I've done my fair share of arguing over football. Your team sucks, this player sucks, he'll never make it to the hall of fame, they don't have a shot this year, yadda yadda yadda. Interestingly enough, however, I've done most of my arguing with another Steeler fan I met during college. Let's call him Doug.
Doug is a small man with a few nervous quirks, and is generally a very nice guy. It just so happens that he is a complete football idiot. Now, one can be both ignorant (the root of idiocy) and intelligent simultaneously, and Doug manages to pull this off quite nicely.
It started with the first pick of the draft.
Doug was rabid about drafting a WR in the first round, and the object of his affections was Kelvin Benjamin. "Ben has wanted a big receiver for years!" (Googling this doesn't bring up many results besides comments by our favorite Ian Rappoport). I never understood this desire for a WR in the first. The Steelers have a penchant for selecting absolute gold in the mid-rounds; I completely trust our staff to go and get depth in those rounds and to develop it spectacularly. Why drop a high draft pick on a position we're so adept at drafting late? I also considered the history of Steeler drafts; we haven't taken a wide receiver in the first since Santonio Holmes. For me, that seemed like a "plan for the future" type pick. Sure, we had Hines Ward, but a guy like that is never supposed to be your number one (Doug cried 'Heresy!' at the mere suggestion that Ward was just a really good #2... but c'mon, he's a possession guy!).
The only reason I saw us possibly drafting a flashy skill position in the first round is if we felt that this player was an -absolute- future hall of famer. So why waste a pick on Kelvin Benjamin?
A couple weeks went by, and the Kelvin Benjamin talk died down. That wasn't the last of it from Doug, however; he just loved following the trends.
"Darqueze Dennard!" he exclaimed excitedly. I shook my head. Dennard's a press man cover corner... he's your Revis Island type guy. I hadn't watched him play a lot, but in our system a guy like that doesn't play every down. To some extent you set your scheme around your talented football players, but I felt a pick like this would be a complete departure from what we were trying to do: speed and tackling in open spaces. Dennard's gametape consisted of a lot of shadowing and some border-line pass interference on just about every play. Don't get me wrong, the guy's a technician; he's just not a Steeler to me.
Early on in the process, I wanted a big guy for the line. Doug cried foul at this suggestion: "ANOTHER d-lineman?! Yeah, because those just work out so well!" Offended, I thought to myself fondly about the successes we've had with Cam Heyward, and we hadn't drafted a replacement defensive tackle, in my opinion. I wasn't one of the fan boys that felt Steve McLendon was a long-term solution. I wanted a big 'ol fatty that could move! This draft made me realize how that kind of talent wasn't especially coveted in the first round; I was imagining a B.J. Raji sized guy, and the closest thing to him in the draft was probably Louis Nix. The more I had read up on this guy, though, the more it seemed like a 2nd-3rd round drop. Who knows, maybe there was someone there I wasn't seeing. In Colbert I Trust.
I put together a community mock draft with Doug and three other guys... and wouldn't you know it; he was randomly gifted the Steelers pick at 15. Of course, he took Dennard. Ryan Shazier ended up going six picks later to the Packers (scary thought).
When the Steelers picked during the 2014 NFL Draft, I turned to my friend and said, "They're going to pick someone I would never have expected in this spot, but I'm going to love it." Goodell announced the pick, and after three seconds of eye-glazed calculating and information review in my head, I realized we had selected a guy that was fast in space and tackled really well; Essentially we had drafted Troy Polamalu at linebacker. I started thinking about how this solves the tight-end issue we have in this league (Doug: "How often do we even play against good tight ends?!"), and how it was a departure from the coverage-linebacker liabilities we've had for years. I. WAS. PUMPED. This became an absolutely orgasmic joy when I realized we were picking in Round 2 with both Nix and Tuitt on the board.
After the draft, I was able to exert a sort of smug confidence in my next conversation with Douglas. I think one thing he forgot on a regular basis was that we're the Steelers; we don't pick players like most people. We like tacklers, intelligence, and dynamicism. I don't know that we're ever looking for a guy that does everything; we're looking for people to contribute in a special way that only they can. I think that's why we pick up guys like Dri Archer or "Big Boy" Daniel McCullers from the Vols; we see the potential for something truly special, like a stunting 3-4 Mean Joe or a line-jumping Troy Polamalu... someone that 'breaks the game', like Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl. I think Doug got caught up in the media's idea of the Steelers: Old, slow, bad in coverage, 8-8, big receiver, etc. We're not a glass half-full kind of team, and that's not how we pick our football players either.
Doug still hates the Dri Archer pick, but thinks we've had one of our best drafts in a long time (I still think our 2010 draft will have been one of our better ones). Going forward, I am even more confident in the abilities of our front-office to make good decisions, and I look forward to the development of these new talents we're bringing in as the Summer unfolds.