Re-Grading the Steelers' Past 5 Drafts
The NFL draft represents a challenge. It doesn’t matter if it's the Pittsburgh Steelers or any other franchise, nothing is certain when it comes to picks. Every year dozens of great college players get to the NFL and for one reason or another fall flat on their faces.
None of this excuses a franchise. These are billion-dollar operations with huge staffs that do nothing but prepare for the draft. The notion that so many great players fall late in the draft, and top prospects fail is puzzling. How can all these teams miss on these players? But, I digress.
Hit or miss, it is always interesting to look back at a past draft to see how your favorite franchise did. However, to do this for the Steelers, there have to be some ground rules. First, this is all about draft picks. No undrafted free agents are a part of this equation. Why? Because at that point, it is less about the process and more about players picking teams rather than the other way around.
The other rule is, if a team can’t keep the player, it doesn’t get credit for the pick. Sorry, but making a great pick and letting that player leave at the end of the rookie contract is not a good thing. So, if a team picks a great player, but doesn’t get to hang on to them, its grade will suffer.
Let’s look back at the past five Steelers’ drafts and hand out some grades.
Spoiler alert: Some of these drafts were bad news.
- First Round: Ziggy Hood, DT, Missouri
- Third Round: Kraig Urbik, OT, Wisconsin
- Third Round: Mike Wallace, WR, Mississippi
- Third Round: Keenan Lewis, CB, Oregon State
- Fifth Round: Joe Burnett, CB, UCF
- Fifth Round: Frank Summers, RB, UNLV
- Sixth Round: Ra’Shon Harris, DT, Oregon
- Seventh Round: A.Q. Shipley, C, Penn State
- Seventh Round: David Johnson, TE, Arkansas State
Oh, what could have been? 2009 was a draft for draft fans. The Steelers were aggressive in their moves and really positioned themselves to make a splash. After reaching for defensive tackle Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh dominated the third round.
The Steelers drafted offensive tackle Kraig Urbik, wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis with their three third-round picks. The great news is all three of these players are NFL starters and exceptional talents.
The bad news? None of them play for the Steelers. Urbik has 44 career starts in Buffalo since being released after his rookie year. Both Wallace and Lewis were permitted to leave at the end of the 2012 season via free agency.
This doesn’t even take into account at this point, none of the players from the 2009 draft are currently on the roster. Granted most of the other players weren’t very good to begin with, but to have the three best players from the draft all producing for other teams is a bitter pill. Not to mention, if you think about it, offensive line, wide receiver and cornerback are among this year’s most significant draft needs as well.
- First Round: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
- Second Round: Jason Worilds: LB, Virginia Tech
- Third Round: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, SMU
- Fourth Round: Thaddeus Gibson, LB, Ohio State
- Fifth Round: Chris Scott, OT, Tennessee
- Fifth Round: Crezdon Butler, CB, Clemson
- Fifth Round: Stevenson Sylvester, LB, Utah
- Sixth Round: Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
- Sixth Round: Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
- Seventh Round: Doug Worthington, DE, Ohio State
Pittsburgh rebounded from a very disappointing 2009 draft with a much better result in 2010. Although up until last season, this might not have been the prevailing attitude.
Center Maurkice Pouncey has struggled with injuries during his brief career, but when healthy, he is one of the better centers in the AFC. Maybe not mid-first-round great, but he's a solid pick nonetheless.
The second round yielded linebacker Jason Worilds. Unfortunately, it took Worilds three seasons to find his way into a productive role on the defense. Now, what Worlids did in 2013 was great, but if he can do it again in 2014, he will come much closer to justify his draft selection.
However, the star of this show is a lowly sixth-round pick from Central Michigan. Antonio Brown came into the league with almost zero fanfare. He was small and fast, but could he handle the physical nature of the NFL? Well, after pulling in 110 receptions in 2013 for 1,499 yards, the answer is an emphatic yes.
