PITTSBURGH - The Steelers won't trade up in the first round but they could trade down and they will be happy with whatever pick they get at No. 15 overall because they've graded 19 players as being worthy of such a choice.
That was Kevin Colbert's synopsis of one of the most important draft picks the team will make during his 14 years as general manager -- one that if successful could help accelerate the Steelers' bounce-back from successive 8-8 records.
Colbert reiterated Monday at a news conference with coach Mike Tomlin that this is the deepest draft class he can remember in 30 years of pro football, and that the Steelers could get at No. 15 a player worthy of a No. 7 or No. 8 pick in the past.
Colbert said trading down is “a real option” because there are so many players available the Steelers would be pleased to get. If the Steelers do make such a move, it would likely be to slide down only a few spots and allow them to regain the third-round pick they traded to Cleveland last year to take safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round.
Colbert said the Steelers crossed some names off their draft board for character and health issues, but no more than in the past. He also said that staging the draft two weeks later than in the past allowed the scouts and assistant coaches to get a few weekends off they normally don't get.
But with so much talent available, the Steelers found it more difficult than in the past to separate players on their draft board, especially at the deep wide receiver and cornerback positions. The Steelers seem likely to grab a player at one of those positions Thursday night.
The Steelers won't trade up, Colbert said, because they don't have a third-rounder available to trade – their only pick is a supplemental pick at the end of the third round that can't be traded. But he said it's possible that, with the deep draft pool, they could trade down and pick up extra picks because “the more picks the merrier,” Colbert said.
The Steelers currently have nine picks, two each in the fifth and sixth rounds.
Colbert calls the tough-to-predict quarterbacks group the “linchpin” of the draft because how the Johnny Manziel-Blake Bortles-Teddy Bridgewater-Derek Carr group is selected will set the tone for how the first round plays out. If some of the QBs drop, Colbert suggested, the Steelers might be more inclined to trade down as teams maneuver to move up into the middle of the first round and take a quarterback.
On other issues:
--- Tomlin said that with only one defensive lineman added and three gone, “We're not done in that area. Hopefully we'll rectify that.”
--- Cam Thomas, that newly added defensive lineman, can play end or nose tackle and is likely to be used at both during games, based on the sub-package defenses the Steelers use.
--- Tomlin said inside linebacker Sean Spence is “healthy and practicing” but it's still too early to determine how much he can contribute this season after missing the last two with a major knee injury.
--- If the Steelers stay at No. 15, there are only certain positions the Steelers are looking at, Colbert said. But if they trade down all positions are options.
--- Free agency went about as well as the Steelers would have liked, Colbert said, with the help of the extra $10 million in salary cap space.
(Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.)