“Chess doesn’t drive people mad, it keeps mad people sane.” – Bill Hartston
Without a first-round pick and a mere six selections in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers were expected to make the most out of their picks in a world where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's football days are numbered. Rounds 2-3 needed to make ample noise in efforts to show the Steelers were capable of adding talent despite the lack of a prominent first-round pick.
After a favorable first day of the draft for Pittsburgh that saw many players remain intact on their board, day two provided a different narrative.
Conceivably every target the Steelers held at 49 dropped off by time they were on the clock. With Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins sitting on the board, many believed Dobbins was all but set to be the newest member of the black and gold.
Then, Roger Goodell informed all of Pittsburgh that Dobbins would have to wait. Chase Claypool, Notre Dame's top prospect, became the newest member of the Steelers.
Some fans were excited to grab Claypool's talents, while others... not so much.
The same sentiment can be carried for pick 102, where Charlotte's Alex Highsmith was selected, although a bit more are accepted of Highsmith's pick.
In a draft where all three divisional opponents (on paper, at least) got significantly better for 2020, the Steelers were the outlier, at least in the significant department.
So... what's the game plan here?
Simply put, the Steelers are adding depth while also planning for the future. That's the goal, isn't it? To select players that will help your team for years to come.
Yet there's something peculiar about who/when the Steelers drafted on day two that can help us figure out the roles of both Claypool and Highsmith.
For Claypool, he enters a depth chart as either the third or fourth receiver dependent on your feelings of James Washington. Not to say Claypool won't see a significant amount of playing time in 2020, but he certainly won't be making an immediate impact akin to other second-round picks behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and potentially James Washington.
Highsmith remains in the same boat, but a little deeper. There's room for Claypool to be used in red-zone packages and overall playing time. Highsmith would have to look like Lawrence Taylor in training camp to get time over T.J. Watt or Bud Dupree. Highsmith will likely find most of his time playing special teams and rotational situations.
The Steelers passed on Dobbins and Cam Akers, a back the team reportedly loved during the draft process. It's also notable that Denzel Mims' fall to pick no. 59 included the passing of Pittsburgh for another player at his position.
The Steelers didn't pass up on worldly talent at 102 to select Highsmith, yet the team could have opted for depth at other positions such as their offensive interior or safety. While Pittsburgh didn't just draft a handful of scrubs, they're likely not solely leading the Steelers to the promised land.
Yet it's no coincidence the Steelers drafted players at positions that may potentially see losses in 2020, with both Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster set to become free agents after this season.
That's not to say the Steelers expect both to be gone, or won't attempt to negotiate long-term deals with either player. In fact, the organization remains ready to get a deal done with Dupree, while Smith-Schuster's situation hasn't been shed to public light.
However, should you have a suitable replacement with a full year's worth of experience in the league, the price tag while negotiating may drop a noticeable amount. The Steelers have plenty of people to pay in the coming year, guys like Watt/Heyward/Fitzpatrick/Hilton are all due for trips to the bank sooner rather than later. It's not ideal to lose either Smith-Schuster or Dupree, but the NFL is a business that relies on what you're able to do now, not what you did prior (except that Roethlisberger deal, of course).
Should both players return past 2020, Pittsburgh adds much needed depth in terms of pass-catchers and pass-rushers.
Were the picks on Friday sexy? No, not really. But chess isn't a flashy game. It's a game that requires skill, intelligence and thinking ahead. We'll likely have to revisit this piece in three years to see the true outcome of this draft, but Pittsburgh stacked their chips for the future at two positions they covet highly.
The NFL Draft can be likened to chess in a lot of ways. It's strategic. It's a game that rewards those who set themselves up nicely.
The Steelers played on the same board as everybody else, but used different pieces. Whether those pieces are of immediate value or not remains to be seen. However, Kevin Colbert and company may be yelling checkmate as early as 2021's offseason.