Steelers are prepared despite unknowns

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert made his draft approach very clear this week. With so much labor uncertainty and free agency postponed, Colbert says he's operating this draft based on who's currently on the Steelers' roster.

As far as Colbert is concerned, thinking about pending free agents such as cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay, tailback Mewelde Moore and kicker Shaun Suisham is an exercise in futility during draft week. With no collective bargaining agreement, the futures of these Steelers remain up in the air, leaving Colbert with no choice but to operate as though those players are not coming back.

"That's the reality of it," Colbert said. "We have seven picks and I need them all. We are going to go back and draft based on the team that we know we have at this point."

Despite a Super Bowl run last season, Pittsburgh entered the offseason with two well-defined needs at cornerback and the offensive line. Without free agency, those needs still remain entering the NFL draft.

Similar to last year, the Steelers are looking for immediate contributors. Pittsburgh is a team known for taking time to develop draft picks. But selections made last season such as Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown helped during the team's Super Bowl run.

This year, as with most years, it will be a challenge for the Steelers to balance best talent versus biggest need.

"We always balance the talent versus the need and if it is close, if two or more players are close, we will always take the player of need," Colbert said. "But what we don't do is reach for a specific position. That is where the biggest mistakes have been made and I think will continue to be made."

Picking 31st is viewed by some as the worst possible slot, because a team didn't win a Super Bowl and has the second-to-last pick in each round. But Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin disagreed.

"One is [the worst] as far as I'm concerned," Tomlin said laughing, while offering a coach's perspective.

Colbert says this year's draft process began with 1,000 players. After months of research and scouting, that number has been whittled to 100 players the Steelers feel can help them. Players were taken off Pittsburgh's board for a variety of reasons, including character issues, lack of ability or not being able to fit the team's offensive or defensive systems.

"When we really break it down we probably see about 20 special players that are going to be, we think, unusual players in the league," Colbert said. "But again, I think we can get a make-it type player, a player that can make our roster and help contribute really all the way thru the sixth round if these numbers came off clean, which they never do. So realistically we are going to be looking for guys that can help us throughout all seven rounds."