The Pittsburgh Steelers were short on draft resources this year, but that pertained only to the top end of the draft. With only two picks in the first three rounds, none in the first, and only one in the top 100, their opportunities were limited, but they still came away with a big-bodied wide receiver in Chase Claypool and an edge rusher, Alex Highsmith, to put behind their starters.
Entering the final day of the draft, Pittsburgh actually makes out a little better than they would with their natural picks. While they don’t have a fifth-round pick, they have two in the fourth, and one each in the final two rounds. Their extra fourth, which comes later than their natural fourth, was gained via trade with the Miami Dolphins for Minkah Fitzpatrick, which cost them their first-rounder, and is 29th in the round.
But this is the day of the draft that the Steelers feel best about heading in, in comparison to most years, as general manager Kevin Colbert talked about back on Monday during the team’s pre-draft press conference. Because of the unusual circumstances, they had more time to spend delving into the later-round prospects.
“In a normal season, or normal draft preparation, Coach and I may be at a Pro Day and our scouts are working on meetings of the later picks, but right now, Coach and I were on every call and every meeting, more so than we’ve been in the past with the lower-round guys”, Colbert said. “I think personally, I feel better knowing about the drafting of the later picks and the free agent types than I did”.
Now, it goes without saying that you would rather have higher picks, but you work with what you’ve got, and what the Steelers have is four picks on day three among their six total selections, after choosing not to trade down.
Truth be told, Pittsburgh’s success rate with late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents has not been as great as it once was. Even most of their successes lately have come from players initially acquired by other teams, like Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton.
Pittsburgh did have two sixth-round picks make the team last year in Isaiah Buggs and Ulysees Gilbert III, both of whom look promising as rotational depth. But outside of special teams purposes, they haven’t had much success in the later rounds.
They have had some contributors like Anthony Chickillo and L.T. Walton, but the last time they’ve drafted a full-time starter after the fourth round was with Vince Williiams in 2013, and they’ve tried to replace him. They did also hit on Kelvin Beachum in round seven all the way back in 2012, and of course, there was Antonio Brown—a decade ago.
If this pandemic has the unintended benefit of helping the Steelers find some higher-quality contributors at the end of the 2020 NFL Draft, it would be the smallest of silver linings to the situation we now face overall, but a great benefit for Pittsburgh.