For many sports pundits and the majority of the Steelers fan base, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that Pittsburgh will draft a cornerback in the first round of the 2016 draft.
Yet the Steelers strategy has more often leaned towards a combination of best player available tempered with the teams needs.
What does this mean?
Pittsburgh will go into the 2016 draft with a grade/value on pretty much every available college player. When the Steelers are finally on the clock, they will look at whatever players are still on the board that have been given a grade equal or greater to the #25 pick.
This is where need comes into play. With all things being equal, a player that fills a need for the team will trump a player with the same grade that does not fill a need. Pretty simple.
What has traditionally frustrated fans is that this formula demands we pick up players that slide in the draft. This has often caused some short term depth problems but generally provides long term benefits. The same formula that has provided us with four linebackers all chosen in the first round, has also created a cornerback unit that is short on talent.
With the understanding that final grades on prospects will be fluid until just before the draft, here are three players that currently fit into that existing formula:
Cornerback Eli Apple of Ohio State.
The 6’1 200 pound prospect is incredibly aggressive and competitive. Apple has the size that the Steelers lack in their current backfield. He will need to be coached up on technique to rely more on recognition/reaction skills and on proper hand placement. He seems to have a good football IQ and is definitely athletic. With some big name defensive backs opting to stay in school for their senior year, Apple’s value has risen as of late. Unless there is a run on cornerbacks, he should be there for us at #25.
Quarterback Connor Cook of Michigan State.
At 6’4 and 220 pounds, the Michigan state QB has the size that the Steelers would intrigue the Steelers front office. His performance against Alabama left a lot to be desired but his complete body of work is promising. Pittsburgh learned this year just how important it is to have a legitimate young quarterback in the wings and the timing for grooming Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement is perfect. The only concern I would have is that Cook may possess a Jeff George type of persona in which he has all the talent in the world, but not the personality or leadership to ingratiate himself to an NFL locker room. Cook is one of those players whose value will be determined in the interview process at the combine and in individual meetings with teams.
Tight End Hunter Henry of Arkansas.
Henry is 6’5 and 253 pounds and, as of now, is the top tight end prospect entering the draft. I don’t foresee a scenario in which Heath Miller plays past this next season and unless the Steelers think Jesse James can adequately replace him, I have to think that Hunter Henry has a legitimate chance of being our first round choice. He has the rare combination of size and speed that might have him rising on team draft boards long before we even get a chance at him. If he is still there, however, he gives Ben an extra offensive weapon.
As the offseason progresses and individual prospects perform (or under-perform) at the combine and their pro day workouts, we will see various young men rise and fall on team draft boards. We will also get a better understanding of the other teams needs and inclinations. All this helps us foresee possible runs on positions, draft day slides, and the inevitable boom/bust prospects.
Well, Steelers Nation…what do you think? At this point in the process, what player or position do you think we will target? What player do you want?