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Best player available vs. position of need: Which takes precedent with the Steelers?

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The Pittsburgh Steelers acknowledge they adhere to the best player available principle trying not to reach for a position of need during the NFL Draft. Lately their draft results beg to differ.

NFL: NFL Draft Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are presently deep in the free agency process, busy signing their own free agents and negotiating with other available talents. Sometimes lost among the free agency frenzy is the daily college pro days happening simultaneously to the initial wave of free agency. The Steelers team officials and coaching staff must be thinking "What offseason?"

These pro days are often attended by the royal hierarchy of Steelers brass. It is not uncommon to see GM Kevin Colbert, HC Mike Tomlin, various position coaches, and a contingent of scouts. Even with free agency ramped up, these pro days often take precedent. There are drills to be witnessed, interviews conducted, and evaluations made.

Honestly, the Steelers still don't appear entirely comfortable with free agency. They are the epitome of an old school franchise. They seemingly resist change and have appeared slow to adjust to certain aspects of free agency protocol, draft day maneuverability, and contract structure. They always make the necessary adjustments, eventually. Thank heaven for the draft process, where the Steelers excel in roster building and have their greatest comfort level.

The Steelers have long strived to adhere to their tried and true draft day strategy. After countless hours spent building their draft board, the Steelers draft room strives to remain true to their board and select the best player available (BPA). This concerted effort in theory should prevent the team from reaching for a player in error at a position of need (PON). This strategy has merit, in theory. But what happens when the position of need is too great to ignore?

Take last year's draft for example. The Steelers biggest areas of need were universally considered to be inside linebacker and the secondary, especially the safety position. The Steelers were faced with a dilemma, as last season's draft was considered light at both positions. The Steelers had the 28th pick of the first round, with multiple teams selecting ahead of them who had similar areas of need.

Another issue facing the Steelers was the fact that only three inside backers and three safeties carried first round grades, with the top prospects at each position expected to be top ten selections. I felt certain that the Steelers considered a replacement for Ryan Shazier at ILB their biggest need, and I assumed they would make every effort to move up in the first round to make that happen. Some reports suggest they did just that, while others question if they tried hard enough. Regardless who you believe, the truth is they were unable to move up, missed the opportunity to select one of the top rated ILB prospects, and ended up reaching at a position of need with the selection of Virginia Tech S Terrell Edmunds.

Let me first say, I feel Terrell had a promising rookie season and he has a bright future ahead with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I feel he was a solid, not spectacular, selection. I expect him to take a huge step forward in his sophomore season when he attacks more and thinks less.

My problem with his selection, whether it was BPA or PON or a little of both, was how it seemingly impacted the rest of the Steelers board. Each round thereafter the Steelers apparently tried to not reach again and stubbornly stayed true to their board. That is the only explanation that makes any sense for a team that believed they were a player or two away from being a Super Bowl contender.

I don't necessarily have a problem with any of their selections last year and I don't doubt they will become contributors moving forward, a few already have honestly. However, they failed to address their biggest need at any point in the draft, after failing to adequately address it during free agency. This was an unacceptable development, especially when they selected a QB in the third round, a player that barring devastating injury shouldn't see the field for quite some time. That is a luxury selection, not a necessity.

So here we are, another draft, same need. Also, a very similar situation with only two ILB prospects getting first round grades and the Steelers sitting with the 20th selection of the first round. Barring an unexpected miracle, the Steelers will probably need to trade up in the first round to select one of their probable targets; Devin White from LSU or Devin Bush from Michigan. Both players would fit a huge area of need and would undoubtedly rank high on their BPA board. The Steelers have managed to shoot par in free agency with the acquisition of ILB Mark Barron coming on the heels of the disappointing departure of LJ Fort to Philadelphia. Barron may be a slight upgrade, but like Fort, it is highly doubtful he is a long term solution. At this point of his career, he has to be considered a placeholder. The Steelers need their next young stud ILB. The question remains whether the Steelers will be aggressive enough to make the trading up possibility a reality.

None of the cornerbacks receiving first round grades can be considered a slam dunk, with each prospect seemingly tagged with a red flag. The Steelers will look to add another explosive wide receiver, but thankfully this draft is chopped full of excellent prospects, so a first round selection probably isn't necessary.

Based on their actions this off season, the Pittsburgh Steelers still consider themselves to be Super Bowl contenders, and why wouldn't they. They still possess a HOF QB, Pro Bowl talents at RB, WR, and along the offensive line. They also have a nice mix of veteran experience and youthful potential throughout the defense.

Again, the Steelers appear to be a player or two away. We have seen this act play out before, with the Steelers coming up on the short end of the stick. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Steelers can't afford to draft a two year project. They need a plug-and-play today ILB. That is the mission, whether they choose to accept it or not.