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The 2015 NFL Draft, the Steelers and the Myth of "Best Player Available"

Anyone who believes Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is a strict adherent to the "Best Player Available" philosophy need look no further than the 2015 NFL Draft for ample evidence to the contrary.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It's not that this wasn't a good draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In fact, I would grade it a solid B-plus. I like most of the picks, and even Anthony Chickillo in the sixth round is growing on me.

It's possible that general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin felt the players they drafted truly were the best players available, but I doubt that. In my eyes they were not the best players available.

They were the best value available, and value is found at the intersection of need and availability, not best pure player or athlete.

Coming into the draft, the Steelers' biggest needs were edge rusher and cornerback.  Behind that were rising needs at tight end, defensive line and safety. Last on the shopping needs list was a lack of depth at wide receiver.

The Steelers draft haul consisted of two edge rushers (Bud Dupree, Chickillo), two corners (Senquez Golson, Doran Grant), a tight end (Jesse James), a defensive lineman (Letarrius Walton) and a safety (Gerod Holliman).  They also grabbed a potential future slot receiver in Sammie Coates.

Tell me again that this wasn't all about need.

In fact, they addressed those needs almost in the exact order of perceived priority.

They grabbed Dupree in round one to help fix a pass rush that managed all of 33 sacks in 2014, down from a recent high of 51 in 2008. Their sack totals have been on the decline since then, when they won Super Bowl XLIII. Dupree will also be counted on to help shore up a run defense that was bitten by regular failures to set the edge on the strong side.

Golson was picked up to play, primarily, the slot-corner position, and to be the ball-hawking type of player the team has been missing. His 10 interceptions in 2014 were one fewer than the Steelers managed as a team last year. Grant will be looked upon to fill more of an outside-corner role in the near future, as it is not expected that the Steelers will return both of 2015's projected starters at cornerback.

After picking Dupree, Golson, Coates and Grant in the first four rounds, many were beginning to predict with great accuracy where the Steelers would go next, because it was obvious they were essentially checking items off a list rather than targeting specific players.

That's a good, good thing.

If you want to know the cost of keying in on a single player, ask teams like the San Francisco 49ers or the Baltimore Ravens what they had to give up to move up just a few spots to draft "that guy". Both gave up multiple picks, as did other teams, to draft a single player.  They may turn out to be worth more than the price, and then again they may not.  The same is true for every pick the Steelers made, but the cost of each was less, because they only required a single pick. The break-even on each of those picks is lower in comparison.

There were players still on the board at each of the Steelers' picks who were, arguably, "better".  But the value wasn't there.  Shane Ray went one pick after Dupree, but Ray doesn't fit the mold of the edge rusher the Steelers needed. Golson was selected despite several corners still available who were taller and bigger, but Pittsburgh didn't want "big bodies".  They wanted a playmaker. They got the guys who offered the best value in their current system, rather than selecting supremely talented, or athletically gifted, players who would struggle to fit in. That idea didn't exactly pan out for them several years ago when they selected Ziggy Hood, who was a pure 4-3 player they tried to shoehorn into a 3-4 defense.

So, next year when Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin again try to sell the idea that they will draft the best player available, remember 2015. And remember that Kevin Colbert could sell a lawnmower to an apartment dweller in lower Manhattan.