Analysis: Steelers checked off needs and stuck to the draft board


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They kept falling in order, almost in predictable fashion. For three days, the Steelers kept addressing their needs as though they were going through a checklist at the grocery store.

And their needs were many.

An outside edge rusher to generate better pressure on the quarterback? Check -- Jarvis Jones.

A feature back to replace Rashard Mendenhall? Check -- Le'Veon Bell.

A wide receiver to help make up for the loss of Mike Wallace? Check -- Markus Wheaton.

A safety to bolster the depth after the free-agent loss of backups Will Allen and Ryan Mundy? Check -- Shamarko Thomas.

The Steelers have long maintained they stick to their draft board, taking the player with the highest grade and not reaching to fill any position. And general manager Kevin Colbert reaffirmed that stance Saturday when the three-day NFL draft came to a close.

But, after drafting nine players and addressing each of their biggest needs in the first four rounds, the Steelers did a deft job of sticking to the board and filling positions with players who have a chance to help make up for some of their significant losses.

Whether luck or coincidence, it seemed to work.

"We've done it the way we've always done it, to be honest with you," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It just so happens, particularly early in the draft, the guys that were the highest guys on our boards happened to be at the position of need.

"Obviously, when you're in the state we're in, you could take guys at every position. Sometimes it appears you took need, but obviously we could have used guys at a number of positions throughout this draft."

That, though, is what happens after an 8-8 season in which the Steelers missed the playoffs and saw them get passed in their division by the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers don't have the luxury of drafting the best available player and letting him develop for several years.

"Where we picked these guys, we never felt we reached for anybody," Colbert said. "They were where we wanted them to be and available when we were willing to take them. We don't feel we reached for anybody, including Shamarko."

The reference was to Syracuse safety Thomas, whom the Steelers acquired by trading their third-round pick in 2014 to the Cleveland Browns to get an additional pick in the fourth round.

The Steelers considered taking him in the third round, but decided instead to draft Wheaton. When they did, they made the decision to get an earlier pick in the fourth round to get Thomas, and started calling teams to see who might be interested in a trade.

The division-rival Browns, with the 111th overall pick, were willing to accommodate.

"They went from a fourth-round [pick] this year to a third-round next year," Colbert said. "They must have seen value in that."

How did the Steelers manage to stick to the board and still fill their needs?

The second round was a perfect example.

After taking Jones, a pass-rushing outside linebacker, in the first round, the Steelers thought they might have to address their need at wide receiver with their second pick.

But when the Houston Texans selected DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson with the 27th pick in the first round, the Steelers thought there was a big drop-off in talent from Hopkins to their next best wide receiver.

What's more, after no running backs were selected in the first round -- the first time in 50 years that has happened -- the Steelers thought there were several backs in the second round who had higher grades than any of the available wide receivers. And at the top of their list was Bell, whose stock has been rising since the combine.

The Steelers also liked Alabama's Eddie Lacy, but were scared off by the long-term health of a toe injury from the 2012 season.

So, instead of reaching for a wide receiver in the second round, the Steelers selected Bell, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound running back from Michigan State. They waited just one more round to take Wheaton, a highly productive four-year receiver from Oregon State who can play all three receiver positions and also lined up at running back.

Not only did the Steelers need to replace Wallace, their No. 1 receiver who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency, they also needed more bodies at the position. That's one of the reasons they drafted Justin Brown, quarterback Landry Jones' Oklahoma teammate, in the sixth round.

"We need competition and the receiver position was one of the ones going in we knew we wanted to add to the competition," offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "We like the guys that we have here, but you get another young guy in here to compete and push the other guys, that's always a good thing in my opinion."

Steelers - mobilehome - homepage

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac. First Published April 28, 2013 4:00 AM


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