Today is the day. The 2014 NFL draft is finally here, starting with the first round tonight at Radio City Music Hall in New York.
The Pittsburgh Steelers need a fruitful draft to curb their slide down the slippery slope of perennial mediocrity. They’ve finished 8-8 and out of the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. If they don’t win a playoff game in 2014, it will be their first four-year stretch without a playoff victory since 1990-1993.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday at the team’s pre-draft press conference that they wouldn’t trade up from the No. 15 spot in the first round, but they might trade down, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Considering the depth of the 2014 draft class, this might be a good year for the Steelers to trade down and collect picks in the later rounds. That said, they can’t afford to miss on their first-round pick.
As barren as their drafts have been in recent years, the Steelers’ last bastion of drafting acumen has been the first round. Starting in 2000, when Colbert became director of football operations, 11 straight first-round picks have been the Steelers’ primary starter at their position in multiple seasons, according to Pro Football Reference.
The Steelers’ two first-rounders after that, Cameron Heyward in 2011 and David DeCastro in 2012, both have spent one year as primary starters and figure to establish themselves as starters for years to come. Even 2013 first-rounder Jarvis Jones has eight starts under his belt.
Colbert’s first-round picks have combined for 20 Pro Bowl seasons, and that doesn’t take into account Lawrence Timmons, who probably should have been to a Pro Bowl or two.
The Steelers have never drafted a first-round bust since the turn of the century, and this is not the time to start. Another late bloomer won’t cut the mustard at Heinz Field, either. Heyward didn’t make an impact until his third season. Jones had one sack in his rookie season. When the Steelers were going to Super Bowls every two or three years, they had the luxury of waiting a year or two for their draft picks to develop.
If the player the Steelers draft tonight doesn’t contribute in 2014, it will be another long season.
Colbert said there were “at least 19″ players the Steelers would be happy to pick at No. 15.
It’s obvious who some of those 19 players are, but only the Steelers know the list top to bottom. These 19 names sit at the top of the “Big Board” the Steelers will use as a guide throughout the draft.
Based on a combination of positional need and overall talent, we can project where the Steelers rank their first-round prospects. At the top of this list are players who will be long gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 15. But the Steelers have to be prepared for anything. They never expected Rashard Mendenhall to be available to them at No. 23 in 2008 or David DeCastro at No. 24 in 2012.
If our theoretical board is on the mark, then the Steelers will draft the top remaining player on this list tonight when their turn comes up at No. 15.