If you are looking for bulk wins, this draft wasn’t the best. Three players out of 10 picks isn’t ideal, but when you can steal a special player like Brown, 195 picks into the draft, you get big props for that sort of foresight.
- First Round: Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
- Second Round: Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
- Third Round: Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
- Fourth Round: Cortez Allen, CB, The Citadel
- Fifth Round: Chris Carter, LB, Fresno State
- Sixth Round: Keith Williams, G, Nebraska
- Seventh Round: Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech
The 2011 NFL draft will go down as another draft that was good, but it could have been so much more. Early on, things went well for the Steelers. The Steelers appear to have found a real gem with defensive end Cameron Heyward. If he can build on his 2013 season, he will have more than earned his first-round selection.
The same goes for second-round pick, offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert. He has 34 starts in 35 games, and in 2013, he finally seemed to turn the corner from being simply a serviceable right tackle, to a player the team can plug in at that spot and forget.
Moving into the fourth round, cornerback Cortez Allen is still on the roster and should be competing for a starting spot this year. If he can get it and keep it, this pick will feel much better.
Overall, if things fall into place, having three top-notch starters, all in their fourth season makes this draft something of a win. That's especially true when you look at the 2011 draft as a whole. Those late-round picks didn’t really pan out, but the talent just wasn’t there.
- First Round: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
- Second Round: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
- Third Round: Sean Spence, LB, Miami
- Fourth Round: Alameda Ta’amu, DT, Washington
- Fifth Round: Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
- Seventh Round: Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado
- Seventh Round: David Paulson, TE, Oregon
- Seventh Round: Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M
- Seventh Round: Kelvin Beachum, OT, SMU
The Steelers’ 2012 draft was a perfect example of how great a draft can look on paper but end up so bad. Things looked like they were going to be celebrated after the Steelers finished making their picks. Fast forward to today, and things are much less rosy.
Pittsburgh has been able to get two starting offensive linemen from this group in guard David DeCastro and tackle Kelvin Beachum. That in itself is a victory. However, all the picks that fell in between those two have flopped on one level or another.
This group could make up significant ground if by some chance linebacker Sean Spence is ever able to get on the field. However, beyond that, there is nothing redeeming about this group whatsoever.
The selection of offensive tackle Mike Adams was made even worse by the fact that just two picks later, linebacker Lavonte David came off the board. The Steelers passed on David, drafted Spence instead and the rest as they say is history.
Overall, getting a starting left tackle and right guard is sufficient to keep an otherwise abysmal draft afloat.
- First Round: Jarvis Jones, LB, Georgia
- Second Round: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
- Third Round: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
- Fourth Round: Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
- Fourth Round: Landry Jones: QB, Oklahoma
- Fifth Round: Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois
- Sixth Round: Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma
- Sixth Round: Vince Williams, LB, FSU
- Seventh Round: Nick Williams, DT, Stanford
It is somewhat unfair to judge a draft class after only one season. Traditionally, it is even harder to be done with a Steelers draft class. Rookies don’t typically see the field much their first season, thus grading them is an even greater challenge.
Fortunately, 2013 was something of an anomaly for Pittsburgh, and multiple rookies played prominent roles. This was a team that needed all hands on deck in 2013, and several of these youngsters showed maturity and promise.
The star of this rookie class was running back Le’Veon Bell. It’s only one season, but 1,259 yards of offense is the kind of number to get excited about.
Numerous other rookies also contributed. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams started eight games and 11 games, respectively, and while neither was a star of the unit, both showed considerable promise. Safety Shamarko Thomas started two games, but he saw action in 12 more as the team’s nickel cornerback. He is another athletic young player who looks forward to having an expanded role in 2014.
Overall, hopes are high for this group. Best-case scenario, quarterback Landry Jones finds himself as the principal backup to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And wide receiver Markus Wheaton can develop quickly enough to be a contributor this year.
Draft rosters are courtesy of NFL.com’s draft-history page.