The Pittsburgh Steelers lost a boat load of veteran leadership and experience from the defensive side of the ball since last season, namely Jason Worilds, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. Those are four starters gone, and on paper seems to be a lot to replace at the snap of a finger, something general manager Kevin Colbert says is not their philosophy as the NFL Draft is almost upon us.
“You are always looking for leadership but not so much more this year than in previous years,” Colbert told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com. “I don’t think you go into a draft or free agency or anything trying to replace the players that just left.”
Instead of looking to fill the shoes left by those departures, the team will look to add new pillars for the foundation of their team, more than likely beginning with the defensive side of the ball. As usually is the case when it’s came to Colbert’s drafts, nothing can be ruled out, whether it be trading up, trading back or the most likely, which is standing pat and taking the best player that’s available, regardless of position. The team is in prime position to fill one of the two major needs with the 22nd overall pick, and that’s at cornerback and outside linebacker. Two of the top rushers, Nebraska’s Randy Gregory and Missouri’s Shane Ray, may slide due to off-the-field issues, right into the laps of the Steelers. Or, Washington’s mercurial Marcus Peters, arguably the most talented corner in the draft, could be there waiting for them, but he has his baggage as well.
Could the team do the unthinkable, which is trade up for the first time since 2006, when they jumped up a few spots to secure wide receiver Santonio Holmes? Colbert said it’s a practice the team exercises each year with other ball clubs, just kicking the tires and looking at the various assets and asking prices involved.
“We say, ‘Look, we are interested in maybe coming up or going down,” Colbert told Varley. “It depends on what we are looking at. We may say, ‘Okay, we have this position of excess. We might be able to move somebody. Do you have any excess?’ Sometimes they will give you a position. Sometimes they will give you a name. It’s really just an exercise.”
There are surprises every year, in which one little ripple can cause a seismic activity of sorts across the mock drafts that exist. Bruce Irvin to Seattle in the 2012 draft or Kyle Long to Chicago in the 2013 draft are two recent examples. Florida State’s Mario Edwards, Jr. is a name that’s been rumored to be rocketing up draft boards, and is said to be a first-round lock, perhaps in the first half of round 1. If this happens, a gift basket that previously wasn’t expected to be there may fall to Pittsburgh, a la David DeCastro in 2012 and Jarvis Jones in 2013.
The team has shown in the past if someone special is available, they’ll leap-frog up to grab them, just like in 2003 when they went up to grab Polamalu, and man was he special. There likely aren’t any of his clones available in the 2015 draft, or possibly ever again.
“If you’re talking about a Troy Polamalu, you’re probably wasting your time trying to replace him because he was such a unique player, one that comes along once in a professional lifetime, honestly,” Colbert said, according to Varley. “I don’t think you can go in saying, ‘We have to get another leader. We have to get this or whatever.’ I just think you let it come to you.”
Is there a special player in their eyes that exists? Perhaps, as Florida’s Dante Fowler Jr. would seem to be a perfect fit for them as a physical edge rusher. How about Washington’s Danny Shelton? He’s the top-rated nose tackle in the class, equally capable of being a rock versus the run as he is rushing the passer, so he could play in their sub-packages. If he fell into the teens, the team may be tempted to jump up to grab him. It all boils down to what’s being said in the war room and what Colbert’s notion of “special” is defined by. The last time the team had a star at nose tackle was 2012, when they had the #1 ranked defense. It’s since fell to 13th and 18th, respectively. Brandon Scherff, the stud guard/tackle from Iowa? One of his “mocked” destinations was St. Louis, but there’s a rumor or “smokescreen” they’re enamored with Miami Hurricanes’ tackle Ereck Flowers. Will Scherff fall to 22? The bottom line is nobody knows what’s going to happen, and with draft day upon us, only a few short hours until we find out.