In a normal year, and 2020 is anything but, you can bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision-makers sticking to a couple of general guidelines throughout the draft. Kevin Colbert’s favorite phrase this time of year? “Hearts and smarts.” Prospects with high character, high intelligence, players who won’t keep the coaching staff worried at night or frustrated on the practice field.
And in a year like this, the topsy-turvy nature of 2020, you can bank on the team not straying away from (most) of their hallmarks.
Teams can, should, and will rely on the tape as much as possible. But everything else is cloudy. Medicals? If you weren’t at the Combine, that information is fleeting and potentially unreliable if it’s coming from an agent. Character? Have a red flag and it’ll be difficult to answer those off-field concerns. Even if it’s better than nothing, a Zoom call isn’t going to make teams feel that much more comfortable. Agents for half those players are standing three feet away holding cue cards anyway.
Small school guy? Positional coaches and coordinators didn’t get to watch that guy at his Pro Day, get to know him a little more, and they’re doubly impacted if they couldn’t snag an Indy invite.
This draft is about one thing. Avoiding risk. You can’t do that entirely – obviously. Drafting is an art, not a science, and it always carries risk. But minimizing it in a year like this is king. This draft isn’t about throwing a Hail Mary and hoping someone comes down with it. It’s about moving the sticks on 3rd and 3. Taking guys with lower ceilings but high floors. Accomplish that and it’s a successful class. Moreso for a team like Pittsburgh that ranks dead last in draft capital, just one pick in the Top 100.
For Pittsburgh, that means really leaning into their draft philosophy. Ever since Mike Adams/Martavis Bryant, the Steelers have rarely selected someone with an off-field issue. They rely on guys they know, prospects they meet, often ones who have a connection to the city. They felt comfortable drafting JuJu Smith-Schuster not just based on talking to him in-person, the only interaction they had was a 15 minute Combine interview, but through USC AD Lynn Swann.
They’ll rely on guys with football bloodlines, ones they know were raised around football and instilled all the values the game brings. Cam Heyward, Terrell Edmunds, and Devin Bush are all examples of that. And definitely ones who performed well in college against top competition, not projections based on lack of playing time or lower levels of competition.
The one exception? It may be a senior heavy draft class. Ideally, Pittsburgh likes to go after underclassmen but with less information on those players, it will be riskier than past seasons. It’s still, of course, possible they draft a junior early on, but I would expect this class to be a little older than most others.
Though it’ll be a draft and a year that goes into the history books, I bet it’ll be relatively boring for Pittsburgh. The class will still be talented, hopefully with players who can help them in this two-year, Super Bowl window, but it’ll be a classic, Colbert draft. Function over form, mitigating risk, and getting a competent 2020 class.
Not excited about that?
That means Pittsburgh’s done their job.