Dear Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, et. al,
Every year, I and many other NFL fans put on our pseudo-GM hats and pretend that we're qualified to run an NFL franchise's talent acquisition process. Similar people do likewise in Cleveland (the only difference is they are actually IN CHARGE of said process). And as the NFL Draft approaches, we pontificate on who our teams should take, who they should avoid, and what they should do at all costs to obtain those players.
Despite years of evidence that the Steelers know what they are doing, we filled the message board with our pleas to the front office. "Trade up, dammit!," we screamed at 15. At 18, we begged. "DeCastro is still on the board! He'll never make it past the Bengals!" But as Commissioner GODdell announced Cleveland's latest blunder it dawned on us all; DeCastro was ours.
Time will tell if David DeCastro is worth the hype invested in him. By all accounts he is a rock-solid lineman who mixes tremendous physical gifts with the nasty attitude necessary in an NFL lineman. Not to mention a Stanford education that shatters the stereotype of the "dumb jock" attributed to the position in film and television. Whether he turns out to be Tom Ricketts or Alan Faneca is unknown. What is known is that he has the talent to fill a gaping hole in the Steeler line and he was available when the team drafted at #24.
The front office had ice water in their collective veins; there is simply no other way to describe it. A lesser group would have heeded the calls to move up, trading away later picks to ensure the team got what was needed up front. Picks that, in the recent past, led to major building blocks such as Antonio Brown and Bryant McFadden. Without question, calls were made to teams like the Seahawks and Chargers. But at the end of the day, whatever the price was, it was deemed too high a price to pay. So they waited. And won.
Despite this evidence being fresh in our memory, not everyone was thrilled with the pick of Mike Adams in round two. They pointed at his issues with marijuana and with the Columbus tattoo parlor. Never mind the fact that he had both first round talent and first round production. He went to the same school as Santonio Holmes and like Holmes had spent some time in Marleyville. It was only in the hours and days after the pick that we learned about his efforts to reach out to the coaching staff after the combine and his investment in the Steelers as a franchise. Am I convinced? Not entirely. But I have hope.
Third round pick Sean Spence wasn't on the draft radar of many; his small size didn't impress a Steeler nation conditioned to hulking monsters like James Harrison. But he's a playmaker in the mold of Zach Thomas and Lofa Tatupu. The film shows him moving all over the field with an almost preternatural instinct to find the football. Judge him by his size, do you?
In the fourth round, the front office answered another need with Alameda Ta'Amu. In fact, many of us on the boards had clamored for his selection a round earlier- after all, Big Snack won't live forever. Some weren't entirely comfortable with his selection, pointing out his lack of big play ability and how DeCastro had owned him in conference play. But then again, who DIDN'T DeCastro own, in or out of conference? Moreover, critics judged Ta'Amu by the wrong standards. The Steelers don't NEED a playmaker at NT. They've never gotten significant production out of that position. Instead, what they need is someone to chew up space and be a virtual black hole in the middle of the line, drawing offensive linemen and allowing the LBs to make plays.
Oh, and they moved up to take him. So much for the front office refusing to trade picks to move up when necessary.
I'm not sure that anyone the team drafted in rounds five and seven have the ability to make this team. Chris Rainey strikes me as a backup plan for Barron Batch. If Batch's knee recovers fully by training camp, Rainey will have a difficult time making the roster against him as Batch has had a year to fully assimilate into the Steelers culture. Toney Clemons is an intriguing prospect as a possession receiver; without Hines Ward on the roster, the competition for that slot will be wide open. And I'm not sure that Paulson, Frederick, or Beachum have the skills to boot anyone off the current roster. Then again, seventh round picks that do are the exception, not the rule.
In any case, we drafted players we needed and we didn't overpay to get them. When even Baltimore fans admit the talent haul you know the front office did another outstanding job. What's more impressive is that they obtained these players from the #24 slot in the draft. Praising the Colts for drafting well from the #1 slot or the Vikings from the #3 slot is like praising a toddler for leaving a turd in the bowl. Yes, it needed to be done. But it didn't take a whole lot of skill to make it happen.
The bottom line is that we've been spoiled by our front office. Despite picking from the back of the round virtually every year, the Steelers manage to pick up players who can make their roster and re-stock the shelves upon which Lombardi trophies will one day sit. We're fortunate beyond measure to have a front office that can do this. Think about what life is like for a Cleveland Browns fan right now. You went into the draft with the #4 slot each round, two #1 picks, plus a number of bonus picks throughout the draft. You had every reason to expect that the team would pick up some serious talent. Yet looking back as the draft ends, it's entirely possible that your arch rivals, picking 20 slots beneath you, picked up more starters with virtually half the picks. Ouch.
So to Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and all of the others involved in the talent acquisition process, I apologize. I promise to trust your talent decisions. I promise not to second-guess holding still while talent comes off the boards. I promise to trust that you, the professionals with ring(s) on your fingers, know better than I do when it comes to sustaining a championship-level franchise.
At least until next April, anyways. Hope springs eternal.