Christian Petersen/Ronald Martinez/Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Mack: Time To Be Aggressive In The First Round

Steelers Need Generational Talent on Defense, And Only Way To Get It Will Be To Trade Up

Chris Mack
April 07, 2019 - 1:12 am

As the NFL offseason rapidly turns the bend, past the free agency frenzy, off-field dramas and new uniform unveilings, the draft is now within sight. 

As evidence of increasing draft furor, a new mock draft is released every half-hour or so, and they all seem to have a common thread: The Steelers aren't going to get what's at the top of their wish list unless they decide to be extremely aggressive and trade up higher in the 1st Round than they ever have before.

It's entirely possible, if not very likely, that both Devin White of LSU and Devin Bush of Michigan - widely believed to be the two best inside linebackers available, and thus the two players who could most help the Steelers' defense - will be gone before the 10th overall pick comes around.

Picking 20th, then, would not remain ideal for General Manager Kevin Colbert, despite the free agent signing of linebacker Mark Barron a few weeks ago.

The Steelers defense is in desperate need of a speedy, sideline-to-sideline, turnover causing, tackling machine in the mold of Ryan Shazier. As good as Barron may be, he isn't that. He best fits as an inside backer on 1st & 2nd downs, sliding out to play dime linebacker in passing situations. The veteran's experience would serve well in any sort of mentorship to a young backer, as well.

Why sit around and wait to watch both White and Bush go early then? 

The cost to go get one or the other would be high, no doubt. It would require the Steelers not just swapping out their 1st Round pick, but also one of their two 3rd Rounders, and two or three of their picks on the final day of the draft, most likely including at least one 4th Rounder and/or multiple 5th Round picks.

So what.

With 10 total picks at their disposal, the Steelers have the draft capital to package picks and move up. And despite falling from 13-3 in 2017 to 9-6-1 last season and missing the playoffs, this isn't a team that needs a total overhaul or a massive infusion of talent. It's a team that needs high end defensive talent.

The best way to get that talent is to move into the Top 10 overall and snag either White or Bush before division rival Cincinnati picks at 11. It helps the Steelers cause that at least a few teams in the Top 10 are more than amiable to moving back in the 1st Round, at least according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo.

 "A lot of teams seem like they want to move back," said Garafolo on Thursday. "The Jets want to move back, we're clear on that. The Buccaneers are another team that I've heard would like to move back. Teams that want to come up are going to have their pick of entry points to be able to shop their possible trade scenarios to a bunch of other teams."

Moving up to the #3 or #5 overall spot, where the Jets and Buccaneers reside respectively, would most likely be too rich for the Steelers' blood. 

What about the 8th overall pick in the 1st Round though, currently occupied by the Detroit Lions? A deal to get into the Top 10 without having to trade the 52nd and 66th overall picks would have to be highly attractive to Colbert.

Turns out, it may be to the Lions, as well.

"I have no doubt that [Detroit Lions General Manager] Bob Quinn would like to move back, as he has in several drafts," said NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport. "[He] loves those extra 2nd, extra 3rd Round picks. And he's right, the depth in this draft is in the 2nd and 3rd Round. You're going to see so many top Front 7 guys go early in this draft, no doubt it's gonna push back a ton of other guys."

In the Colbert Era, the Steelers have rarely picked in the teens in the 1st Round, let alone in the Top 10. In fact, the higher the pick, the better a player Colbert has drafted. With the 16th overall pick in 2003 - a pick that required trading their 3rd & 6th Round picks to move up from 27th overall - it was a future Hall of Famer, Troy Polamalu. The following spring, with the 11th overall selection, it was two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback and fellow future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. 

For years - nay, decades - the Pittsburgh Steelers have at least claimed to stick to their tried-and-true trope of selecting "the best available player" when their selection comes up. It is admittedly rare to see them get aggressive in going after a specific need, let alone a specific player to fill a specific need in the 1st Round of the Draft. If ever the breaking of tradition was called for though, this is the year, inside linebacker is the position, and either Devin White or Devin Bush is the player.