Free agents make it ‘less urgent’ for Steelers heading into draft |
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Joe Rutter

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed three players in free agency, plugging holes that existed on their offseason roster.

Steven Nelson was pursued because of Artie Burns’ regression at cornerback. Donte Moncrief was added as a veteran wide receiver in the wake of Antonio Brown’s trade to Oakland. Mark Barron was valued as a linebacker/safety because the Steelers were unable to adequately replace Ryan Shazier in 2018.

By no means, however, do those signings signal the Steelers are comfortable at those positions as they approach the NFL Draft, which begins Thursday night and runs through Saturday afternoon.

Inside linebacker, cornerback and wide receiver continue to be among the positions the Steelers are expected to address with their 10 draft selections.

“It makes it a little less urgent,” general manager Kevin Colbert said Monday afternoon as he and coach Mike Tomlin conducted a predraft news conference. “The people we draft, the longer we can keep them off the field, the better for them historically.”

In some instances, the Steelers plugged first-round picks into the starting lineup with great success. Center Maurkice Pouncey started immediately after being taken in the first round of the 2010 draft. Outside linebacker T.J. Watt couldn’t be kept off the field after joining the Steelers in 2017.

Other times, it hasn’t panned out. Case in point is Burns, who is no longer a starter as he enters his fourth season.

First-round picks who have benefited from waiting their turn to start include defensive lineman Cameron Heyward (2011), linebacker Lawrence Timmons (2007) and safety Troy Polamalu (2003).

“You really want to go in with these players and delay them getting onto the field as long as you can,” Colbert said. “Over time, I think coach would get comfortable with what they can do, but to have them step out and play, it’s detrimental to the player. If they lose confidence early, it’s usually not returnable.”

The Steelers signed safety Morgan Burnett in free agency last year, then selected a player at his position — Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds — in the first round. Injuries to Burnett in training camp and early in the season forced the Steelers to start Edmunds, and he ended up starting all but one game.

Edmunds will enter 2018 as the starting strong safety. Burnett was released a few weeks ago.

“He played more than I think we predicted,” Colbert said about Edmunds. “Over time in the fall, he got better.”

Tomlin agreed it wasn’t his intention to have Edmunds start in 2018.

“His play was above the line, but it wasn’t born from an opportunity earned,” he said. “It was a lack of availability in others, so you are less comfortable with that, but his play was above the line.”

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