INDIANAPOLIS — There’s plenty that’s different about the 2020 version of the NFL Combine.
With a new schedule set to provide primetime television coverage of the most popular fan events, every team is dealing with a new approach to the process from a timeline standpoint.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers and general manager Kevin Colbert and his staff, it’s even more different.
For the first time ever, the Steelers brass is attending the combine without a first-round draft pick to scout for.
The Steelers, of course, traded their 2020 first-round pick to Miami in the fall for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. That choice ended up being the No. 18 overall selection, one of four picks in the top 40 selections for the Dolphins. The Steelers won’t have any, with their first pick not coming until No. 49 in the second round.
But that doesn’t mean the Steelers are approaching this week’s combine or free agency any differently.
“We’re always going to look at every position in free agency and the draft and players getting cut,” Colbert said on Tuesday at the combine. “We’re never going to stop evaluating a position. The evaluation part really doesn’t change. What we end up doing in a draft or in a free agency period may change. But not the evaluation. We’re still going to evaluate player No. 1 the same way we do 256. That has always been the same. That always will be.”
The trade of a first-round draft pick was extremely unusual for the Steelers, which had not done so since 1967.
Colbert said the opportunity to acquire Fitzpatrick was mostly about a strange combination of the Steelers wanting to show they were not giving up on the 2019 season and the Dolphins actively looking to amass draft picks at the expense of talented players. But he also didn’t rule out doing it again in the future.
“It was an unusual decision because a player like that is never usually available for a pick,” Colbert said. “In our situation, it was very interesting and obviously in Miami’s situation, getting another first-round pick was very interesting to them. So it’s not that we don’t look for those types of things or those types of opportunities, but it presented itself and it wasn’t hard to make those types of decisions because Minkah was a very good player. He was a young player. He still had four years left on his deal. So we always equated that to a first-round pick.
“Was it an instant, overnight-type decision? Of course not. Because we had to make sure that we talked through what might be available. We didn’t know where we were picking. We didn’t know what might be available at that pick. We were never going to give up on 2019 because we lost our quarterback. So part of that trade was trying to do the best that we could to have a good 2019.”
Of course, just because the Steelers traded their first-round pick doesn’t mean they won’t be active on the draft’s first night. After all, Colbert said that they still intend on going through the draft process the usual way and evaluating each and every prospect, starting at the very top.
Could they make a move up from No. 49 to get back into the first round?
“Stay tuned,” Colbert said.