The Pittsburgh Steelers have an excellent track record when addressing the trenches in the first round of the NFL Draft, but they need to do it far more often.
Just because we don’t work in the front office doesn’t mean we can’t formulate our own opinions when it comes to critical decisions made by the Pittsburgh Steelers. I have been a big supporter of some of the things this team does in the NFL Draft. I think that they are one of the best in the business when it comes to drafting and developing day-two receivers. However, other things they do irritate me to no end.
One of those things is their utter neglect of the trenches in recent years. In an effort to fill some holes on the roster in order to stay competitive, Pittsburgh really put themselves in a bind with some of their decisions in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Good organizations know that developing a Super Bowl-winning roster starts in the trenches. It’s a large reason why the Eagles might be the best team in football this year. However, the Steelers have simply been valuing the wrong positions.
These questionable decisions have come despite Pittsburgh’s outstanding record when addressing the trenches in the first round. Since 2010, the Steelers have hit on 5 of 6 first-round picks when drafting players from the trenches (the offensive line or defensive line). Not only that, but they struck gold on 4 of these 6 picks — finding multiple-time First-Team All-Pro players.
Most would consider players like T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, and Maurkice Pouncey to be among the best draft decisions Pittsburgh could have made during this span.
Sadly, the exact opposite can be said when the Steelers willingly ignore the trenches in the first round. In 2014, Pittsburgh hit a home run with Ryan Shazier before a spinal injury cut his career short. Outside of that, however, they might be among the worst teams in the league when it comes to drafting non-trench players during this span.
Obviously, the jury is still out on Kenny Pickett, but Artie Burns and Devin Bush proved to be colossal wastes of draft capital. The same might be said about Najee Harris when it’s all said and done (you know my thoughts on taking a running back in the first round. While Terrell Edmunds has turned into a solid player, he still doesn’t make the impact that a good player in the trenches could.
How Should the Steelers draft?
I’m not suggesting that the Pittsburgh Steelers should spend their first-round pick on a trench player every year no matter what. It’s still obviously important to evaluate the talent and weigh positions of need. However, my draft philosophy has always been: take the best players at the most important positions.
Investing in the trenches might be the single best way to build a football team. Just like when starting construction on a house, you need to start with the foundation. It’s the same in football and we are currently seeing the results of trying to build on a crumbling foundation.
If the Steelers are to ignore the trenches early, they need to be careful not to overvalue positions like running back, off-ball linebacker, and safety. These are generally easier to come by in free agency, have higher rates of getting injured, and in most cases don’t have as big of an impact on the game.
After taking just one player in the trenches in the first round since 2016, I certainly hope that Omar Khan and Andy Weidl try to get back to true Pittsburgh Steelers roots next April to start rebuilding the foundation of this team.