The Optimist’s Take: First-Round Risk Vs Reward

The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.

Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.

But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Should the Steelers value reward over risk with potential first-round candidates?

Generally speaking, the Steelers are a fairly conservatively run football organization, tending to skew toward caution, and not taking too many risks. It’s part of why they don’t dabble majorly in free agency too often, believing that it’s better to pay big money to your own players that you know than to those that you don’t, which could disrupt team chemistry.

We also see this play out in the draft, naturally, which often results in the team, more than many others, taking certain players off their draft boards entirely due to either medical or character red flags—players that would otherwise have overwhelmingly likely have been their top draft choice.

Of course, that is not always the case, or, at least, they don’t always entirely shy away from risk. When they drafted Jarvis Jones, they did so knowing that he was once told that he might someday not be able to play football due to spinal stenosis. But they did this feeling confident in their own teams’ medical evaluation.

There are a couple of very interesting first-round candidates this year that draw certain flags that I can’t help but wonder if the team is considering, foremost in my mind being safety Karl Joseph, defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, and defensive end Noah Spence.

In the case of Joseph, the determination is clear-cut. The safety suffered torn ACL about a month into his final collegiate season, during which he was highly productive, intercepting five passes by the time of his injury. If the team is comfortable with his recovery and believes it won’t be an issue, he can be the pick.

In the cases of Spence and Nkemdiche, the evaluation is much tougher, for obvious reasons for those who have followed their stories. But either of them could be quality selections with the 25th overall pick, or even in a potential trade-down situation, provided that the team trusts where they are, and where they will be.

The compelling force here is the simple fact that the Steelers are in desperate need of high-talent defensive contributors, and any three of these players can be that guy. Weighing risk versus reward, the football potential that is there, as long as they show themselves to be less than complete buffoons that would keep them from demonstrating that potential.

By now, the Steelers have more or less rebuilt their locker room wherein there exists a united, strong, communal bond, one that would be able to police itself, for the most part. With strong leadership, it is safer to take on a character risk and the team should consider that factor in the first round if it becomes relevant when they pick.

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