When does a good team draft in the top 10? When that good team is perhaps one player away from being a great one.
Despite losing some potent offensive production, the Steelers are still believed to be a good team as they prepare for the 2019 regular season. But how will they become a great team? What will put them over the top?
Heading into the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft on Thursday night, the popular opinion was that finding a suitable replacement for Ryan Shazier—a player who would make the defense faster from sideline to sideline and up the middle—was key to getting the Steelers where they needed to be.
And that’s why it was so refreshing to see Pittsburgh, armed with the 20th overall selection and nine other draft picks, part with said 20th pick, a second-round pick from 2019 as well as a third-round pick from 2020 in-order to move up 10 spots to take Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Not only was it refreshing, it was exciting. It was exciting to see the Steelers act aggressively and get the man they think can be a difference maker.
It remains to be seen if Bush will be that guy, of course.
On paper, he certainly has the physical tools, big-time production and above the neck acumen to be the player the Steelers need in order to take their defense to the next level.
Despite the excitement, despite the overall giddiness in Steeler Nation, it wasn’t surprising to read and hear comments from some fans who were concerned with what Pittsburgh had to part with in order to move up 10 slots. I get that. Believe me, all one has to do is research the ratings for Thursday night and the entire draft weekend to know how much fans enjoy the process and how much they covet draft picks.
Yes, it is true, if Bush doesn’t turn into a productive NFL player, this deal—the 20th overall selection in 2019, 52nd overall selection in 2019 and a third-pound pick in 2020—was a bad one. But you could have said the same thing had the Steelers stood pat at 20, and that player turned out to be a bust.
Any first-round pick that fails to develop is a bad one. Any trade that doesn’t work out is a bad one. Any free agent signing that doesn’t pan out is a bad one. For that matter, any play call during an NFL game that doesn’t work is by definition a bad one.
Again, when it comes to the parting of premium draft picks, there will always be buyer’s remorse with some fans—heck, maybe even with team executives. But as a long-time Pirates fan who has watched them hoard minor league prospects (minor league prospects are the baseball equivalent of nameless, faceless unused NFL draft picks) in lieu of parting with them in-order to acquire stud veterans who can help them win now, I liked what the Steelers did on Thursday.
Yes, by giving away their second-round pick, the Steelers could be missing out on the next Le’Veon Bell, Stephon Tuitt or JuJu Smith-Schuster. But they could also be avoiding the next Limas Sweed, Mike Adams or Senquez Golson.
In other words, there are no guarantees with second-round picks.
And the way the team went about its aggressiveness was very Steeler-like—very calculated, if you will.
General manager Kevin Colbert went on record almost immediately—the Steelers Radio Network—and said the team absolutely would not have made this deal if it didn’t have two third-round (or Day 2) draft picks at its disposal. In other words, the Steelers were willing to pay, but they had a budget they weren’t willing to exceed.
I’m sure the Steelers have entertained the thought of trading up in recent years, only to find that the price was just too steep. This year, the price was right.
Many experts say the very best part of the 2019 NFL draft exists in the second and third rounds. That means there is great value to be had. It doesn’t necessarily mean there are can’t miss studs in those rounds.
Obviously, there’s no such thing as a can’t miss stud in any part of the draft, but you certainly increase your odds of finding one the closer you get to the top of the first round.
The Steelers have been criticized in the past for being conservative and just letting the draft board fall to them, a philosophy that has caused Pittsburgh to just miss out on some players who could have made a difference at positions of need—William Jackson III (2016); all three first-round inside linebacker prospects (2018), etc, etc.
This time around, the Steelers took a proactive approach, one that could bare some great fruit sooner rather than later.
Did the Steelers finally find their answer at inside linebacker with the drafting of Devin Bush? Again, there are no guarantees, but at least now they have the opportunity to find out.
To quote Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”