Versatility wins out with latest picks
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t take an inside linebacker in the NFL draft.
That doesn’t mean they didn’t want one.
It simply means when it came time to pick, they looked at their internal draft board, they looked at the players available in a position where there — at least on the surface — appears to be a serious depth issue and decided they didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks.
“We’re not going to reach,” general manager Kevin Colbert said.
So the perennial AFC power didn’t. Whenever the Steelers found themselves on the clock, coach Mike Tomlin would urge Colbert to “respect the board.”
Translation: pick the players we think are the best, not necessarily the ones that check off a box just to do it.
The result? Seven selections that focused on versatility not availability.
First-round pick Terrell Edmunds did a little bit of everything in the defensive backfield for Virginia Tech. Tomlin believes wide receiver James Washington — taken in the second round — can line up anywhere on the field.
Third-round pick Chukwuma Okorafor is considered a swing tackle who could thrive under Hall of Fame line coach Mike Munchak.
Safety Marcus Allen was a proven sure tackler during his time at Penn State. Fullback Jaylen Samuels could be a tailback, a fullback, a tight end or even a slot receiver depending on what’s required. Seventh-round pick Joshua Frazier was part of the defensive line rotation at Alabama who could press for a roster spot.
“We believe these guys can not only help us in the future but they’re capable of helping us this year if they earn it,” Tomlin said. “These guys will be given an opportunity to carve out roles for themselves this year and if they do and it’s significant, great.”
Colbert pointed out the Steelers aren’t old at any position other than perhaps quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger turned 36 last month but has been telling teammates he could play several more seasons.
That’s fine by the Steelers. It also, however, didn’t stop them trading up to make sure they landed Oklahoma State star Mason Rudolph in the third round, just 16 picks after they drafted Washington, his college teammate.
“We valued [Rudolph] as much as the rest of the quarterbacks that were drafted [in the first round],” Colbert said.
A sentiment that could be telling about Pittsburgh’s intentions with the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Rudolph, the first quarterback drafted before the fourth round by Pittsburgh since the Steelers took Roethlisberger 11th overall 14 years ago.
The five quarterbacks taken in the first round are all projected as future starters. Read between the lines and the Steelers perhaps feel the same about Rudolph.
Washington, who won the Biletnikoff Award as the top receiver in the FBS last season, reminded Tomlin of JuJu Smith-Schuster, whom the Steelers took in the second round last season. All Smith-Schuster did was lead all rookies in touchdown receptions in 2017 with seven while also developing a reputation as a big-time blocker.