Stars align for defending champs

The Pittsburgh Steelers are making a mockery of the NFL draft. Have a need? Fill it with the best player available in the draft regardless of where you're picking.

The Steelers entered the 2006 draft with one glaring need at wide receiver, where the free agent defection of Antwaan Randle El left the team more than a little thin.

But considering the lack of depth at that position in this year's draft and the fact the Steelers were picking 32nd, they didn't figure to have a shot at doing it again this season.

But somehow, some way, director for football operations Kevin Colbert did it again.

Going back to the 2003, when they traded up in the first round to get safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers have used their first pick on a player considered the best at his position in each of the last four drafts. They got Polamalu in 2003, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, tight end Heath Miller.

Saturday, they got Ohio State wide receiver Santanio Holmes, the No. 1 receiver in this draft.

As Holmes continued to tumble down the board, not because of his talent, but because the teams picking ahead of the Steelers had other needs, the Steelers began to get more excited.

And once he slipped past the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles in the middle of the first round, the Steelers went to work looking for a trade with which they could move up to select the speedy receiver of their dreams/needs.

Considering the lack of depth at the position in this year's draft – only Holmes and Florida's Chad Jackson were considered solid first-rounders – the Steelers didn't figure to have a chance to get their man. In fact, most felt if the Steelers were going to take a receiver in the first round, they would have to reach to grab tiny Sinorice Moss of Miami (Fla), a 5-8 wideout.

Sometimes, however, the stars just align.

"I was getting real excited," said Steelers wide receivers coach Bruce Arians. "I wanted somebody to answer that phone to see if we could move up. It was kind of a dream. Everybody thought of a scenario in which he could slide that far because of the need for receivers and only he and Chad and Sinorice being considered up there. It was a perfect fit for us.

"I started jumping around about pick 14. When Denver took the quarterback (Jay Cutler) and Philadelphia took the defensive tackle (Broderick Bunkley) I said ‘Alright, we've got a shot.'"

The Steelers just needed a trading partner.

They started with Kansas City, which owned the 20th pick, and started working down from there. In the end, it was the New York Giants, who accepted the Steelers' first-, third- and fourth-round picks, allowing Pittsburgh to move up to No. 25, where they wasted no time taking the top wideout in this draft.

That's smart drafting no matter how much you look at it.

"We are more interested in quality than we are quantity," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "He's a big-play guy. The more of those guys you have, the better chance you're going to have.

"If we can get the top-rated player at his position, then we think we've done well. Hopefully, it works out."

It has so far.

The Steelers won the Super Bowl last season using that strategy, with Polamalu, Roethlisberger and Miller playing key roles.

And they expect Holmes to contribute right away, both as a receiver and kick returner. Just don't expect him to come in and lead the team in receiving. Randle El, playing as the team's No. 2 receiver to Hines Ward last season, caught only 35 passes.

"He's coming into an offense where the primary focus is to run the ball," Arians said. "Is he going to catch 100 balls? Hell no. But he should be able to break games open for us and be a big play type of guy and take pressure off of other guys."

It took Randle El, a college quarterback, a couple of seasons before he was truly adept at playing wide receiver, though he contributed as a return man immediately. Now, they think they got a player who's a more polished receiver and equally adept as a returner, though the team did feel the need to select return man extraordinaire Willie Reid of Florida State later in the day.

"He's more ready right now to be explosive as a receiver," Arians said of Holmes. "El made great progress and was a unique player. But Santonio is coming in, from an experience level, way ahead of where El was."

When the defending Super Bowl champions are able to get the best player available at a position, they've done something right. And when it was a position of need, well, that's just not fair, regardless of the cost.

Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter


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