How is it possible for the Super Bowl champions to add just one run-of-the-mill free agent and still get better?
When they draft like the Pittsburgh Steelers do, it's not all that hard.
Sure, the team came into the draft wanting to address some needs, wide receiver, kick returner and safety among them. The Steelers took care of those needs – and then some – in the draft's first three rounds.
In later rounds, however, the Steelers started looking for value, taking what they considered the best football players available despite their position.
Make no mistake about it, however, the Steelers helped themselves immensely over the weekend.
First-round pick Santonio Holmes is more polished as a receiver than the player he'll replace, Antwaan Randle El. In fact, Holmes is a player who could someday replace Hines Ward as the team's No. 1 receiver, something Randle El, for all of his various talents, was never going to do.
Safety Anthony Smith is a ballhawk who could eventually be the team's starting free safety. But more importantly, he's a player who blocked six punts in college and will help the team's special teams this season.
And just in case Holmes can't carry the load as the team's primary return man, the Steelers grabbed Florida State's Willlie Reid, a player considered among the top kick returners in this draft.
The Steelers figure that Holmes or Reid should be able to fill Randle El's shoes in that department as well.
During the draft's second day, the Steelers took the best available players on their board and came away with offensive linemen Willie Colon and Marvin Phillip, tight end Charles Davis, defensive lineman Orien Harris, quarterback Omar Jacobs and running back Cedric Humes.
Phillip, a center, and Harris, a massive defensive end, weren't players the team had at need positions, but they were great value picks who could help the team down the road.
These picks, coupled with the continued growth and maturation of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, strong safety Troy Polamalu, tight end Heath Miller and a number of the other young players on the team's roster, should help the Steelers in their bid to repeat as Super Bowl champions in 2006.
Other teams may have had flashier drafts, but the Steelers went about their business over the weekend much the same way they have in recent years, sticking to their draft board, even if it may not look like the one prognosticators in the media have put together.
Considering the Steelers won the Super Bowl last season using their method, there was no reason to deviate.
But just because they look better on paper than the team that won the Super Bowl last season doesn't mean they are the favorite to win it again. As head coach Bill Cowher has repeatedly said during this offseason, the Steelers weren't the best team in the league last year, they just happened to be playing the best football at the right time.
Cowher now has his team in place for the 2006 season. His job, and that of his coaching staff, will be to try to recapture some of that magic it had last year.
That will be the trick. The Steelers found just the right chemistry last season thanks to a nice mix of veteran leadership, talent and a little bit of luck.
They took care of the talent portion of the equation over the weekend. This team still has its share of veteran leadership, even with the loss of veteran Jerome Bettis and Kimo von Oelhoffen.
As for the luck, that's something nobody has any control over.
Courtesy of the Observer-Reporter