Despite Super Bowl window, Steelers need to draft best player available


The Steelers have been too narrow-focused during the NFL Draft in years past. Here’s why they should still draft the best player available in a closing Super Bowl window.

There’s no doubt that Steelers fans were satisfied when the New England Patriots were defeated by the Tenessee Titans in the playoffs this year, and with an aging Tom Brady, we can finally see light at the end of the tunnel in the AFC.

While it’s easy to draw satisfaction from the possible end of an era in New England, the same thing is happening in Pittsburgh. Ben Roethlisberger turns 38 years old next month, and he hasn’t even been cleared to start throwing tennis balls since his elbow surgery that ended his 2019 season.

There is no doubt that Pittsburgh’s best chance of winning any time soon is going to come with their former Super Bowl-winning quarterback at the helm, and we understand the importance of getting him as much help as possible in this closing window of opportunity.

At the same time, the Steelers can ill-afford any more setbacks in the draft, and they should be taking a ‘best player available’ approach this April.

While Kevin Colbert has been one of the most consistent general managers when it comes to the draft over the past 20 years, he has had his share of misses as of late. Jarvis Jones was Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2013 despite his horrible testing numbers at his Pro Day, and Bud Dupree was a project who finally contributed to the team in his 5th NFL season. Artie Burns was the definition of a reach. He was the fifth or sixth-best cornerback in the draft according to most experts, and I personally had a 3rd round grade on him entering the draft.

We will have a very clear picture of the Steelers draft needs after free agency, but that shouldn’t automatically mean that Pittsburgh addresses those positions early in the draft.

In 2016, the Steelers had a need at cornerback and they got tunnel vision. Instead of thinking ahead to the future and taking a player like Jaylon Smith or Myles Jack, they stuck with a position of need, and it bit them hard.

Pittsburgh did the same thing in 2018. Despite many experts having a 3rd round grade on Terrell Edmunds, the Steelers wanted to fill a hole at safety. I was pushing for Lamar Jackson when the Louisville star quarterback was available at pick 28 overall. Even with a 36-year old Roethlisberger at the time, Pittsburgh ignored the better player to draft for need.

While the Steelers could certainly use help on the offensive side of the ball for next season, it shouldn’t come at the expense of passing on a more talented player. For instance, if the top tight ends or top running backs are gone, I would much rather Pittsburgh look at a different position entirely rather than dig down their draft board and take someone at a position of need.

Sometimes it works out where the Steelers can take the best player available and a position of need – like in 2017, for example, when they drafted T.J. Watt at pick 30 overall. However, it rarely works out this way.

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The Steelers made some great moves recently by landing Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush, so there is still plenty of reason to have confidence in Colbert and the front office. However, if they draft solely based on need in this closing Super Bowl window, there is no doubt it will come back to haunt them in the long run.