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Todd: A Look At The Steelers Early Picks And A Response To Some Criticism

(Note: This article was written Saturday morning, but we held of posting it until after the draft.)

Day 1 of the NFL Draft saw the Pittsburgh Steelers make a pick that was almost universally praised. The two day 2 picks were met with much more skepticism. You can hear Dave Bryan and my thoughts on those picks in a special draft edition of The Terrible Podcast recorded Saturday morning. I also wanted take a closer look at what the Steelers did on Friday and address some of the criticism here.

On Day 2 the Steelers added two picks to the roster. With pick #56 they took Ole Miss CB Senquez Golson and with pick #87 they took Auburn WR Sammie Coates.

Golson was the eighth corner off the board. Four went Thursday in round one and Jalen Collins, Eric Rowe and Ronald Darby were picked in front of him on Friday. In picking Golson the Steelers passed on Quentin Rollins, who went six picks later and was the only other corner to go in the round two, and DJoun Smith, P.J. Williams, Alex Carter, Craig Mager and Steven Nelson who all went in round three.

Coates was the 12th receiver off the board. Six went in round 1, only two in round two and then Tyler Lockett, Jalen Strong and Chris Conley went before the Steelers chose Coates in round three. Ty Montgomery was the only wideout to get drafted later on Friday.

Lots of people have written about the Steelers picks. In today’s 140-character world we crave instant analysis. In reading about people’s assessment of the Steelers draft, I was particularly interested in what Dejan Kovacevic wrote Friday night at his new site DKonPittsburghSports.com. Dejan is a weekly guest on my show on 970 ESPN and we have some spirited discussion each week about the topics du jour. I wanted to address Dejan’s piece because I think many fans have a similar view.

Dejan’s piece is titled “Where is Steelers’ urgency?”

(note: Dejan’s new site is a very affordable, high-value subscription site that I highly recommend. If I didn’t I wouldn’t point you to the piece. This is a disagreement with one article, but the work he puts out is outstanding and I only need to point you to this season-ending piece on the Penguins and Jim Rutherford as an example of the excellent work he does.)

Dejan’s primary point, as I read it, is that the Steelers have not done enough in this draft because they didn’t trade up to get some unnamed player that was rated higher on their draft board. “If only Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin would have taken meaningful steps toward upgrading its 27th-ranked pass defense,” he laments.

Dejan professes to not knowing whether the three players taken by the Steelers in the first two days of the draft are good players. He’s right and I appreciate his candor. The reality is none of us really know. Not me, not him, not Kevin Colbert, not Mike Tomlin. Obviously the latter two are hundreds of times more qualified to make that assessment, but even they don’t know for sure.

About first round pick Bud Dupree Dejan writes:

“It might well be that Dupree was a steal for falling to No. 22, or a “gift,” as Colbert called him. I wrote as much in the column that night, not denigrating the kid in the slightest.”

Dupree was Mel Kiper’s #1 ranked OLB entering the draft and was generally considered a lock to go in the top 15. He didn’t.

About second round pick Senquez Golson Dejan writes, “It also might be that Golson was the best corner available at No. 56. In spite of his 5-8 1/2 height, he was outstanding for Ole Miss this past season with 10 interceptions and not a single missed tackle.”

Certainly Golson’s size is a legitimate concern. If he were 6’ 0” he probably would have been the first corner taken in the draft. But as Jon Gruden noted leading up to the draft, “He’s short, but he plays against big receivers. I love him.”

Remember now, Dejan’s concern here is upgrading the pass defense. The best way to I know to upgrade your pass defense is to get a top-ranked edge rusher and a ball-hawking corner. That seems to be a pretty good start. Are these guys perfect players, finished products? Of course not. That’s why they were available at 22 and 56. And there’s the rub.

What Dejan doesn’t like about the Steelers draft isn’t the players. He even says, “It’s not about these players. Underscore that, please, and it in all bold.” (His words, so I added the underscore and bold.) He notes, “What I don’t like here is the lack of aggressiveness, the lack of urgency. That’s about approach.”

Dejan goes on to talk about teams getting aggressive and trading up. About the Broncos he notes, “When the Broncos saw the edge rusher they wanted, Shane Ray out of Missouri, John Elway traded with the Lions to move up from No. 28 to No. 23, and they tossed in two fifth-round picks and offensive lineman Manny Ramirez. Say what you will about Ray and all his baggage, or even the picks given up, but Elway got his man.”

