By the numbers: When should the Steelers target a tight end?

(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
(Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /
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Data tells us many things about the crap-shoot that is the NFL Draft. How should the Steelers approach their needs?

For the first time in a half-century, the Pittsburgh Steelers do not have a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. As a fan of the team, it’s a strange place to be and it got me thinking. How have the Steelers performed in those critical middle rounds that make or break many teams? How do they measure up compared to other teams in the league? What are the Steelers’ positions of need and what are the trends for those roles in rounds 2 through 5? What should Kevin Colbert do to maximize the return on the picks he does have?

The answers were not quickly forthcoming. There are any number of websites that rate players. There are multitudes of mock drafts that focus primarily on the first round. There are plenty of articles about players that Pittsburgh should consider, but there is a dearth of information on the quality of tight ends selected in the past decade in round 2 versus the same position in rounds 3 or 4.

Historically, the Steelers have made critical picks in those rounds that served the franchise well. I remember watching players from the now legendary draft of 1974 which saw rounds 2 through 5 yield Jack Lambert, John Stallworth, and the late, great Mike Webster. The team made excellent selections in these rounds in the 1990s.  Remember Joel Steed? How about Levon Kirland or Earl Holmes?

Then of course came the haul that led to the next great period of Steeler excellence. Joey Porter in round 3 of 1999.  Deshea Townsend in round 4 of 1998. Or what about 2003, the year that Troy Polamalu was taken in round 1 while a virtual unknown named Ike Taylor surfaced in the 4th? Clark Hagans in round 5. The list goes on and on.