NFL Draft 2011: Steelers' Draft Philosophy About to Be Challenged
What often defines an average drafting team from a good or even great drafting team is the presence, or lack, of draft philosophy.
For the Steelers under Kevin Colbert and the excellent coaching staff, this year possesses a real challenge to their philosophy for two main reasons: drafting for need over talent, and the drafting strategy for the secondary.
The idea of drafting for need over talent is a little more flexible than it seems. The Steelers have this habit of drafting players who will fill a need in the future after learning their system, but at the time looks like a talent based pick.
With the exception of Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, every other pick has filled a need, but not an immediate one.
The Steelers bucked that trend last year with Maurkice Pouncy, who surprised everyone with his ability to lead the offensive line.
Tomlin's other first round picks (Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall and Ziggy Hood) all looked like players who he knew could fill a need that would open up in a season or two.
For the rest of the draft, it appeared that later round players (LaMarr Woodley, Limus Sweed and Mike Wallace to name a few) looked as if they fell into the best available player category.
Yes, players like Woodley and Wallace stepped in and became stars, but players like Kraig Urbik and Limus Sweed were best available athletic/combine talent that had injury risk.
What is the Steelers' greatest draft need?
As of now, Sweed is an almost guaranteed bust and Urbik looks to be joining this group.
This year, picks one-to-seven can be used to fill needs and should be used as such.
The offensive line needs talent injected, the secondary needs a legitimate starting cornerback/safety and the defensive line needs youth.
Already, this uses up at minimum, four of the Steelers' seven selections.
Secondly, the Steelers philosophy in terms of darting for the secondary is not what they need this year.
Consider this: since 2001, the Steelers have drafted six defensive backs on what would be considered days one or two. Out of those players, only Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden are still with the team.
The others, Chris Hope, Ricardo Colchlough and Anthony Smith, have all produced far less than anticipated production (Keenan Lewis gets a pass since he has only had two seasons, but he has yet to show much either).
The Steelers have then drafted players such as Joe Burnett, William Gay and Ike Taylor in the fourth round or later.
Looking at the balance of players, you can see why the Steelers are often willing to spend early picks on other needs rather than in the secondary, and have been more successful in doing so, outside of Mr. Polamulu.
This year, there are so many quality offensive lineman, and the Steelers have to take one of them in day one or two. Further, with Aaron Smith's injury history, coupled with the age of Brett Kiesel and Chris Hoke, a defensive lineman is also a must.
The question is, in which round will the cornerback come?
Making this issue all the more complicated is that there is really is no clear cut solution: trade up for Mike Pouncey or the best available corner? Reach for a defensive back in the first? Reach for one in the second if Ras-I Dowling is off the board? Or hope and pray for a steal in the later rounds?
Regardless, this year's draft is going to challenge the football mind of Kevin Colbert, and could very well produce the extra factor necessary for the Steelers to win their seventh championship.
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