NFL Draft: Ranking the Last 11 Pittsburgh Steelers Drafts
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Since 2000, Kevin Colbert has been the Pittsburgh Steelers director of football operations.
Colbert made an impact with his very first draft with the Steelers and head coach Bill Cowher. Pittsburgh selected eventual starters Plaxico Burress, Marvel Smith and Clark Haggans as well as a long-time NFL backup in Hank Poteat. Kendrick Clancy, who had a decent career outside of Pittsburgh, was also selected in Colbert’s first draft.
Colbert’s draft selections helped the Steelers reach the AFC Championship five times in his 11 years with the team, winning three of them, as well as winning two Super Bowl championships.
With Colbert’s 12th draft with Pittsburgh coming up, it is time to reflect on his and the Steelers efforts for the past eleven.
11. 2008 Draft
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After Tomlin’s second draft, there was a lot of excitement for what the offense could become after Pittsburgh selected Rashard Mendenhall in the first round and Limas Sweed in the second.
Both players were selected well below where they were projected and appeared to be “too good to pass up” prospects.
After three seasons in the league, Mendenhall has improved and could be poised to join the NFL elite next season.
Sweed, however, has been a bust who will always be remembered for dropping a wide open touchdown pass in the 2008-09 AFC Championship game and then faking an injury after it.
Though Sweed will always be known as the biggest bust of this Steelers draft class, their third round selection, Bruce Davis, was not much better. In fact, he didn’t even get a chance to play in the AFC Championship game.
Their last selection, Mike Humpal, did not make the roster either.
Fourth round tackle Tony Hills and fifth round quarterback Dennis Dixon both remain on the Steelers roster, but there are questions as to whether or not they will ever move up the depth chart.
The Steelers did find value with their last pick, as Ryan Mundy has developed into a good backup safety.
10. 2001 Draft
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The 2001 draft could have been higher if the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Kendrell Bell, would have stayed healthy beyond his rookie season.
Bell put on a spectacular display as a rookie, flat out dominating at times.
The injury bug derailed his Steelers career, as Pittsburgh did not re-sign him after his rookie deal.
But it was rookie Casey Hampton who helped save this draft class.
Pittsburgh traded down to select Hampton, who went on to being a rock in the center of the Steelers defensive line for the next decade.
A top 3-4 nose tackle is necessary for the defense to dominate, and Hampton provided just that.
Chukky Okobi was the only other player of note from this draft class. While he was solid in his limited playing time, Okobi may have been best known for being the first guy leading the Steelers out of the tunnel during pregame.
9. 2005 Draft
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The 2005 resulted in one of the best all-around tight ends in the league, Heath Miller, as well as starting cornerback Bryant McFadden.
Both players were key components in their Super Bowl 40 run, particularly Miller, who was able to start as a rookie.
McFadden took several years to develop into a starting role, but was very successful in it before leaving for the Arizona Cardinals after Super Bowl 43.
Two offensive linemen were also selected from this draft.
Chris Kemoeatu was a sixth round pick, and he has established himself at left guard while third round pick Trai Essex has been both a backup for virtually every position on the line and has been a spot starter at both tackle positions as well as guard.
Fourth round selection Fred Gibson was a very disappointing receiver prospect that did not make it out of his first training camp.
8. 2000 Draft
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This was the toughest draft to place. Plaxico Burress could have been one of the best receivers in the league, but did not have the work ethic to do so. Despite that, Burress, along with Hines Ward, helped transform the Steelers into a dynamic passing team.
Pittsburgh also drafted Marvel Smith in the second round, who played very well at both right and left tackle before injury issues caught up with him to end his career.
The Steelers drafted Clark Haggans in the fifth round and he developed into a solid, but unspectacular, outside linebacker. Hank Poteat also provided depth at cornerback.
Five players from this draft did not last long, including Danny Farmer, who many felt was a mid to late round sleeper at wide receiver.
7. 2006 Draft
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The 2006 draft followed their Super Bowl 40 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
They traded up from the 32nd selection to 25th and drafted Santonio Holmes.
The immature Holmes ran into several off-the-field problems over his years with the Steelers, which eventually got him traded, but he will forever be remembered for his last second, tip-toe touchdown reception in Super Bowl 43 to give the Steelers their record-breaking sixth Super Bowl title.
In the third round, the Steelers tried to add another speedy receiver in Willie Reid, but missed big-time.
In fact, they missed on all of their selections but Holmes and fourth round tackle Willie Colon.
Colon developed into at right tackle, though fans have been crying to upgrade the position virtually since the day that he stepped into the starting lineup.
6. 2009 Draft
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It took him two seasons to develop, but Ziggy Hood finally came into his own at the end of the 2010 season.
There was much concern whether or not Hood would fit into the Steelers 3-4 defense and if he could replace on of the all-time great Steelers defensive ends, Aaron Smith.
