PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Steelers have had at least one first-round draft pick every year for the last 41 years, mostly because of an organizational philosophy that good teams are built with young players.
Some years they traded up to get that pick, some years they traded down. Never did they give it up. No, former coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher never would have let that happen, so prized was any first-round pick, be it No. 1 overall (QB Terry Bradshaw, 1970) or No. 32 (WR Santonio Holmes, 2006).
The Steelers' draft-is-the-way-to-go mindset began upon Noll's arrival in 1969, when he and former scouting director Art Rooney Jr. set out to change the franchise's longtime lackadaisical approach to the draft. Before Noll arrived, the Steelers had traded four of their previous seven first-round picks and four of their first six picks in the 1968 draft.
The nine Pro Football Hall of Famers they have drafted over those 41 years and the dozens of Pro Bowls and All-Pros are a testament to their drafting expertise.
That successful, steadfast approach is one reason why there is a certain amount of intrigue, and a great deal of uncertainty, as the Steelers prepare to make the No. 23 pick in the first round of the NFL draft on Saturday.
Or if they make that pick at all.
The Steelers need depth almost across the board, except at quarterback and tight end. They own only six picks in the seven-round draft, but are weighing a possible trade to acquire more early round picks.
"Trading down is definitely an inviting option because there are a lot of players in rounds two, three and four that could help this team," director of football operations Kevin Colbert said. "The more picks we can get in those areas, the better off we are going to be."
Still, talking about trading a first-rounder is one thing, doing it is entirely another. If a player such as Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart is available when the Steelers choose, they are certain to take him.
The Steelers need to add offensive and defensive linemen, a running back, a wide receiver or two, a cover-style cornerback , OK, the same players most teams are looking for. With so many needs, but none of them great, the option of trading down is tempting.
If nothing else, the Steelers wouldn't have to pay any player first-round money and could spread that cash among several potentially productive players.
"We will be very flexible and try to adjust accordingly," Colbert said.
If the Steelers choose to hold on to their first-rounder, possible picks are Boston College offensive lineman Gosder Cherilus, Virginia guard Branden Albert and Kansas cornerback Aqib Talib.
Possible later round picks? How about Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Lofton, Louisville wide receiver Mario Urrutia and Penn State cornerback Justin King.
"You have to be flexible and ready to move," Colbert said.