Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

When you’re right, you’re right.

No, not about the Steelers taking Najee Harris with their first-round pick in last weekend’s draft, though that happened.

Instead, what we’re referencing are the people who felt the Steelers could simply trade back and get one of the top three running backs in this class. Or, worse yet, they could pass on a running back in the first round and still get one of them with their second-round pick, which was all the way down at 55.

As we saw, not only did Harris go at pick No. 24 to the Steelers, the Jacksonville Jaguars jumped on Clemson’s Travis Etienne with the 25th pick. The Denver Broncos then traded up in the second round to make North Carolina’s Javonte Williams with the third pick of the second round.

Three running backs were taken in the top 35 picks. And then another wasn’t selected until the San Francisco 49ers grabbed Trey Sermon with the 88th selection.

There’s no guarantee if the Steelers had traded back even a little that the Broncos or some other team wouldn’t have jumped them to take a running back. And the Steelers could have been shut out in their quest to “fix the running game.”

See, the Steelers didn’t have a starting running back on their roster. Now, they do in Harris. Sorry Sermon fans, he wasn’t going to fill that need. It should be clear what the league thought of him when he went more than 50 picks after Williams. There was a pretty big gap in talent between the top three running backs and the next group.

That’s why the Steelers did the correct thing in selecting Harris, who was nearly a consensus pick as the top back in this draft. The dropoff from the top three running backs to the next group was bigger than that at center or offensive tackle, two of the Steelers’ other needs. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the fifth-rated offensive tackle and the 15th. And there were six good centers in this draft, including Steelers’ third-round pick Kendrick Green, who project as a starter sooner rather than later.

Now, we can argue about the selection of tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round – passing on centers and tackles available there – but that position was thin, especially for a combo tight end such as Freiermuth.

And the Steelers got two very good prospects to add to their line, anyway.

In retrospect, would you rather have, let’s say, Teven Jenkins, Creed Humphrey, Sermon and Brevin Jordan filling the the Steelers’ needs rather than Harris, Freiermuth, Green and Dan Moore Jr., the tackle selected in the fourth round?

Most would take the latter since the Steelers got the No. 1 prospect at running back, the No. 2 tight end behind Kyle Pitts, a center prospect who was easily in the top five at that position and a promising young tackle.

In retrospect, it appears the Steelers worked the board in the right order to fill their needs, getting a pair of top prospects instead of settling for the lesser prospects at every position save center.

n For those who still don’t think it was worth it for the Steelers to use a first-round pick on a running back, realize that Le’Veon Bell averaged just over 22 touches – carries plus pass receptions – per game during his five years with the Steelers.

On average, most NFL teams run around 60 offensive plays per game. So, isn’t it worth it to spend a late first-round pick on a skill-position player who is going to touch the ball about 1/3 of the time in games?

And Harris is a better prospect than Bell was.

n Was anyone else waiting for one of the New York Rangers to skate around nearly naked with a trophy raised above his head ala Ned Braden at the end of their “game” against the Capitals?

That was all that was missing for that game to look like a cutup from “Slap Shot.”

What we don’t know is if any players put on the foil as the Hansen brothers did in that movie.

While hockey purists turned their nose up at that game, it drew massive TV ratings across the country for a sport that needs better TV ratings. That’s why the league won’t crack down on Washington’s Tom Wilson, the Ogie Ogilthorpe of the NHL.

The league wants eyeballs. And Wilson’s dirty play draws the ire of opponents and eyes to TVs, waiting to see what he’ll do next.

If the league isn’t willing to crack down on Wilson – and it isn’t – it will continue to have travesties of the sport as it did last week.

And like some other renown dirty players – think Bill Laimbeer or Vontaz Burfict – opponents spend as much time worrying about what Wilson will do instead of focusing on their play.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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