Grading Mike Tomlin's Drafts as Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach

Mike StangerCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2013

Grading Mike Tomlin's Drafts as Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach

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    A coach gets too much credit when a team wins and too much blame when a team loses. 

    Same thing goes for draft picks. In fact, much about the draft is a roll of the dice. Few players are a can't- miss pick.

    While some luck is involved with drafting players, however, a consistent trend of good or bad drafts shows either a prescient talent to see what's possible or an absolute incompetence blinded from reality.

    Added into the equation is the role of the front office, namely the general manager, who can have a significant impact on draft-day decision-making.

    In Pittsburgh, the head coach and general manager have a symbiotic relationship. Former head coach Bill Cowher worked well with current GM Kevin Colbert, leading to such franchise-changing picks as Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu.

    How well has Tomlin worked with Colbert? Let's take a look.

2007

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    First Round: Lawrence Timmons, LB

    Second Round: Lamar Woodley, DE

    Third Round: Matt Spaeth, TE

    Fourth Round: Daniel Sepulveda, P

    Fourth Round: Ryan McBean, DT

    Fifth Round: Cameron Stephenson, G

    Fifth Round: William Gay

    Seventh Round: Dallas Baker, WR

     

    In his first year as head coach, Tomlin had some needs to address, mainly at linebacker. Joey Porter was gone, and Clark Haggans wasn't far behind.

    Tomlin and company hit on those needs with Timmons and Woodley, a converted defensive end.

    While Woodley blossomed early, starting 16 games in 2008, registering 10.5 sacks and making the Pro Bowl in 2009, Timmons took longer to come into his own, due mostly to injuries and a move to inside linebacker.

    However, it appears that Timmons may have surpassed Woodley in value. He had what many Steelers fans felt was a Pro Bowl-worthy season in 2012, with 75 solo tackles, 31 assists and six sacks.

    Sepulveda could be classified as a disappointment as he was a two-time Ray Guy Award winner in college, but multiple ACL injuries and inconsistency led to his ultimate release in 2011.

    Spaeth was a serviceable tight end, playing in 60 games, before heading to Chicago in 2011.

    For all the criticism, Gay was an adequate defensive back for Pittsburgh, particularly for one drafted in the fifth round. He started in 37 games for the Steelers before leaving for Arizona in 2012.

    McBean lasted one season, and Baker was gone after two. Stephenson made no impact.

     

    Analysis: Of the eight picks, two are still with the team. Of them, Woodley is a one-time Pro Bowler, and Timmons is on the precipice of the Pro Bowl.

    Of the remaining picks, Sepulveda punted when healthy, Gay was a part-time starter and Spaeth was the No. 2 tight end.

     

    Grade: B+

     


2008

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    First Round: Rashard Mendenhall, RB

    Second Round: Limas Sweed, WR

    Third Round: Bruce Davis, LB

    Fourth Round: Tony Hills, T

    Fifth Round: Dennis Dixon, WR

    Sixth Round: Mike Humpal, LB

    Seventh Round: Ryan Mundy, DB

     

    The 2008 season for Tomlin and the Steelers was a complete success, ending with a Super Bowl victory. The same thing couldn't be said for their draft that year.

    In fact, looking at it retrospectively, it was a disaster.

    While the team went for proven performance the previous year, it decided to go with projects in 2009. There is a reason why they're called "projects."

    Although a starter when healthy, Mendenhall never lived up to his potential. He appeared to finally be moving toward an elite back in '10, finishing with 1,273 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns.

    Unfortunately, he took a step back in 2011 and ultimately got bumped down to third-string running back in 2012. His displeasure with the view ended with him getting suspended for a game after not showing up for a game against the San Diego Chargers

    He is a free agent this year and most likely won't return.

    At the time, picking Sweed looked like a steal. However, he couldn't figure out how to actually catch the ball. Lacking such talent is acceptable for a left tackle—not so much for a wide receiver.

    Hill was a project at left tackle who never got the hang of it.

    Dixon didn't show any growth at the position. He started a Sunday night game against Baltimore due to injuries to Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch and played adequately. He was the starter at the beginning of the '10 season because of Roethlisberger's suspension, but did not perform well and was eventually let go after the '11 season.

    He has gotten a second chance in Philadelphia, being reunited with Chip Kelly, who was Dixon's offensive coordinator at the University of Oregon.

    Davis lasted one season and is now out of football.

    Humpal's career was about as long as this sentence.

    Mundy has been a backup and spot starter during his time in Pittsburgh. 

     

    Analysis: With Mendenhall and Mundy being unrestricted free agents, it's quite possible that the Steelers will have no one left on the team from this draft.

     

    Grade: F

2009

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    First Round: Evander Hood, DE

    Third Round (1): Kraig Urbik, T

    Third Round (2): Mike Wallace, WR

    Third Round (3): Keenan Lewis, DB

    Fifth Round (1): Joe Burnett, DB

    Fifth Round (2): Frank Summers, RB

    Sixth Round: Ra'Shon Harris, DT

    Seventh Round (1): A.Q. Shipley, C

    Seventh Round (2): David Johnson, TE

     

    After an unremarkable draft in 2008, Tomlin and company rebounded of sorts in 2009, drafting three future starters, with Wallace becoming a Pro Bowler.

    Although a disappointment, Hood is a starter, albeit by default. He filled that role full-time in 2012 after the release of stalwart Aaron Smith.

    Urbik didn't make the final roster in '09 and is now in Buffalo.

    Wallace became a starter in 2010, finishing with 60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns. He followed up that season with Pro Bowl year in 2011, finishing with 72 receptions for 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns.

