The NFL Draft reveals a lot about its teams. Pre-Noll era Steelers coaches Walter Keisling and Buddy Parker had no use for rookies and routinely traded away draft picks, and the franchise suffered for it. In Washington, George Allen and then later Bobby Bethard traded away draft picks, and bought home hardware.
- And what can the Steelers 2016 Draft Class teach us about the franchise?
The ultimate lesson will be known in seasons to come, but for now, here are 4 Lessons from the Steelers 2016 Draft.
GM Kevin Colbert and @CoachTomlin discuss the team's 2016 draft class.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) May 1, 2016
1. Tomlin and Colbert Draft in Clusters
When the Steelers needed to rebuild their offensive line, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin used 4 first and second round picks on offensive line in the 2010, 2011, and 2012. Similarly, as Dan Sanger of The Steelers Wire has pointed out, Colbert used three first round picks from 2013 to 2015 to draft linebackers.
- Now Colbert and Tomlin have used 3 premium picks on defensive backs in two drafts.
Will it work? Well, no one can deny the Steelers offensive line is a strength in 2016 whereas it was a weakness before the rebuilding process started in 2010. As far as the linebackers are concerned, Jarvis Jones still has a lot to prove, but Ryan Shazier is the real deal, and Bud Dupree looked good for a rookie.
- At this point, Senquez Golson, Artie Burns and Sean Davis are defined solely by their potential.
Time will tell if these rookies can give the Steelers defense the octane boost the franchise needs to let Ben Roethlisberger lead them to the mountain top before he succumbs to Father Time.
The lesson here is that when Tomlin and Colbert set out to rebuild a spot on the depth chart, they cluster their premium picks in ways that Colbert and Bill Cowher never did.
2. Kevin Colbert is Cocksure about His Decisions
When asked about free agent defections in the 2013 off season, Colbert retored by asking how many essential guys can you lose from an 8-8 team. The Steelers 2016 off season has seen Pittsburgh let two experience cornerbacks in Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin defect in free agency without much of a fight.
- Yet, before the draft, Kevin Colbert boldly declared that the 2016 Steelers would field a capable secondary.
Without making an explicit reference to his 2013 argument, is as much saying that the Steelers are practicing addition by subtraction with their 30th ranked pass defense.
On paper, this logic works perfectly, but only if you have guys who can step up and do a better job. Steel Curtain Rising is already on record questioning whether the Steelers are putting too much faith in Senquez Golson. The same can be said for planning to start draft picks.
If nothing else, however, the Steelers 2016 Draft Class proves once again that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin do not make personnel decisions out of fear.
3. Steelers Draft for Need or Value When it Suits Them
As far back as 2011, fans were clamoring for the Steelers to draft a cornerback. Yet David DeCastro fell to the Steelers, so they took him. Good move. In 2014, needs dictated the Steelers would draft a corerback in the first or second round. Yet, when Ryan Shazier was available, the Steelers drafted him immediately. You can ask Jeremy Hill if Colbert and Tomlin got that one right.
The situation was the same in 2015, when Bud Dupree, whom many had rated as a top ten talent, fell. The Steelers took him…. The early returns are good.
Here in 2016, corners and safeties went off the board in droves in the first round. Yet the Steelers grabbed Artie Burns. They then drafted Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave, filling their top three needs.
- Yet after that, the Steelers went for value.
Word is the Steelers wanted to trade into the 5th round for a running back. They couldn’t, but when their time came to draft, they didn’t look to a running back, but stuck to their board and picked outside linebacker Travis Feeney.
4. The Bengals REALLY Don’t Like the Steelers
Unlike the Steelers, the Cincinnati Bengals have invested several first round picks in cornerbacks in the Andy Dalton era alone. Yet, when the time can to draft, they picked William Jackson III, whom it was widely known the Steelers wanted to get.
- Everyone’s been talking about that move, but there’s another that others have missed.
The Steelers also coveted Andrew Billings. Many expected them to pick him after Jackson was taken. The Steelers made other moves, and drafted Hargrave leaving Billings on the board. However, by the 4th round the Steelers were looking at value and its not inconceivable that Billings was the BPA for them.
- The Bengals drafted him before the Steelers got a chance.
Perhaps the Steelers would have drafted Jerald Hawkins with their fourth round pick anyway, but Cincinnati didn’t give them a chance to make that choice? Coincidence? I’d bet you an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty its not.