The 2020 NFL Draft has arrived. And yes, this one has a different feel to it.
- The Steelers don’t have a first round draft pick for the first time since 1967
- Precisely ZERO pre-draft visits have taken place on the South Side
- They’re no announcements from the podium, no Number 1 jerseys given out
Things are even more different in Pittsburgh. Steel Curtain Rising has been running its Steelers Draft Needs Matrix in some form or fashion since 2009. And never, has the Steelers draft needs analysis been this flat across the depth chart.
The same basic analysis holds for every position area:
- The starters are solid, if not strong, but depth is lacking.
Things get a little more uneven when you start to account for impending free agency and aging at certain positions, but even controlling for those factors can push the Steelers needs as much as it can pull it in other sectors.
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin at their 2019 pre draft press conference.
The offensive line and safety present prefect examples. On paper, the Steelers have 7 starter capable offensive lineman. So the line is in good if not great shape going into the draft. But four of those offensive lineman are over age 30.
- At safety, the situation is very different.
Everyone is young. Free agency is years away. The Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are established starters. have two established starters. Yet, the Steelers depth have zero depth behind them.
There isn’t a position area, save for perhaps one, where the Steelers depth chart would justify passing on someone because they’re too well stocked.
And that has made mapping out the Steelers 2020 Draft Need Matrix all the more difficult.
Steelers 2020 Draft Needs
Over the last week or so, with the help of Tony Defeo, we have assessed the Steelers need at each position. Here is a summary of the results.
At Running Back, Tony has rated the Steelers need at High, and that’s the only position to earn that rating.
After that, you get Outside Linebacker and Quarterback rated as High-Moderate. But we’ll treat quarterback a bit differently that its rating suggests as you’ll see.
After that, you’ve got Defensive Line, Inside Linebacker and Safety rated as Moderate-High.
Offensive line comes in as Moderate, while Cornerback, tight end and Wide Receiver clock in at Moderate-Low.
How to sort out the needs? Well, that’s what the Steelers 2020 Draft Needs Matrix is all about.
Steelers 2020 Draft Needs Matrix
If the Steelers have need for depth across the roster, all needs are not created equally.
While the Steelers have several bodies at running back, only James Conner is proven, and he has has also proven to be injury prone AND is heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Outside linebacker earns the next slot in the pecking order because Bud Dupree is on a one year tender and the Steelers have neither an heir apparent, nor do they have depth.
After that comes inside linebacker. The key difference between the outside and inside linebacker is that the Steelers can still count on the services of Devin Bush and Vince Williams in 2021.
Inside linebacker gets the nod over safety simply because the backups behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds have more experience than those at inside linebacker.
It might seem odd to list defensive line so low, given that there is a starting spot open, unlike at safety and at linebacker. However, the Steelers might not have a true heir apparent at nose tackles, they have an experienced NFL back up and two other younger players with “upside” who could potentially play along side Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
So Defensive line stands in the middle of the Steelers Draft need matrix and gets the nod over offensive line, which in turn get the nod over cornerback because you need 5 starting caliber offensive lineman and only 3 starting caliber cornerbacks.
The decision to prioritize cornerback over wide receiver is an easy one. Wide receivers are easier to find, and even if JuJu Smith-Schuster is heading into his final year in Pittsburgh, the arrow is pointing up on Diontae Johnson and James Washington even if depth drops off of a cliff after you get past that trio.
The Steelers are fairly strong enough at tight end that even if they had their full complement of draft picks, taking a tight end would probably be a “nice to have.” But that gets to nod over quarterback.
The Steelers need at quarterback “High-Moderate.” Ben Roethlisberger is 37, coming off of elbow surgery and not is it not clear that Mason Rudolph could be a successor. But Ben Roethlisberger’s successor isn’t going to be found with the 49 pick, or any pick after that.
The opportunity cost of using a developmental on a quarterback dramatically short-changes the Steelers ability to address other positions who can help them win in 2020. Therefore, quarterback is their lowest need.
As a caveat, the Steelers Draft Needs Matrix isn’t intended to suggest that Pittsburgh should draft for need. When you draft for need, Artie Burns and/or Jarvis Jones happen. Instead, its role is to highlight where the Steelers need the most help and, in the abstract, break any “ties” when two players at different positions are equally matched.
Draft Different, Dream the Same
The 2020 NFL Draft is already underway and the differences are already apparent. So be it. COVID-19 is changing the world and the NFL is not exempt.
Yet, for all of the differences, the NFL Draft continues to be the day that dreams come true for hundreds of young men. Let’s give them their day, and wish that those whose names gets call from Mike Tomlin can be difference makers that help Pittsburgh through the closing window that leads to the Stairway to Seven.