Biggest Draft Busts in Pittsburgh Steelers Franchise History
The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been a team that builds through the draft, often spurning free agency and instead opting to improve the team bit by bit with youth. They've had success in that regard and historically have made some of the best draft picks ever.
But, like all teams, the Steelers have had some busts over the years. Nobody hits every pick every season, so that's to be expected.
Here's a look at some of the biggest busts they've ever had in black and gold.
Troy Edwards, WR (1999, Round 1)
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The Steelers were hopeful that Edwards would blossom into the true No. 1 receiver the team had felt it was lacking. Unfortunately, Edwards never became that player.
He was used as the team's primary receiver and also as a returner, but he never had that big breakout season. His best year in Pittsburgh was actually his first, when he caught five touchdowns and amassed 714 receiving yards. He never scored another touchdown in that uniform and was gone after the 2001 season.
Jamain Stephens, OL (1996, Round 1)
The Steelers took the former North Carolina A&T standout and hoped to develop him into a Pro Bowl offensive tackle in the NFL. It seemed like a fine idea at the time. Stephens had been a standout lineman in college and possessed great size for the position.
Still, Stephens was a project.
He started 10 games in 1998, but that was the zenith of his career. On the first day of camp in 1999, he showed up out of shape and was unable to complete Bill Cowher's regiment of running. Cowher was so upset that Stephens was cut almost immediately.
Stephens moved on to the Bengals and stayed there as a mediocre roster member until Marvin Lewis released him in 2003 shortly after arriving as the team's new coach.
Huey Richardson, LB/DL (1991, Round 1)
Chuck Noll used his last first-round selection (15th overall) to select Richardson out of Florida. According to a former personnel man, the Steelers were rattled in their war room when the players they were targeting were all taken off the board and simply settled for Richardson.
The Steelers employed a 3-4 defense, but Richardson was not built for that, so they moved him to inside linebacker. That didn't work, either. When Bill Cowher arrived in 1992, he tried Richardson at outside linebacker, a position he'd played in college. That, too, didn't work, and he was dealt to the Redskins.
The Redskins kept him for four games before he was cut. The New York Jets picked him up for seven more games before his NFL career ended after only two seasons. He's done much better in his post-NFL life.
Tim Worley, RB (1989, Round 1)
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Noll drafted Worley in the first round of the 1989 draft with the idea that he could develop into the next great Steelers runner after a great collegiate career at Georgia. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be.
After a decent rookie season (770 yards, five touchdowns), Worley fell apart. He gained only 418 yards in his second season, spent the 1991 season injured and was suspended for all of 1992 because of drug problems (he missed two mandatory drug tests by the league). It didn't help him that he also fumbled 16 times in his three seasons with Pittsburgh.
Worley was traded to Chicago in 1993, but was awful on the field and spent some more time behind bars off the field. After more problems, he was released five games into the 1994 season and then retired from football.
Walter Abercrombie, RB (1982, Round 1)
I use this joke often whenever talking about Abercrombie, and I'll use it again here:
Running backs are supposed to make people miss. Abercrombie made people miss Franco Harris.
Drafted in the first round in 1982, Abercrombie was brought in to replace the departed Harris. He never managed it. His first season was marred by injury, and afterwards he never put up the numbers expected in a run-oriented attack.
Abercrombie's best season was in 1986 when he rushed for 877 yards and six touchdowns. He played with the Steelers until 1988, when he moved on to Philadelphia. He played in five games there before his career was over.
Darryl Sims, DL (1985, Round 1)
Sims was drafted by the Steelers with their 1985 first-round pick. It was expected he'd become a starter on the defensive line, but he never adapted to the team's style or the speed of the NFL. He played in all 16 games in both 1985 and 1986, but was never an impact player.
He did notch three sacks over two years and then moved on to the Cleveland Browns. After two years there, he was out of the NFL at age 27. His short career is another highlight of some of the problems the team had in the 1980s replicating the success of the previous decade's draft classes.
The 1985 class may be among the worst in team history with almost no impact made by anyone from that year.
Alonzo Jackson, LB (2003, Round 2)
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In a draft that netted them Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, the Steelers had one notable miss: Alonzo Jackson.
He was drafted with the intention that he'd become a force on the outside opposite the established Joey Porter. He'd had a good collegiate career at Florida State, but he never made it in the NFL.
He played two years with the Steelers and only found his way into nine games during that time. He didn't tackle well and never seemed to grasp the complex Pittsburgh defense.
After the 2004 season, he played in nine games in 2005 with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles before his career ended quietly without having made any real impact in a game.
Jeremy Staat, DL (1998, Round 2)
Staat was picked in the second round of the 1998 draft by the Steelers and was expected to be an impact player along the defensive line.
He played in six games as a rookie and 16 the following year before tailing off to seven in 2000, and then only two in 2003 with St. Louis. In between, he was cut by Seattle in 2001 and considered joining the military.
Staat was never the impact player that was envisioned and is one of many swings and misses in the second round for the proud Pittsburgh franchise.
After leaving football, he did eventually join the Marines in 2006 and served in Iraq. Staat later returned to college to finish his degree and then moved into civilian life in his hometown of Bakersfield, California.
Limas Sweed, WR (2008, Round 2)
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Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had been craving a tall receiver ever since the departure of Plaxico Burress in 2004. The Steelers attempted to appease him by selecting Sweed in 2008 during the second round. At 6'4", Sweed was the perfect choice and seemed like a steal since he had first round talent.
The former Texas standout never adjusted to the NFL and seemed mentally unable to get himself ready for games. Sweed is infamous for a few dropped touchdown passes in his NFL career, one of which nearly turned the tide of a playoff game against the Steelers.
Sweed made it into camp this season and it seemed like he would get more playing time thanks to some injuries, but he was unable to spin that opportunity into anything more than another miss. After hurting himself, he was let go by the team during the preseason.
Anthony Smith, FS (2006, Round 2)
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Smith was part of Bill Cowher's final draft class. Expected to develop into the starter at free safety and to team with Troy Polamalu, the former Syracuse starter failed to become anything but a distraction.
Smith never was good in coverage and frequently let players get behind him. He also didn't tackle well and he took any chance to talk trash on an opponent. Before a game against the Patriots, he guaranteed victory.
Unfortunately, Tom Brady and the Patriots had other ideas and Smith became the focal point of their attack. He was burned continuously by Brady and the Patriots.
Smith then found himself out of Pittsburgh by the end of the 2008 season. He bounced around in 2009 and 2010 before finding himself out of the NFL after five years.