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Labriola on winning draft vs. Super Bowl

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It was said to me this way by Dan Rooney back in the days before it became a hit television show: "It's not about winning the draft. It's about winning the Super Bowl."
  • The Steelers had a chance to win the draft during the first round of this year's festivities, which were staged starting last Thursday, April 28. Instead, they chose to take a shot at winning a Super Bowl. And that's the way they conducted their business through the Friday and Saturday picking as well.
  • When it came time to make their No. 1 pick that night, there were a couple of options available to the Steelers should they have been of the mind to think outside the box, of the mind to try to win the draft. And since both of those moves involved a top quarterback prospect, it guaranteed the maximum possible exposure.
  • When the 2015 season ended for them in Denver during the AFC Divisional Round, the Steelers saw themselves as a team needing to upgrade their defensive backfield, coincidently during the same offseason expected to provide a wealth of talent at those positions during the draft. From that point, their plan was to utilize the draft to add the players who were going to be a big part of the overall upgrade of the secondary.
  • During the final preparations for the draft, a pecking order developed among the prospects in the defensive backfield, with the top group numbering six, of whom five were cornerbacks provided Florida State's Jalen Ramsey was being counted as a cornerback. Safety Karl Joseph would have been a seventh if not for the ACL injury he still is rehabbing.
  • When the picking began, quarterbacks came off the board 1-2, and through the first nine selections Ramsey was the only defensive back to come off the board. But then things got a lot more suspenseful. Eli Apple went at No. 10 to the New York Giants, then Vernon Hargreaves to Tampa Bay at No. 11. Joseph found a team willing to look past the knee injury when Oakland picked him at No. 14 overall, then it was Keanu Neal at No. 17 to Atlanta.
  • When Indianapolis went onto the clock with the 18th pick of the first round, four of the six defensive backs inhabiting the Steelers upper echelon had new teams. There were two left, and the Steelers were scheduled to make the 25th pick of the first round.
  • Also still available was quarterback Paxton Lynch, and he was coveted by both the Denver Broncos, picking last in the first round, and the Dallas Cowboys, not due to pick again until the third choice in the second round, 34th overall.
  • When the Cincinnati Bengals went on the clock at pick No. 24, the Steelers were sitting at No. 25 and still with two of the cornerbacks they had graded as being part of the upper echelon available. It was mathematically impossible to get shut out this time. They would get one, if they wanted one.

The Steelers 2016 rookies arrived at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex in preparation for Rookie Minicamp.

  • But if the thought process is to make a splash during the draft, to make a move people will notice and appreciate for its manipulation of the system – to win the draft – you go one of two ways: Either work out the best trade terms you can with Dallas or Denver and then move down with the extra pick(s) in your pocket so one of those two teams can pick Lynch; or you shock the world and pick Lynch for yourself.
  • But if the thought process is to do what you can to make the team as good as it potentially can be to take a shot at winning a Super Bowl this season, you smile and pick the cornerback. And you're happy about it.
  • Artie Burns will be the one who settles this discussion, and ultimately it will be with his play, but he is one example of the Steelers going into the 2016 draft with the goal of bettering the team that advanced to the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season. Improve this roster as it exists and play to win right now. No preparing for the future. No treating draft picks like a squirrel would acorns in preparation for winter.
  • So, the Steelers turned in the card. It had Artie Burns' name on it. When they wrote the names on the cards for Rounds 2-3 on that Friday, the ones chosen were chosen for the same reasons Burns was chosen.
  • Sean Davis is a big, athletic, fast man with long arms, a safety by trade with the love of contact that goes with it, but also maybe some good enough coverage skills so the Steelers defense won't be so susceptible to pass-catching tight ends to the degree it was in 2015. Javon Hargrave is a squat, strong man who is not a one-dimensional interior defensive lineman, so maybe opposing offenses won't be able to dictate an advantage over the Steelers defense simply through the personnel groupings they send onto the field.
  • That's really the whole idea behind the picks of Davis and Hargrave, the increasing of the general flexibility factor with dual-skilled players in an era of increasingly specialized offensive football. If it's three tight ends, and one of them is Rob Gronkowski and he splits out wide, the defense better have someone who's big enough and athletic enough to deal with him, or it becomes a multi-touchdown problem. If it's four wides, and the guy in the backfield is Jamaal Charles, the defense better be able to get to the gaps and then not get blown out of them.
  • And the defense better be able to do either whenever, because most of the time there isn't an opportunity to get a personnel grouping of your own out there at the last second to counter the other guy's personnel grouping.
  • We now cite a couple of fun facts:
  • The Washington Post recently commissioned a study to determine the NFL's best drafting teams over the 20-year span of 1996-2016, and using a bunch of metrics and statistical analysis the conclusion reached was that the Steelers were No. 1 overall.
  • Through 2015, the Steelers have gone 12 straight seasons without posting a losing record, the NFL's second-longest current streak behind New England's 15. Within those 12 Steelers seasons, too, were two Super Bowl championships and a trip to a third.
  • I don't know whether Artie Burns and Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave help these Steelers get to LI, but I agree with the philosophy, and acknowledge the thought process guiding the way it's executed makes sense.
  • Right now, this soon after the actual picking, that's as good as it can be.
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