    His inconsistency in '12 and high asking price in free agency means he will probably not be a Steeler in 2013.

    Lewis has developed into strong starter just in time for free agency. He should garner attention if he makes it to free agency, but the Steelers may lock him up before then.

    Burnett, on the other hand, never developed and was gone after the '09 season.

    Summers, Harris and Shipley all had a cup of coffee with Steelers and were gone. Shipley made the Colts roster and started in four games in '12.

    Johnson played in 47 games with the Steelers.

     

    Analysis: This draft brought in three starters (Hood, Wallace and Lewis), with Wallace making the Pro Bowl. However, if it's possible that only Hood will remain as a starter if Wallace and Lewis leave via free agency.

     

    Grade: B

2010

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    First Round: Maurkice Pouncey, C

    Second Round: Jason Worilds, DE

    Third Round: Emmanuel Sanders, WR

    Fourth Round: Thaddeus Gibson, DE

    Fifth Round (1): Chris Scott, G

    Fifth Round (2): Crezdon Butler, DB

    Fifth Round (3): Stevenson Sylvester, LB

    Sixth Round (1): Jonathan Dwyer, RB

    Sixth Round (2): Antonio Brown, WR

    Seventh Round: Doug Worthington

     

    The 2010 season was successful both on the field and in the draft room. 

    They finished the season by losing the Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers. But their bigger accomplishment happened before the season began by drafting two future Pro Bowlers and several spot starters and solid reserves.

    Pouncey has turned into one of the best, if not the best, centers in football, being voted to three Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.

    Worilds, a converted defensive end, has shown flashes and may be ready to step in for James Harrison.

    Sanders has been a solid, if not spectacular, third receiver. He may get his chance to be a full-time starter with Wallace's imminent departure. He is a restricted free agent.

    Gibson never made an impact and has bounced around with a few other teams, most recently with the Tennessee Titans.

    Scott was on the roster for two seasons, but didn't do anything of value.

    Butler played in four games in '10, but was given his walking papers after that.

    Sylvester has been a backup and had an injury-plagued 2012. If Larry Foote isn't brought back, Sylvester may be the default starter at the beginning of training camp.

    Dwyer got an opportunity to start in six games in '12, rushing for 623 yards. He is a restricted free agent and will most likely return.

    Brown has been the diamond in the rough. Elected to the Pro Bowl in 2011 as a return man, he accounted for 2,211 all-purpose yards that year.

    Worthington never made the team.

     

    Analysis: The '10 draft was Tomlin's best draft to date, netting two Pro-Bowlers (Pouncey and Brown), three potential starters (Worilds, Sanders and Dwyer) and one solid reserve (Sylvester).

     

    Grade: A

2011

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    First Round: Cam Heyward, DT

    Second Round: Marcus Gilbert, OL

    Third Round: Curtis Brown, DB

    Fourth Round: Cortez Allen, DB

    Fifth Round: Chris Carter, DL

    Sixth Round: Keith Williams, OL

    Seventh Round: Baron Batch, RB

     

    It's still a little early to be judging this draft, but it could turn out to be a decent one if a few players develop.

    Heyward hasn't been able to displace Brett Keisel, but gets significant time in the rotation. However, Keisel is 34 years old, so it's only a matter of time before Heyward gets a chance.

    Gilbert looks to be the starting left tackle going into camp in 2013. He finished the 2012 on the injured reserved.

    Brown has seen time as a nickel back, but may be on his way out if he doesn't show progress in '13.

    Allen was the Steelers' third cornerback, covering the opponent's slot receiver. He may crack into the starting lineup, depending on the status of Lewis.

    Carter started in three games last year.

    Williams never made the team

    Batch was the Steelers' third-down back in '12 and looks to fill the same role in '13.

     

    Analysis: So far, the 2011 draft looks to be an average group with one starter (Gilbert) and a couple of potential starters (Heyward and Allen).

     

    Grade: C+

2012

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    First Round: David DeCastro, G

    Second Round: Mike Adams, T

    Third Round: Sean Spence, LB

    Fourth Round: Alameda Ta'amu DT

    Fifth Round: Chris Rainey, RB

    Seventh Round (1): Tony Clemons, WR

    Seventh Round (2): David Paulson, TE

    Seventh Round (3): Terrence Frederick, CB

    Seventh Round (4): Kelvin Beachum, T

     

    The 2012 draft had some hits and misses. On the hit side, two starters and one potential starter have emerged. The miss side was equal in measure, with two picks finding themselves on the wrong side of the law.

    DeCastro suffered a knee injury in preseason, but had an amazing rehabilitation that culminated in him starting in three games at the end of the year.

    Adams turned into a pleasant surprise, earning a starting spot after Marcus Gilbert went down with injury. He looks to be the starting right tackle going into camp.

    While having a great preseason, Spence suffered a horrific knee injury, tearing his ACL, MCL and dislocating his kneecap. He may not recover fully.

    Ta'amu was shown the door after a drunk driving incident that involved him crashing into several cars and running from police.

    Rainey couldn't really find his niche with the Steelers as a running back, despite having some moderate success as a kickoff returner. He was released after being accused of hitting his girlfriend.

    Paulson showed some potential and could emerge as a solid second tight end.

    Beachum was put into duty at right tackle after injuries to Gilbert and Adams. He played well enough that the team is considering moving him to guard after what appears to be the inevitable release of oft-injured Willie Colon.

     

    Analysis: The law issues notwithstanding, this draft was solid, netting two starters (DeCastro and Adams) and one potential starter (Beachum). If Spence can recover from his injury and make a dent in the lineup, this could prove to be a good draft.

     

    Grade: B