On Monday Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin held their annual pre-draft press conference. It was their first in-person meeting with reporters in more than a year—and a stark reminder that the team’s greatest needs happen to dovetail with the quality and quantity of depth available at the very same positions.
“There is good depth, we believe, on the offensive line, with wide receivers, running backs, linebackers—both inside and outside—and the corners,” said Colbert at one point. “There is okay depth at the tight end, quarterback and safety positions. I can be very upfront and honest. There is very limited depth on the defensive line. It’s probably as lean as it’s been in recent memory.”
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As it happens, Pittsburgh’s top positions of need are on the offensive line and at running back, as the Steelers had the NFL’s worst rushing offense in 2020, producing a total of just 1,351 yards. The Steelers also need to add talent at cornerback and depth at outside linebacker thanks to the departure of cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, not to mention the loss of outside linebackers Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi in free agency.
Meanwhile, the Steelers don’t have much in the way of immediate need at quarterback, safety or tight end, where the current starters are pretty well established. They have no need to address the defensive line, thanks in part to the unexpected return of Tyson Alualu, who changed his mind about returning to the Jaguars after a positive COVID-19 test delayed a trip to Jacksonville to sign the contract he originally agreed to.
Kevin Colbert: ‘We are going into it completely wide open’
So it’s quite believable when Kevin Colbert says, “We are going into [the draft] completely wide open.” The Steelers could, say, take a running back in the first round and still be confident of getting a starting offensive lineman in round 2, for instance.
Or perhaps even a center who can replace Maurkice Pouncey, who retired in February.
“The center position is unusually deep this year,” said Colbert. “Usually there aren’t a lot of centers in a given draft but we feel good. There are quality centers in this draft that we think are starter capable. It’s unusual for that position.”
Indeed there are a number of different centers that have been linked to the Steelers, including Alabama’s Landon Dickerson and Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz, the latter of whom really stood out at the Senior Bowl.
The Steelers can also potentially add depth and developmental players on defense in the middle rounds. “The inside and outside depth [at linebacker] is very good,” noted Colbert before adding that “the inside backers [are] a deeper group that it has been, much like the centers.”
Colbert: ‘I really doubt that we will trade up’
Notably, Colbert did seem certain that the Steelers would not try to trade up in the first round this year, or perhaps in any round.
“I really doubt that we will trade up,” he said. “We really value those eight picks that we have, five of which are in the Top 140,” a tacit acknowledgement that the Steelers have a lot of urgent needs to address this year.
Colbert also reiterated that the Steelers would be less likely to select a player who opted out last season.
“As I stated [last] summer, if a player chooses to opt out for whatever reason that’s their decision and we will respect it. However, if a player played in 2020 and those players are of equal value—those that played and those that didn’t play—we’ll take the one that played because we don’t know what the opt outs will be like in their first season back in football. We believe it’s hard to sit this game out,” he concluded.
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