One of the debates that are always had at this time of year is how best to approach a draft and how to balance the talent available among the prospects in your range and what your actual roster looks like. This is generally framed as the debate between drafting for need and drafting the best player available.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers do maintain that they draft the best player available—a claim Mike Tomlin just doubled down on yesterday—they have made concessions in recent years in acknowledging that ‘need’ does play into it.
General Manager Kevin Colbert even acknowledged that he has been a part of such need selections in the past and talked about how that has the real potential to have a deleterious effect on a team that can be felt for years afterward.
“It’s always a relative range”, he said when asked about how you weigh need versus talent yesterday. “When you pass up a highly-rated player to take a player rated lower, significantly lower, you’ll end up regretting it. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve been a part of it in the past. It happens. We’re all guilty of focusing on one year”.
The Steelers usually like to frame their conversations around the current year by talking about how they are building a roster that can win in the now, but Colbert also talked about looking beyond and the importance that has in keeping perspective.
“2018 is what we’re focused on. But we’re never going to lose sight of 2019 and beyond because when you do that you will end up in a rut that you may not get out of”, he said. “Fortunately we’ve only been in one of those ruts [in 2003] when we had that losing season, and fortunately we got a franchise quarterback out of that”.
The Steelers went 6-10 that season with Tommy Maddox at quarterback, which is the only losing season that Colbert has been a part of since he has been with the organization. It did allow them to secure the 11th pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, which put them in position to select Ben Roethlisberger.
“The success we’ve been able to have was relative to that offseason that we had, but we want to be able to compete for a championship every year. 2018’s most important, but we’ll never lose focus of ’19 and beyond, and trying to be champions next year”.
If there is one example in recent history of the Steelers jumping the gun and drafting for need, it would have to be the Jarvis Jones selection in 2013. Others will talk about Artie Burns in 2016, and I’m sure a case can be made there as well, but the Jones pick certainly had more obvious consequences—for example, the fact that they’ve already use two more first-round picks on the position since.