Sure, every team spends a lot of time and maybe even more money, but because the basic premise of the exercise is to project how college football players will fare in the professional version of the sport, the NFL Draft really is a high-stakes guessing game. This year, there's another variable making it even more of one.
The 2011 NFL Draft will be the first one during the 19-year era of free agency to be conducted without a collective bargaining agreement. That means there has been no free agency period, which means teams have had no contact with their own players whose contracts have expired, nor have teams been able to sign other free agents to address their own needs in the weeks leading up to the draft. For teams in this draft, "need" has taken on a different meaning.
As Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert put it, "We are going to draft for our team as we know it today. Obviously we can't talk about the CBA and anything along those lines, but we do know what our team is as of today, and that is how we are going to approach this draft. Anything else would be unrealistic."
And so if Steelers fans go into this weekend worried about how their favorite team stacks up, say, at cornerback, other teams have similar areas of concern for similar reasons. All of this combines to cast even more intrigue over the weekend. The issue every team always faces with each of its picks in every draft – need vs. picking the best player available – could become even more of a dilemma this time.
"We used to do mock drafts trying to think about what this team is going to do or this team is going to do, and it really doesn't matter," said Colbert. "We just put ourselves in that situation and ask ourselves what we are going to do. So we can't be concerned about what everyone else is going to do, because it really won't influence us. If it gets to the point where we get involved with another team because of a trade, then it's different, but what they are going to pick, we can't concern ourselves with."
As to how the Steelers are going to pick, Colbert never is one to reveal much of anything even under normal operating conditions.
"As I said, we are going to pick based on our team as it currently stands, and I don't know how it currently stands because there are different possibilities that exist," said Colbert. "When the lockout began, this is our team as we know it, and we are going to draft accordingly.
"We always balance the talent vs. the need and if it's close, if two or more players are close, we will always take the player of need. But what we don't do is to reach for a specific position. That's where the biggest mistakes have been made and I think will continue to be made."