I think it is important to note the cost here. To move up 5 spots in the draft, five, the Broncos “tossed in” two fifth-round picks and a starting offensive lineman. 5 spots. (Edit Sunday: In the fourth round the Steelers took corner Doran Grant, in the fifth they took TE Jesse James. In the sixth they took DE L.T. Walton. That would be a similar package.)

Dejan goes on to note, “That was the first round. Yesterday, there was a bunch of this.”

There wasn’t.

Well if a bunch is two, then yes there was a bunch. I don’t really consider a “bunch” to be two, so there actually wasn’t a bunch of “this” in my view. The only other trade that occurred was San Diego trading with San Francisco to move up two spots from 17 to 15. The cost, because, you know, that is important, a fourth-round pick this year, #117, and a fifth-round pick next year. To move up two spots.

Dejan goes on to point out trades made on Day 2 of the draft. Of the Giants trading up with the Titans and moving up to #33 he notes, “swapping second-round picks and giving up a fourth-rounder and seventh-rounder to get their man, Landon Collins, a safety out of Alabama and a player the Steelers, too, had targeted.”

I don’t know that the Steelers had targeted Landon Collins and I’m pretty sure Dejan doesn’t either. They have a depth need at safety, but the starters are in place. Are Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas question marks? Absolutely. But the staff is committed to them. But again, the larger point here is the cost of the trade. The Giants moved up seven spots from #40 to #33. The cost was a second, a fourth (#108) and a seventh (#245). To move up seven spots. The #Steelers were picking at #56. A move to #33 would be a move up of 23 spots. The cost to do that is going to be at least a second, a third and maybe their fourth-round pick. Worth noting.

Later in the round when Chip Kelly moves up five spots to draft Utah’s Eric Rowe, Dejan notes, “All he had to do was flip positions in the round — five spots apart — as well as giving up two fifth-rounders for a sixth-rounder. Big whoop.”

Picks #145 and #156 to move up five spots. The Steelers have eight picks in the draft. They lack depth. To move up five spots in the second round would mean they have six picks. Three on Saturday instead of five.

Dejan later points to the Ravens move up in front of the Steelers to get Maxx Williams, certainly a guy it looked like the Steelers would have taken had he been there when it was their turn.

Dejan has made a point of picking out a few trades where successful teams have moved up to target a player. But in noting John Elway, Chip Kelly and John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome’s willingness “to go get their man,” he doesn’t note that the Browns also traded up to get their man. Their trade partner? Bill Belichick. Who moved back. Or that the Bucs also traded up to get their man with the Colts trading back.

In lamenting the fact that the Steelers didn’t go get their man, and it is worth noting that Dejan has no more idea who “their man” is or was than you or me. He concludes,

 

“Colbert and Tomlin could have done any of this. They didn’t. They waited, they watched … and they did the best they could at their allotted slots, as if handcuffed to their chairs.

Sorry, but that’s not good enough.

I’m not suggesting that one superior corner would convert the Steelers’ defense into something special. Or even a superior corner and a superior edge rusher. That would be silly. Way too many question marks would remain.”

And this is where he finally loses me. He says he “isn’t suggesting one superior corner or even a superior edge rusher and corner would make the Steelers defense something special.”

But that is exactly what Dejan is suggesting. He says it isn’t about the players they drafted, but it is exactly about the players they drafted or, more accurately, didn’t draft.

Depth be damned! Do something bold like Elway or Ozzie (not like Belichik), and trade up for a player you like because I know you will get that pick right (because I sure don’t trust you to stay put and make the right pick, even though you did exactly what I hoped and addressed the pass defense with the first two picks.)

If a “superior corner and a super edge rusher” aren’t going to convert the defense into something special, why the hell would you trade up to get one and give away other picks in the process?

Dejan makes it sound like the Steelers are a a team that has multiple needs. A team that needs to hold on to it’s picks. A team that needs to add depth. A team that needs to continue to look for guys who can contribute in the later rounds like Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, Vince Williams and Martavis Bryant.

And he’s right, even though he wrote the opposite.

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