Thursday will be a series of firsts for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
For the first time in his 14-year head coaching career, Tomlin's Steelers will not have a first-round pick. It will also mark the first time that Tomlin -- and the rest of the NFL's coaches, for that matter -- will take part in a "virtual draft," as each team will navigate through the draft from remote locations in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
While not having a first-round pick has its obvious cons, Tomlin offered two reasons why he and the Steelers aren't sweating not having a first-round pick on Thursday night.
"It's gonna be a spectator's view," Tomlin said of the first round, via Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "It's really a good opportunity for us to get comfortable with the organization of all of this in terms of how the draft is unfolding and how communication happens and trades of that nature. I think there's some unintended consequences or benefits of not having a first (round) pick from that perspective.
"And to be quite honest with you, I'm not fretting at all about not having a first round pick. That pick is Minkah FItzpatrick, and we've already benefited from his presence. And we're looking forward to continuing to do so."
As Tomlin alluded to, the Steelers traded their 2020 first-round pick (which became the 18th pick in the draft) to the Dolphins two games into the 2019 season. Pittsburgh, 0-2 at the time, needed a spark after losing Ben Roethlisberger for the season with an elbow injury. In 14 games with the Steelers, Fitzpatrick, Miami's first-round pick in 2018, recorded five interceptions, two fumble recoveries 57 tackles, nine passes defensed, and a forced fumble while also scoring two defensive touchdowns. An All-Pro last season, Fitzpatrick helped the Steelers' defense finish third in the NFL in pass defense, fifth in scoring, sixth in red zone efficiency and ninth in third down efficiency.
With their first-round pick already spent, the Steelers -- who have the 49th, 102nd, 124th, 135th, 198th and 232nd picks in the draft -- will watch how the teams that are drafting in the first round navigate through the first-ever virtual draft. Ifare any indication of how smoothly the actual first round of the draft goes on Thursday, the Steelers may indeed benefit by observing the first night of the draft on the sideline.
The Steelers, like every other NFL team, were unable to receive 40-yard dash times (among other data) and medial records of many of this year's draft prospects, they were also unable to have one-on-one meetings with the prospects, one of the usual pre-draft procedures the Steelers highly value. On the positive side, Tomlin said that the time not traveling to pro days/meeting with prospects has allowed him to have more time watching film of this year's draft prospects.
As it relates to the 2020 draft, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is not worried about Pittsburgh's staff having any issues as far as being able to communicate from a remote setting.
"Scott Phelps (the team's vice president of technology) and his group have done a lot to help us be able to manage this," Colbert said, via the team's official website. "Coach Tomlin and myself and Art Rooney II and Omar Khan (the team's vice president of football and business adminstration) will be visible to each other, because Omar will be involved.
"Basically what we have available to us is the same as if we were sitting in a room together, all the coaches and scouts will have access to every conversation going on via different lines. Coach and myself and Art and Omar will get into trade talks, and we can share a conversation as if we are sitting (together). So we have it set up internally. We each have a draft room set up in our homes, and we'll work from that."