Hood showed that he was more than up to the task and will have an expanded role in his third season.
The Steelers also found Mike Wallace, quite possibly the fastest receiver in the league, in the third round.
Wallace’s quick development helped him replace Santonio Holmes in the starting lineup and gives the Steelers one of the best deep threats in the league.
Versatile tight end David Johnson was also found late in this draft. He has stepped into the third string role and doubles as the team’s fullback.
Beyond these players, the Steelers struggled, releasing four other selections within two years of the draft.
5. 2007 Draft
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The 2007 provided the Steelers with four players who have started, highlighted by LaMarr Woodley.
Leading up to this draft, Woodley was discussed as a possible first round selection, which at the time seemed to be a reach.
Since then, Woodley has shown that it would not have been a mistake. He has developed into one of the best pass rushers in the league, setting an NFL record for consecutive playoff games with at least two sacks, and is good against the run as well.
Pittsburgh also got Lawrence Timmons with Tomlin’s first ever selection. He took time to develop, but displayed his athleticism in his first full year starting and should become one of the most dynamic players in the league.
The Steelers also addressed their punting issue by trading up for Daniel Sepulveda and drafted their nickel back/starting cornerback William Gay in the fifth round as well as second string tight end Matt Spaeth in the third round.
4. 2003 Draft
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Typically, for a draft to be successful, a team should have a number of players who earn starting roles and others who provide depth.
With only five selections in 2003, Pittsburgh had little room for error.
Well, they made a lot of error, striking out on three of their five selections, unless you count Brian St. Pierre as a good selection.
But it was two defensive backs that made this draft.
Pittsburgh traded up for Troy Polamalu, and this move proved to be more than worth it, as he developed into the most dynamic defensive playmaker in the league.
Though Polamalu has battled injuries throughout his career, he has changed the way safeties play the game and should be Hall of Fame bound one day.
As an added bonus, the Steelers found a late round gem with Ike Taylor, who took some time to develop, but did turn into a shutdown cornerback.
3. 2004 Draft
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The 2004 draft class, like the 2003 class, was not very deep, or quite frankly good at all. However, when a team selects a franchise quarterback who goes to three Super Bowls in six seasons, winning two of them, the rest of the selections do not matter.
Ben Roethlisberger made the 2004 draft class. He could have been the Steelers only selection that season, and this class still would have been rated this high. That is how much he means to Pittsburgh.
Beyond Roethlisberger, Max Starks was the only other player to stick on the Steelers roster. He has started in two Super Bowls for Pittsburgh and missed out on a third opportunity due to an injury last season.
While two starters came out of this class, there was also one major bust that has to be mentioned, and that player is Ricardo Colclough.
Colclough was a small school cornerback who was a high risk, high reward player who never panned out for the Steelers, and as a result, left them with defensive backfield problems for years to come.
2. 2010 Draft
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The 2010 draft class was easily the deepest since Mike Tomlin joined forces with Colbert and the Steelers.
Pittsburgh struck gold in the first round with Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey. He provided a driving force in the middle of their offensive line and played well beyond his years as a rookie and was so well-respected that he could have had strong consideration for team captain as a rookie.
But Pouncey wasn’t the only story for this draft. Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown provided the Steelers with a couple of dynamic playmakers at wide receiver. As the season came to a close and the playoffs began, these two rookie receivers stepped up their game and made big contributions to the Steelers run.
The Steelers also found a couple of potential gems at linebacker in Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester. Each player excelled on special teams and flashed their potential when playing in the base defense.
Even offensive tackle Chris Scott, cornerback Crezdon Butler and running back Jonathan Dwyer all displayed the abilities that they can contribute to the Steelers in the near future.
In a couple of more seasons, this draft class may challenge as the best in the last 11 seasons.
1. 2002 Draft
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The top draft of the past 11 years does not have a superstar in the bunch, but it had quality from top to bottom, as the Steelers added five starters and one valuable role player.
Kendall Simmons had the look of a great guard before health issues caught up to him. Even considering his eventual release from the team, Pittsburgh found Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Larry Foote and Brett Keisel.
Each player was a key starter in their Super Bowl XL victory, including Randle El’s reverse touchdown pass to Ward . They were a part of a group of players who really propelled the Steelers of the 2000’s to one of the best in the league.
Pittsburgh also found quality depth with Verron Haynes, who was a very good third down back and special teams player. Even Lee Mays, as frustrating as he was, contributed as a backup receiver for a short period of time.
Only Keisel made the Pro Bowl while with the Steelers, but this draft class acted as “glue” players, solid players who helped put the stars of the team in position to make the big plays.
Without the depth throughout this entire draft class, the Steelers may not have begun their run of Super Bowls.
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How would you rank Pittsburgh’s drafts since Kevin Colbert joined the Steelers front office?
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