The NFL Draft, or the annual selection meeting as it's referred to by the league office, long has been the primary vehicle available for teams to upgrade the quality of their rosters. Seven rounds, 255 total picks, 32 teams are the pertinent numbers to the men charged with the evaluating, grading and selecting, and those very same people will vow that they spend no more time and energy on one pick than another. In that way, it's similar to parents and their children – they all are seen as equals.
But the format instituted for this particular installment of the draft flies in the face of that viewpoint, because one day, the first day, will be devoted to one round, the first round.
Cynics might see this as nothing but a made-for-TV event, but there's also no arguing with the interest the first round of the draft always generates, and that interest has translated into some significant ratings for ESPN and the NFL Network.
This will mark the 11th draft for Kevin Colbert as the Steelers' Director of Football Operations, and it's fair to make the argument that he goes into Thursday's proceedings with a perfect 10-for-10 mark in the first round.
Of the 10 first-round picks made by the Steelers under Colbert's tenure, nine became starters in the NFL and it's really too soon to dismiss Ziggy Hood's chances to do the same. Hood was the team's No. 1 pick last year. And of those nine starters, six were starters on at least one of the Steelers' two Super Bowl winning teams of the 2000s, with a seventh – Plaxico Burress – going on to start for the New York Giants in their win over the New England in Super Bowl XLII.
Colbert has traded up in the first round for a player the team had targeted – Troy Polamalu in 2003 and Santonio Holmes in 2006 – and he has traded down in the first round to accumulate extra picks and still get the player the team targeted – Casey Hampton in 2001.
So, who's it going to be in the first round tonight?
Colbert said at the start of the offseason, and he reiterated the point on April 19, that the Steelers would not select either a quarterback or a tight end in the first round. Even though the NFL announced a six-game suspension for Ben Roethlisberger yesterday, the Steelers had prepared for that contingency on Tuesday by sending a seventh-round draft pick to Tampa Bay for veteran Byron Leftwich, which gives them Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Leftwich for the duration of the suspension.
And with Heath Miller having signed a contract extension one year ago, with David Johnson coming off a promising rookie season, with Matt Spaeth entering his fifth pro season, and with Sean McHugh back from a season on the injured reserve list, the Steelers have no real room for additional tight ends.
The Steelers always say – and they believe what they're saying – that they don't make a draft pick based solely on need, that picking good players in the proper order is the way they prefer to go, i.e., the best athlete available concept at work. But it's foolish to believe need has no bearing on their picks, because ignoring needs would neuter the impact a draft might have on a team's roster.
Based on where the team is picking – 18th in the first round – and considering some of the team's needs, it's logical to assume the Steelers will be looking hard at interior offensive linemen and cornerbacks when their turn comes sometime around 9:30 p.m. today.
In a most unscientific study of the hundreds of mock drafts available on the internet, 12 of the 16 that were done by what can be referred to as traditional media outlets see the Steelers doing exactly that. Eight of those 12 see the team's No. 1 pick being Florida center Maurkice Pouncey, two others see the pick as Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson, with one going with Idaho guard Mike Iupati and one going with Florida cornerback Joe Haden.
The Steelers like to use their No. 1 pick on the top-rated player at a position when possible, and both Pouncey and Iupati fit that description. On most lists, Haden is the top cornerback prospect, but it seems unlikely the best player at such a coveted position would fall all the way to No. 18.
Because this is said to be such a deep draft, trading down in the first round and accumulating even more choices always is an option, but in order to trade down there has to be a team looking to trade up. And trading up never happens unless there is a particularly attractive player sitting there that another team covets.
Assuming the Steelers sit at No. 18 and make a pick, Pouncey, Iupati, Haden and Wilson all are considerations.
My personal preference would be Kyle Wilson, but the guy I predict they will end up selecting is Maurkice Pouncey.