Analysis: Not coincidentally, this Steelers draft was atypical
This is the draft in which the oh-so-traditional, oh-so-reliable Steelers Way wasn’t the Steelers’ way at all.
The three-day NFL Draft didn’t represent a dramatic upheaval in approach, method or execution for a team coming off an 8-8 season and desperate to address it.
Rather, it was a signal that the good old ways sometimes are better left in the good old days and that new times and new challenges sometimes require new thinking in a league that has undergone a seismic change with the transformation of passing offenses in the last decade.
Even if it can be airbrushed to resemble the artwork that was those mostly very good Steelers drafts of recent vintage.
The Steelers insisted they stuck with the tried and true and drafted the best available player with their nine picks in seven rounds. But it appears to be anything but coincidental that in a draft in which their needs for an outside linebacker, running back, wide receiver and safety were as glaring as fuschia lipstick, the first four players they drafted were an outside linebacker (Jarvis Jones), running back (Le’Veon Bell), wide receiver (Markus Wheaton) and safety (Shamarko Thomas).
“We did it the way we’ve always done it, to be honest with you,” coach Mike Tomlin said Saturday, minutes after the Steelers wrapped up a draft that began predictably with Jones and ended unpredictably with 320-pound defensive end Nick Williams. “It just so happened that particularly early in the draft, the highest guys on our board happened to be at positions of need.”
They also needed a cornerback and a younger quarterback, so they drafted a cornerback and a younger quarterback. Oh, yes, and another wide receiver.
“Where we picked these guys, we never felt that we reached for anybody,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “They were where we wanted them to be and available when we were willing to take them. We didn’t think we reached for anybody. … All these guys, we never felt we reached one time.”
By drafting Landry Jones, the rare Oklahoma Sooner who actually appears to have a chance to be an NFL quarterback, they signaled the end of the Charlie Batch era and one of the longest tenures of any backup QB in league history. Barring injury, of course.
“I just think it was time to start grooming a new player. Freshen up the room, if you will,” quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said.
There was a lot of freshening up going on the past three days at 3400 S. Water St.
By drafting Bell, they signaled the need to return to a feature-back concept, a la Jerome Bettis, to get Todd Haley’s keep-the-chains moving offense really moving, rather than stalling frequently as running backs seemingly were changed every other down.
And on a weekend when a team in transition — Tomlin says it is — was injected with three or four players who could make an immediate impact, the most interesting observation was by defensive assistant Keith Butler. Nearly two years since defensive end Aaron Smith played for the Steelers and five years since Smith played more than a handful of games in a season, Butler said the team still badly misses him.
“We have to be able to fill that void,” said Butler, who all but said former first-rounders Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward have yet to come close to filling it to date.
So was it a coincidence that their very next pick was Williams, who played at a nose tackle-like size last season for Samford? He doesn’t have much experience and is as big a reach as the Steelers have made in the seventh round for a lineman since perhaps a guy named Brett Keisel.
“You don’t get guys that are 6-4 and 320 pounds that can run and look like a guy who is 310,” assistant coach John Mitchell said.
Not the type of player the Steelers typically draft. But this wasn’t a typical Steelers draft.
No matter what they say.