As draft season approaches, there is much speculation and anticipation over what the Steelers will do with their first round pick. Will they trade up, trade down, pick the best available player, or fill a high priority need? With so many key players facing free agency, trying to answer this question sparks great debate.
I began thinking about the Steelers’ first round picks in the last 10 years. Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Hampton, Holmes, Miller, Mendenhall. It’s a who’s who of current Steeler greatness.
Considering this list, who would you choose as the biggest impact player? Who is the best first rounder the Steelers have chosen in the last decade? Is there a clear answer? Bring on the debate!
If I had to narrow down the list, I would focus on Roethlisberger, Polamalu, and Holmes. As big a fan as I am of Santonio, I think Ben and Troy would be considered the two finalists. Santonio is a great receiver, but his accomplishments thus far in his young career do not hold up against the likes of Roethlisberger and Polamalu.
So with the final two choices selected, who is the best first round draft pick in the last 10 years?
Let’s start with Big Ben. Drafted in 2004 (11th overall) out of Miami (OH), he has become a premier quarterback in the league. His list of accomplishments is growing year by year. Ben led the Steelers to two Super Bowl victories in four years (Super Bowls XL and XLIII)—with the most recent win achieved through a superior fourth quarter drive and a beautiful spiral to the corner of the end zone to Santonio Holmes. In the 2009 season, he became the first Steeler quarterback to throw for more than 4,000 yards. He also set the franchise record for most yards thrown in a single game (503) against Green Bay. He has more wins (51) in his first five years than any other quarterback in NFL history. The list doesn’t stop there.
Let’s a take a look at Polamalu. Drafted 16th overall in 2003 out of USC, Troy is easily one of the top safeties in the NFL. He is a five-time Pro Bowler, and considered by many to be the “face” of the Steelers. He epitomizes the Steelers’ brand of in-your-face football, and there is nothing more exciting than seeing him streak across the field in hot pursuit. Sadly, there are few record categories on the defensive side of the ball, but Polamalu is clearly an impact player whose presence on the field can never be minimized.
So how does one go about making such a decision between the two? They play on different sides of the ball and have responsibilities that cannot be compared.
In making my decision, I chose to focus on impact. Ben and Troy would both rank high on this scale. In narrowing the choice, for me Troy is the bigger impact player.
Roethlisberger makes a big impact for the Steelers, no doubt. But in reality, he is helped in his efforts by great receivers in Holmes and Hines Ward. Many of his receptions have come off of great catches by both of these men. Lesser receivers would not have made many of these plays. In Ben’s first few years in the league, he was fortunate enough to have Jerome Bettis in the backfield as an impact player himself.
Let’s be honest. As much as we love Roethlisberger, he makes many of us incredibly nervous with some of his decision making. As he has matured, we have seen his play-making ability get stronger, but many of Ben’s fourth quarter heroics become possible because of earlier misjudgments or miscues on his part.
With Troy, we are not nervous. It is when he doesn’t play that we hang our heads. The 2009 season is proof of that. The defense wasn’t the same. When Troy played, the team was 4-1. Without him they were 5-6. The defense went on a seven game stretch with no interceptions—only to be broken by James Farrior against the Ravens on December 27. Teams were not afraid to throw the ball against the Steeler defense. In fact, it almost seemed that they were excited by the prospect. In 2008, the Steelers were first in the league in passing defense. In 2009, sans Troy, we fell to 16th.
Polamalu’s impact may not be as measurable in the form of individual records, but his impact can be clearly seen in the increased performance of his defensive teammates, in the emotion that he brings to the field, and the fear that he brings to opposing teams. When he is not in uniform, the Steelers seem lost. They play as though they are a mediocre team at best. In 2009, they were without Polamalu. In 2009, they did not resemble a defending world champion.
With that said, my vote for the Steelers’ best first round draft pick in the last decade is Troy Polamalu. I know there will be some that disagree. Let’s hear the debate...
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