Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 Draft Preview: What Should You Expect?

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IApril 21, 2011

NEW YORK - APRIL 24:  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is seen after being selected 11th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2004 NFL Draft on April 24, 2004 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Seven draft picks, seven Pro Bowl starters.

Wouldn’t that be nice? Certainly. But no one in their right mind believes that a team will hit on every one of its draft picks. Well, maybe no one but Steelers fans.

So with reality in mind, why is it that every year the moment after a selection is made, they are either being praised as a star who will take over the league or being called a bust without even playing a down?

Because everyone believes that they are an expert, even though no one knows for sure. What we all have to keep in mind is that every player selected does not have to make the Pro Bowl to be a successful draft pick. