For only the fourth time in team history, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the 17th selection in the NFL Draft. If we learned anything from the three previous times, there are some reasons to be concerned.
In 1981, the Steelers selected defensive end Keith Gary and used the pick to select wide receiver Charles Johnson in 1994. The only other time they had the 17th overall selection was in 1990. This pick was traded to the Dallas Cowboys who would go on to draft Emmitt Smith.
But while the Steelers have had a spotty history with this selection, what has the 17th spot in the draft meant to the rest of the league in recent years?
Over the past 10 seasons, there has been a mixed bag of talented players as well as busts selected 17th overall. This group is headlined by San Francisco’s Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati (2008).
Iupati has established himself as one of the best guards in the game and was selected first-team All-Pro last season. He has helped set the tone for one of the best offensive lines in football.
While the 49ers are thrilled with their selection, not all of the teams drafting at 17 have been so lucky.
David Pollack was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in 2005. He was a high-profile defender coming out of Georgia and appeared to be a terrific addition to the defense. However, a neck injury forced him to retire before his career was ever able to take off.
It is tough to call Pollack a bust because an injury ended his career so early, but his lack of production as a first-round pick indicates otherwise.
Injuries were not to blame for Jarvis Moss’ disappointing career. Selected by the Denver Broncos in 2007, he was never able to establish himself as a pass rusher.
Moss played in 53 games in five seasons, starting only two of them. He finished his career with only 32 tackles and six sacks.
Another disappointing player was Bryant Johnson.
While he wasn’t a bust, Johnson was a disappointment for the Arizona Cardinals. He started just 39 games in five seasons and averaged 42 receptions for 535 yards during this time. He only had nine touchdowns in Arizona before leaving via free agency.
Aside from these three players, there have been a number of solid to very good starters in this group.
Gosder Cheilus (2008) was a mainstay at right tackle for the Detroit Lions since he was a rookie. He played in 75 games—starting 70 of them—and allowed just over six sacks per season (via Washington Post).
D.J. Williams (2004) was a productive linebacker for the Broncos and averaged just over 77 tackles per year over his first eight seasons.
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway (2006) is developing into one of the best in the league after back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances.
Josh Freeman (2009) has flashed potential to be a very good quarterback. He threw for over 4,000 yards last season with 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. However, he has been inconsistent and may not be the long-term answer in Tampa Bay.
The New England Patriots appeared to have found their franchise tackle with Nate Solder (2011). His play improved last season and he should be even better in 2013.
That just leaves Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) of the Cincinnati Bengals. He has yet to make an impact, but still has plenty of time to develop at cornerback.
Collectively, the 17th overall draft position has been solid over the past decade. There have been seven quality starters produced during this time to only three disappointments. But while this spot may lack some star power, these players have been important to the success of their teams.
As the Steelers make their first-round selection, they cannot worry about the history of this draft slot. Instead, they must focus on taking advantage of selecting in the top 20 and finding an impact player.
The Steelers rarely select so high in the first round, and they must make this pick count.
This is exactly what the Steelers have been able to do when selecting in the top 20. Their last five players drafted this high have included Casey Hampton (19th overall in 2001), Troy Polamalu (16th overall in 2003), Ben Roethlisberger (11th overall in 2004), Lawrence Timmons (15th overall in 2007) and Maurkice Pouncey (18th overall in 2010).
These players represent some of the best in the league. By adding a high-impact player in this draft, the Steelers will be back on the track to success.
There are a number of different directions that they can go in as well.
Pittsburgh may look to solidify its offensive line if a top guard or tackle falls in the draft. Of course, with so many high picks invested into the offensive line in recent years, a better option may be to add a weapon for Roethlisberger.
Wide receivers such as Cordarrelle Patterson, De’Andre Hopkins or Keenan Allen would add some much-needed size. They could also boost the passing attack with tight end Tyler Eifert.
But this draft has a lot of depth at receiver and tight end. Instead, the Steelers could add some youth to their defense. This could include a defensive back such as Kenny Vaccaro, Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant.
Pittsburgh could really go outside of its comfort zone and select a pass rusher. Jarvis Jones is one name that keeps popping up as a potential first-round selection for the Steelers.
Regardless of what they do in the first round, Pittsburgh must find a football player who can produce and produce early.
As recent history shows, it is difficult to find elite talent with the 17th overall selection. But the Steelers do not necessarily need an elite player.
Instead, they need a player who can play the game of football and play it well. More importantly, they need a player who can help the team this season.
The Steelers can find this type of player with the 17th selection, and this type of player can help them get back to winning football.
All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.