As a staunch defender of "winning games is the most important thing," I was completely against the idea of the Steelers losing their Week 17 throwaway game against Cleveland for the sake of moving into a higher draft spot.
After pouring over scouting evaluations and reading speculation over the last three months, I'm only left with a disgusting feeling. Perhaps it might have been better to be drafting a few spots higher.
I'm still glad they won that game. It doesn't change my opinion, but it just doesn't seem there is going to be a player available at the 17th pick who will provide the same level of impact as one might usually expect from that area.
Or, maybe not.
The last five players taken with the 17th overall pick:
2012 - CB Dre Kirkpatrick
2011 - OT Nate Solder
2010 - OG Mike Iupati (Steelers selected Maurkice Pouncey at 18)
2009 - QB Josh Freeman
2008 - OT Gosder Cherilus
Some good, some not so good. While Kirkpatrick didn't have much impact his rookie year (injuries more than anything else), he has the physical skills to be an outstanding player in the NFL. Bogus reports about him not knowing how to backpedal are misleading - Alabama coach Nick Saban doesn't have his cornerbacks backpedal in an effort to jump hitch routes. They take more of a sidestep, in what Saban calls a "bump and shuffle" technique.
Solder is a quick-footed, decent tackle for the Patriots. Iupati is one of the best guards in the game. Freeman is still a work in progress although he's shown flashes of high-level ability. Cherilus was the fourth tackle taken in a two-tackle draft.
The other conclusion I've come to: The Steelers have to want to trade down. Reports indicate Miami is looking to deal out of the 12th spot, suggesting they feel similarly about the thin margin of difference between the middle of the first round and the third round of this draft. The Lions allegedly want to trade out of the fifth spot.
I don't think Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert or head coach Mike Tomlin will cry if they have to draft at 17, but I don't think they'll pass on getting another third, maybe even another fourth, round pick to move down a few spots and see what's there.
There will be several players from this draft that will cause fans of every team to say "we could have had him in the third, but we picked So-and-So instead." We'll all gnash our teeth and curse our fate, and make like Worm when he's tanking hand after hand at the trust fund baby party outside the city.
Barring the identification of a team who wants to let go of picks to trade up for a tight end or an outside linebacker with an alleged injury history, the Steelers will be left with some decent, albeit not overly appealing, options.
Translation: No player likely to be available at 17 is better than a player in the early to mid-20s, plus another player in the third round. Seems pretty simple, and probably an axiom that's true in more drafts than not, but one may be able to argue you could stretch it from the mid-20s to the bottom of the draft. There are several talented players who will likely be available in the third round who don't possess that freakish trait that makes them rare enough to earn higher value than his middle round peers.
Perhaps the Steelers may have been in a slightly better position in the first round had they picked up another loss or two. That doesn't necessarily reduce odds of getting an outstanding player; it just doesn't seem those odds are all that high anyway.
The first round of the draft begins Thursday night in New York. But the second and third rounds are going to be the determining factors in this draft, whether the Steelers select at 17 or not.