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From ‘locked in’ to ‘wide open’, expect the unexpected with the Steelers 2021 draft

How things play out for the Steelers on Thursday night of the 2021 NFL draft is anyone’s guess.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

It is so close we can almost taste it. All the lead up and all the hype of the 2021 NFL draft is drawing to a close as the actual draft itself is set to takeoff. All of the millions of mock drafts done by experts and fans will mean an absolutely nothing as the actual players are selected by actual teams in preparation to play actual games.

Since we are so close to the finish line and not yet there, look for the last push of major buzz around certain players tied to certain teams up to the moment where Roger Goodell takes the stage to get the party started.

Even within the last week, we’ve gone from a media report of the Steelers being “locked in” on a certain player they’re definitely going to take to general manager Kevin Colbert stating in his press conference Monday, “We’re wide open.” Of course, this is what you would expect from a general manager heading up to the draft. It’s not like the Steelers want to tip their hand, but there’s also a lot of truth if they have certain places they would like to go with their selection of players.

So why would the Steelers be locked in? That would be utterly foolish if a gem falls to them at 24, much like David DeCastro in 2012, as being locked in somewhere else could keep them from pulling the trigger. So saying the Steelers are locked in, at least from my perspective, sounds like somebody wanting to make a headline.

Whether you think the Steelers will go one route or another as the draft progresses is really anyone’s guess. There are 23 selections before the Steelers make their first pick on Thursday night, assuming they pick where they are slated, so really having any idea of how things will fall for the Steelers is futile. Even Kevin Colbert said it himself as the Steelers don’t even try to run mock drafts due to their ineffectiveness.

“We used to do the mock drafts and it was a complete waste of time,” Colbet explained on Monday. “What we’ve done now is — and we’ve done this, what, for the last 12 years or so, we just mock ourselves, and we’re picking first and we’re going to pick a player. Okay, he’s gone, we’re picking second. Okay, he’s gone, we’re picking third. And when we’re done with this process, and it’ll take the good part of the day on Wednesday, when we’re done with that, we’ll have 24 guys in an order that we would take them, and it’s not necessarily the order that you have on your board. So the order of the picks is set and you just wait and watch, and the only decision you have to make is whether you’re going to trade up or trade back. It doesn’t matter what happens in front of you because you’ve already made that decision.”

Does this sound like a strategy where the Steelers are “locked in” with a particular player? So if the Steelers really have no idea exactly how it’s going to fall, how are we supposed to know?

It’s simple. We’re not.

The best thing fans can do is to expect the unexpected. Sure, you might have favorite players you would like to see drafted. But getting locked in on these players may have you more disappointed in a draft that the Steelers knock out of the park.

It was just over a year ago when many Steelers fans hearts were broken as they had locked in on J.K. Dobbins being the Steelers selection with their first pick in Round 2. But seeing how the Steelers draft panned out, can you really complain? Yes, the Steelers could use some help at running back this season as their selection from last year has yet to prove he’s any sort of answer for what’s going on with the Steelers running game. But when the Steelers did not have a first round pick, and I saw at least one redraft of 2020 which had three Steelers picks from last year going in the first round, I’d say they knew what they were doing.

Going into Thursday night with a big expectation of what’s going to happen with the Steelers may keep you anxious over the next two days. While there are certain things the Steelers need to address, it doesn’t mean they have to do it at the very top of the draft. It’s not until we are able to look at everything the Steelers did as a whole over the course of the three days that we will we get the true picture of how things will progress for 2021.

I’m prepared for the Steelers pick Thursday night, assuming that is when they make their first selection, to come completely out of nowhere. Not only am I looking for it, I’m hoping for it. I want to see them grab the player many didn't expect to be there. I’m also happy with them taking someone who the “experts” thought would go later because the Steelers know how they will fit in with their team to make them even better. Would Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith, or Kevin Dotson have had as strong of a rookie season if they were part of a different system? Luckily we’ll never know. But if fitting in with the Steelers makes them better players, then I’m glad they’re here. Remember this when the Steelers make their selection, both on who they took and who they passed on.

I trust the Steelers enough to not make a bad pick. May I have to eat my own words either Friday morning or a couple seasons down the road? Absolutely. The draft process isn’t perfect, so sometimes things don’t work out. But I still trust the Steelers to have better information than I have.

As we close out this very long pre-draft process, there is one thing I’ve learned through it all: Fans hear what they want to hear.

Even after Kevin Colbert made the statement of “we’re wide open,” there were still plenty of people confessing that meant the Steelers were taking a certain player. Basically, they inserted their own thoughts into his words. Fans have done it. Reporters have done it. It’s how it works.

You have to admit, if you’re a person who follows mock drafts, you are drawn to and intrigued by the ones that tell you what you want to hear. We want this player or that player to be available at 24.

But you know who doesn’t care who you want in this year’s draft? The Pittsburgh Steelers. They don’t care about what you think they need to do to win, they are going to do what they think they need to do to win. And that is how their 2021 draft is “locked in.”