I don’t think I need to explain that putting together a draft value board is an inexact science, especially when you’re talking about putting one together for a specific team. While focusing on just the players themselves and not the fit or the need cuts down on the number of variables involved, teams setting up their draft boards work a complex and imperfect balance in preparing to make selections.
This is some of what the Pittsburgh Steelers talked about yesterday during the post-draft press conference held by Head Coach Mike Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert, and some of their comments help to paint a clearer picture as to how positional value relates to rankings.
One thing Colbert said was that it was largely a credit to Tomlin as to how the Steelers drafted this year in trying to keep them focused on their board. “Coach was awesome throughout this process in saying ‘no, let’s respect the board, and let’s look at who’s the best players available and we’ll adjust from there’”, the general manager said of his long-time working partner.
Asked about the team’s failure to address the inside linebacker position in the draft, he offered, “if there’s positions available to us when we’re picking and they fit and they’re at the right spot, great. If they’re not, we’re not going to reach”.
It’s easy to talk about this in light of how the first round unfolded, after four off-ball inside linebackers came off the board in the first 25 selections. It was the most to be drafted in the first round in over a decade and left Pittsburgh short-changed, as they reportedly were prepared to try to move up to secure Rashaan Evans, their first-round target.
Many wanted the Steelers to take an inside linebacker once we got into day three, but with a couple of notable names still on the board, for example, they took safety Marcus Allen even though they already drafted Terrell Edmunds in the first round. But Allen was clearly the highest-rated player left on their board.
Another good example of the value dynamic at play was the discussion that Colbert offered regarding their third-round selection, tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, whom many felt was a reach because of his average tape, in spite of his impressive physical traits.
“Chukwuma was visibly a highly-regarded player at a position where we wanted to add competition”, Colbert said, but that doesn’t mean he was head and shoulders above anybody else they felt they could have taken when not discussing positions.
“When I’m saying he was above some other folks, there might have been somebody equal to or close, but those positions we weren’t really considering at that point. So it’s not like he was three rounds above somebody. I mean that may be a difference of…maybe half a round”.
We have this discussion every year, but there is no such thing as a true ‘Best Player Available’ draft, and even the Steelers acknowledge this. They don’t create their boards this way and they don’t make their selections this way. It would be foolish to adhere to such a strategy zealously. Roster-building, especially for a talented team, is more complicated and nuanced than that.
And Tomlin helped them to keep focused on their board as they strayed this year. So if you don’t like who the Steelers chose, feel free to blame him for 2018.