As the Pittsburgh Steelers look to build their 2014 roster, they will have to weigh between drafting for value or drafting for need. On the surface this may seem like it would be an easy decision for a team—take the best available player and don’t look back.
However, it is not that simple.
When a team drafts for value, they typically select the player at the top of their draft board. More often than not, this also corresponds to the most talented player left in the draft. But sometimes this player is not a good fit.
For instance, Aaron Donald is the 16th-ranked prospect by CBSSports.com and may be the top player available on the Steelers’ draft board. In reality, this would be a wasted pick.
Donald is best served as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense. In Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 alignment, Donald’s quickness would be mostly negated as he would have to play as a 5-technique to control gaps and anchor against the run.
As a result, value may not necessarily mean the “best player available” but rather the best player available to fit a certain scheme.
That would place a player such as Louis Nix III or Ra’Shede Hageman ahead of Donald on Pittsburgh’s draft board. Even though both are rated lower than Donald by CBSSports.com, their tools are better suited for the 3-4 defense that the Steelers run.
There are times that a player fits the criteria and is the best player available. That is what happened in 2012 when the Steelers selected David DeCastro with the 24th pick.
DeCastro was rated as the 10th-best prospect by NFLDraftScout.com, yet fell in the first to the Steelers. Without hesitation they ran to the podium as they did not expect such a talented player to fall so far.
This plummet in the draft brings up a second issue when it comes to value early in the draft. That is positional value.
Despite being on one of the best players in the 2012 draft, DeCastro was listed by NFL Network's Mike Mayock as the 24th best player on the analyst's top 100 draft prospects. Unlike many of the players ahead of him, DeCastro does not play a premium position.
When it comes to value early in the draft, there are some positions that carry more weight than others. Tyler Schalter of Bleacher Report broke down these areas and identified offensive tackles, pass-rushers and quarterbacks as the most important position in the NFL. As a result, these positions provide more value early in the draft.
The Steelers may have considered this when making the 17th overall selection in last year’s draft. They selected Georgia's Jarvis Jones—one of the top-rated pass rushers in the draft. General manager Kevin Colbert told Bob Labriola of Steelers.com that he was one of these “6-8 special players” in the draft.
By selecting Jones, the Steelers passed on Sharrif Floyd, Tyler Eifert, Desmond Trufant, Xavier Rhodes, DeAndre Hopkins and Cordarrelle Patterson. Each of these players could have provided an upgrade to the Pittsburgh roster, but Jones was the best player available at the most important position.
Of course, the Steelers may have selected Jones because they had a need for an outside linebacker.
Drafting for need means that a team will attempt to upgrade a weakness by selecting a talented prospect. However, it also may cause a team to reach. Rather than take the best available player, the front office in question will move down in the draft to select a player who fills a void on the roster.
The risk of this approach is that you could pass on a more talented player at the expense of trying to fill an immediate need. Although this approach might get a rookie on the field immediately, it is harmful to building the best roster possible since the team is not drafting the best player(s) available.
When it comes to value versus need for the 2014 Steelers, that line is especially blurred because Pittsburgh is full of needs.
By examining the team's depth chart on Ourlads.com, it is clear that there are concerns with depth at virtually every position on the roster.
The Steelers do appear to be set at quarterback and tight end, going three deep at each position. Safety appears to be set as well after the Steelers re-signed Will Allen and landed free agent Mike Mitchell, formerly of the Carolina Panthers, to a five-year deal.
With these moves, the potential of selecting Ha Ha Clinton-Dix or Calvin Pryor in the first round has been eliminated. There is no longer a need to select a safety that high and neither safety prospect will provide more value than some of the other top players in the draft.
As far as other positions of need, the Steelers will be looking at wide receiver, defensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback. But these positions could dwindle as Pittsburgh approaches the draft. There is a strong possibility that defensive line or inside linebacker could still be addressed via free agency.
That would leave wide receiver and cornerback as the top two areas of need come draft day. Coincidentally, several of the top value players who will be in play at 15 also fill a need for the Steelers.
San Diego Chargers NT/DE Cam Thomas will visit #Steelers on Friday too. His nickname is "Baby Zilla." He's 6-3, 330.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) March 13, 2014
Wide receivers Mike Evans and Marqise Lee as well as cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert rank among the top-20 prospects by CBSSports.com. Not only would they provide value as some of the best players available at No. 15 overall, but they also would fill gaping holes in the Steelers lineup.
Told Kevin Colbert & Steelers coaches seen with Justin Gilbert/CB/Oklahoma St last night...Gilbert very much "looked the part" at pro-day..— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) March 13, 2014
Other players such as C.J. Mosley, Eric Ebron and Nix may not be needed to start immediately as a rookie, though they'd provide value as the top-ranked prospects at their respective positions.
Given the talent available not only in the first round, but throughout the entire draft, the Steelers should not settle. They must draft the players who provide the most value from the first round all the way to the seventh. Their talent base must improve if they want to get back into contention, and drafting the players with the most potential will help achieve this goal.
However, unlike previous years, almost any player that the Steelers select early in the draft will not only be of value but fill a need as well.
*All draft information is via Pro Football Reference, unless otherwise noted.