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Don’t put stock in a player’s position rank for the NFL draft

It really doesn't matter if a player is ranked first or 10th at their position coming into the 2022 NFL draft.

NFL: APR 27 2018 NFL Draft Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It seems like almost everyone has one of those pet peeves that just digs at them until they can’t take it any longer. When it comes to covering the Steelers and looking at the NFL draft, I have one that definitely drives me crazy. Called to the forefront in 2021, it’s something that just irks me what it’s used improperly. What is it?

Player rankings by position ahead of the NFL draft.

It’s not these rankings are important, it’s just frustrating when used improperly. Taking a player because they are ranked higher within their position group simply because another player isn’t ranked is high at a completely different position is mere foolishness. Yes, looking at where a player is ranked among their position is helpful. What is not helpful is comparing where players are ranked across positions.

To better demonstrate where I’m coming from, here’s an example:

Why draft the fifth-best offensive tackle when you can have the second-best guard?

This notion is crazy. Yet, in 2021 many Steelers fans felt justified in the selection of Najee Harris at the 24th overall pick because they got the top-ranked running back. Was it really important Najee Harris was ranked the highest within his position? Would that have changed anything that he did in the 2021 season? Had there been another running back along the lines of a Saquon Barkley, who was drafted second overall in 2018, and he was drafted well of head of Harris, would that mean this was a terrible pick because the Steelers only got the second-best running back?

I know I addressed this issue following last year‘s draft, but it’s something to keep in mind as the 2022 NFL draft approaches. When it comes to the Steelers in their selections, where a player ranked at their position means absolutely nothing compared to where they rank overall compared to players at every position.

It’s not that positional rankings hold no value. In fact, the logical progression would be to rank players by their position first and then compile those rankings into overall rankings. But when the Steelers are on the clock, I don’t think they’re concerned about where the player ranks positionally. It wouldn’t make any sense to take the best interior offensive lineman if they have them ranked at number 30 rather than the third-best wide receiver if they have them ranked at number 15.

Looking at a player’s positional ranking really is just to feel good about a draft pick before they step foot on the field. The Steelers may have drafted the best running back and the second-best tight end with their first two picks in 2021, but unless those players come through successfully for what the team is doing in stadium it doesn’t really matter. Luckily for the Steelers, those players did come through. But even if Pat Freiermuth was the tenth tight end drafted when the Steelers selected him, it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

Using the first round of the 2017 draft as an example, did the Steelers really miss out with the Cleveland Browns trading up to the 29th pick in order to draft the third-best tight end? Did the Steelers settling for the seventh-best edge rusher kill their draft? Instead of taking T.J. Watt, should the Steelers have taken the top of guard in the draft in Forrest Lamp who went at pick 38 to the Chargers?

Of course this exercise seems silly. Unfortunately, there are a number of fans, and some media members, who put a lot of stock in where a player ranked among their position after they are selected. There are other fans who argue tooth and nail about not wanting the fifth-best tackle when you could get the third-best quarterback. Does it really matter that they were the fifth-best? What if the fifth-best tackle is the fifth-best player in the entire draft? Simply because they are behind others at the position in that given year does not mean it should affect their overall value.

Where this really comes in a play for the Steelers in 2022 is it the quarterback position. Being the first realistic scenario of possibly taking a first-round quarterback in almost two decades, the last thing the Steelers can afford to do is get caught up with where a quarterback ranks. Even if the Steelers have a player listed as their top quarterback, it still does not mean they would be the best selection at pick 20 were they to be available. Yes, they might be the best at that position, but are they the best player available?

If the Pittsburgh Steelers are truly looking to draft the best player available for them with their top draft picks, looking at where they rank positionally should mean absolutely nothing. Not wanting the team to lock into a specific position that they have to draft in a certain round, what would be just as foolish, if not more, for the Steelers would be to care at all where the player ranks within that position group.