Saturday, April 17, 2004

Steeler draft strategy
Here's a story taken from soon after last year's draft. It gives some insight into how the whole process works from the coaches perspectives.
PITTSBURGH - To compare the process to a football game, the fourth quarter is about to begin. And everyone knows that in the NFL, it's the good teams that find ways to win in the fourth quarter.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are completely focused on the NFL Draft, and the next three weeks will be critical in getting ready for the decisions they'll be facing over seven rounds on April 26-27.

"We're in the final stages of the draft preparation," said Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert. "We are in the process of having our (individual position) meetings. Right now, we're just trying to sort through all of the information. We have all the information, and now is when we try to make sense of it all.

"All the coaches and all of the scouts have their information gathered, and now is when we hear it all out so that we can come up with some kind of rating. I will orchestrate the meetings. We'll listen to various reports by up to three scouts and up to three coaches. We'll watch a short video to get a picture of what we've been hearing. And then we'll rate the players."

The position meetings began on April 2, and the people in the room are the scouts, the position coach, the respective coordinator, Colbert and Coach Bill Cowher.

The purpose of the meetings is to grade each individual within the position while also comparing those guys to guys at other positions. When it's all over, the Steelers will have assigned a grade to each player, and that grade determines whether the team sees him as a No. 1 pick, No. 2 pick, down to a free agent.

The tricky part is ranking the players graded within the same round. For instance, is the first-round talent at linebacker a better player than the first-round talent at safety? Is the second-round cornerback better than the second-round offensive tackle?

"Usually we have to rely on the scouts for that, because most of the time the coaches are looking at just one position; the coordinators are looking at just one side of the ball," said Colbert. "I can ask a coordinator about players at different positions on his side of the ball, but when you get on different sides of the ball, I have to rely heavily on the scouts and the head coach."

Such situations might seem conducive for arguments, where coaches might become territorial, where scouts might fall in love with raw ability over the team's specific needs and wants. But Colbert promises that testosterone rarely becomes a problem in the room.

"Everybody is respectful of everyone else's opinion, and what you have to do is understand that someone might be able to point out something you didn't see," said Colbert. "That's why we try to get different looks at different times of the year, so we can get a balanced, crossover point of view.
It's my job, along with the head coach, to condense what everyone is saying into one opinion that we can agree upon. Then, come up with a rating."

Once all the players at all of the positions are rated, the Steelers also will conduct their own mock draft.

"We do that the week before the draft," said Colbert. "With a mock draft, it's like going through the game plan, or having a practice for a game. You practice a certain play against a certain defense, you're going to expect a certain result. What we prepare ourselves for is: what happens if this player gets taken and these guys are available?

"You go through different scenarios, so that if it does happen during the draft when you're on the clock, you don't panic. You want to prepare yourself for the eventuality, so you can make a timely decision. You practice it."

The Steelers' mock draft will encompass just two rounds, because Colbert said anything beyond that is impossible to predict. One of the things they won't practice is trading, because there's no way of knowing which team might be interested in being a partner in a given situation. But Colbert said the Steelers know what it would cost them to move up in a round, and they also have an idea of what they would deserve to move back.

"You do have an idea of what it will cost, an idea of what you should get," said Colbert. "You have to go on history. Some teams use these extravagant formulas, but I've never been a big disciple of that because it varies from year to year, and player to player. To lock yourself into a formula, I don't like to do that."

While the meetings continue, the Steelers also will bring various draft-eligible players to the UPMC Sports Performance Complex for day-long visits. Teams are allowed to bring in college players until April 18.

"The main purpose of the visits is to have him meet with our trainer to make sure there is nothing that's come up since the last time we visited him," said Colbert. "There are kids who have workouts after the combine and pull a hamstring, or whatever. We also get another chance to visit with the person, just to reassure yourself. Other times you might get 15 minutes; with a visit, you get more time."

The Steelers have the time over the next three weeks to get ready for a weekend that will be defined by their ability to make decisions under pressure. Just like the fourth quarter of a game.
Out of last year's draft class CB Ike Taylor (4th round pick) probably had the biggest impact followed by first round pick SS Troy Polamalu. Second round pick Alonzo Jackson didn't see the field at all as a LB. I certainly hope this year's class makes more contributions on the field than the class of 2003.