"This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper." So wrote T.S. Eliot in The Hollow Men.
The oft-quoted line in one of Eliot's most famous poems could have easily been referring to the 2008 Steelers' draft. It started with such high expectations, but is well on its way to ending in a whimper.
The Steelers entered that draft with its biggest need being the offensive line. But, after a depressing run on extremely talented offensive linemen preceded their pick, few blamed them for grabbing Rashard Mendenhall, thought by many to be the best player still on the board at the time.
But Mendenhall's career is off to a terrible start. He was injured early in his rookie campaign, but even during that year, he showed little during the preseason and during his limited playing time.
He has been so unimpressive in 2009 that Steelers fans are all but begging the top brass to bring somebody, anybody, up from the practice squad to carry the football. He did have a great run against the Bears, causing me to practically bounce off the ceiling.
But blasting for a 40-yard run after a string of no gainers and negative yardage runs is not a key to success.
By comparison, the player who was chosen one after them, running back Chris Johnson, has become the heart and soul of the Tennessee Titans' offense. I bet the Steelers would like to have that pick back.
In defense of Mendenhall, it is tough to have success on the ground when you constantly have to avoid tackles in the backfield.
The Steelers rarely miss with their first pick. That, along with a propensity for finding gems in the later rounds, is what has largely set them apart from their rivals. Hopefully, Mendenhall will still prove to be one of those guys, but it is now something of a long shot and I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.
While I didn't expect much out of Mendenhall this year, I had very high expectations for Limas Sweed. While he was plagued by drops in 2008, he showed plenty of athleticism and seemed like he might be ready to become an important component of the offense in 2009.
However, he has been all but invisible during the opening two games with the Steelers investing more playing time and looks into rookie Mike Wallace.
While it is great that they are showing such faith in Wallace, that bodes badly for Sweed.
The second year is an important one for receivers, when they frequently take a huge step forward after struggling to adjust to the pro game as rookies. If Sweed doesn't make that a significant step forward this year, chances are that he won't.
On to the third round. Third-round pick Bruce Davis has already been cut. He lasted one year. I found this to be staggering. Even if a player stinks and shows no upside, rarely will a team admit defeat so quickly.
I give them credit for biting the bullet instead of pretending they had something that they didn't in Davis.
Projecting an undersized defensive end to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker is more an art than a science. Sometimes, you are going to miss badly.
The Steelers have hit spectacularly at times on these projections with players like Greg Lloyd, Jason Gilden, Lamarr Woodley, and James Harrison. But Davis falls into the same junkyard category as Alonzo Jackson. He just couldn't make the switch.
In the fourth round, the Steelers selected tackle Tony Hills. Despite having major problems on their offensive line, particularly in the run blocking, Hills hasn't gotten anywhere near the field.
The fact that the Steelers overpaid to keep Starks was certainly not a bid of confidence in Hills.
The Steelers' offensive line is the Bad News Bears of run blocking, although it has shown improvement in its pass blocking. Even at that, Hills remains in obscurity, locked out of the discussion.
None of the late round picks has proven to be much of a gem, although Ryan Mundy will see some playing time due to the injuries to Troy Polamalu and Tyrone Carter.
I thought Dennis Dixon, that year's fifth-round choice, had the potential to be a great change of pace quarterback who could be used as a wildcat style player. But the Steelers apparently gave a serious look at Michael Vick, making me question whether they think Dixon can ever be their quarterback, even as a backup situational player.
The bottom line: With each passing game, the 2008 draft is looking worse.
Drafting is hard business and every team has bad drafts. The key is to keep them to a minimum. A couple bad drafts strung together can put a team on a path to becoming the Detroit Lions or the Oakland Raiders; good drafting is one of the absolute cornerstones to a successful team.
The pain that comes hand in hand with galactically bad drafts does not become apparent immediately. But, the bill comes due at some point and it is paid in competitiveness.
A team that misses on an entire draft will end up with significant problem areas somewhere in the near future. Our expectations following that 2008 draft were high. But, unless something changes soon, they are ending with a whimper.
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