written about a change in draft strategy. It’s relevant.

  • WilliamSekinger

    So you think we should have paid K. Lewis several million more than NO offered him just so he would stay in Pitt? IMO he didn’t play up to his NO contract last year, and the Steelers should have paid him even more? Give me a break.

  • steeltown

    Yes they most certainly do have to draft according to need and hope for near immediate contribution. The 2000 decade club was a great Team but it is almost disassembled, the ’08 draft was a mess and the ’09 draft class is now exclusively playing for other Organizations. Those two drafts are relevant to our recent struggles.

  • Paddy

    They have been too slow in developing players, also signing guys to 3 year (initial) contracts doesn’t help. I hate Mon M QB. So full of himself

  • dkoy85

    I’m never for overpaying players, but Keenan played very well his last year with us and I think we could have been more competitive for his pay. We cannot groom players for other teams anymore- WR is generally the exception. You can say what you want, and maybe Lewis took a hometown discount, but it was a mistake that we’re paying for now.

  • walter mason

    NO! We must draft the best player available in at least the first round if an exceptional prospect remains. Try to fill positions of need later without reaching.

  • grw1960

    That is the most widely spread version. It was also reported last year on a pay site. That Lewis would like to have stayed, but it was unknown for sure if Steelers ever made an offer or counter offer

  • 20Stoney

    Is it the drafting, or the development of the players drafted that’s the problem? It kind of seems to me that having another guy ready to step in was more prevalent with the Cowher staff than the Tomlin staff.

  • AzheDraven

    Yes, maybe it is, but they should have signed him before his contract year, they didn’t and I believe because they were ready to let him go. Anyways, I hope they learn from that and sign Cortez to a nice extension.

  • Kenneth Wilt

    I think the article misses the point and confuses immediate success with overall success. Those 2 concepts are not one and the same, but have some correlation which is often misconstrued. Is Keenan Lewis a bad draft choice because it took him a while to start and now he is gone? No. Is someone a bad choice because he doesn’t start in his first year or is it a symptom of a team which had established veterans at these positions? Was Sean Spence going to be a starter in his first year if he didn’t get hurt? No.

    The draft strategy I think has changed and needed to change. I think we have seen it the last 2 years, but especially last year. We didn’t take BPA last year, we took BPA at positions we felt we had needs at. We were more targeted last year. Why? Well, because instead of looking for role players we were actually looking for starters. The 8-8 records aren’t a result of the last 2 drafts, the 8-8 records are a result of bad drafts in 2008 and 2009. From some perspective that was to be expected. The 2007 draft was solid, but he had only been on the job for 3 months and probably didn’t have a large input in the draft. 2008 and 2009 were his first real years of impacting the drafts. We got some good players, but the reviews were mixed. His drafts have gotten better as he has learned what he is looking for, but I think we will see a really solid draft this year much like last year. Jones, Bell, Wheaton, Thomas, Jones, Williams, and Williams as draft picks, in addition Arnfelt and Embernate as UDFAs. If you can add 8 guys to your roster in every draft, you have done something special IMO.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    WHAT THE!!!!LEWIS WAS RATED ONE OF THE TOP 6 CB IN THE LEAGUE LAST YEAR AND THE BEST ONE FOR THE SAINTS.

  • cencalsteeler

    I’m not sure we need to go out and change our drafting approach. Two 8-8 seasons, I feel, is a result from holding on to our vets from the SuperBowl team too long. That, coupled with Goodell’s parity campaign. I think people are jumping the gun here a little. I wouldn’t mess with the pillars in which made this organization so great. I do agree with Rooney. I would like to see our draft picks transition sooner, but, the draft strategy, IMO, is fine…… the sky isn’t falling guys, it’s just the ebb and flow of the NFL. What has to be remembered….. while we were making playoff runs and SuperBowl appearances a few years back, teams like the Seahawks, 49ers and Broncos were racking up first round picks. Now, were witnessing the results.

  • Steelers58

    Always draft BPA. That’s how u have long term success.
    The steelers problem over the last few years is a combo of injuries, a few bad pics, and not resigning some of there own FA.
    Also, a big factor was retirements. So many great players retired recently, we couldn’t replace them fast enough.
    So , keep drafting the way we have. We will be a very good football team in two to three years

  • westcoasteeler

    I think you nailed it. No more 10 year careers. By the time these guys develop they are ready to jump ship for a big payday. Can’t fault ‘em. It’s get it now or roll the dice with your body. And in a time where punters are 6’2 220, it’s an easy separation. Problem is Steelers FO doesn’t like the younger less mature players, cause even the mature intelligent sr player still takes years to catch up to the mental and physical speed of the game. And then injuries happen.

  • Travis Brockie

    Time to change philosophy, particularly sine Kevin Colbert took over in 2000? Does this guy not realize they have been to 3 superbowls, winning 2, after Colbert took over? Bad luck on the injury front and a bad start last year is what led to back to back 8-8 seasons. I think their philosophy is just fine there bud.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    What does BPA really mean? I believe that need and talent combined into a score make that up so that our BPA reflects both things when drafting. This is only speculation but it makes sense to me.

  • Steelers@2010

    Man, finally an article on what most have been saying for a few yrs now. What sense does it make to draft a player and sit him for three yrs, then in his 3rd or 4th yr they start, then to only lose them to Free Agency? Yes, I think it’s way past time they made some modifications to the way they draft and the Defensive Philosophy. If the scheme is too hard, simplify it just a litle bit to allow the Rookies on the field. They go 8-8 again, LeBeau will headed to the Nursing Home and Tomlin just might be his Aid. Too many other teams get their rookies on the field with success, I just don’t get it.

  • Josh Knepshield

    As long as we get Kyle Fuller, Cody Latimer, and DaQuan Jones, Im ok.

  • Matthew Suloman

    And taken Xavier Rhodes – not j jones last year. Even Dave te Thomas, said it was terrible mistake

  • grw1960

    That was my point, it is affecting this years draft. And one might argue that the changes in draft strategy started last year with the trading of this years 3d round pick.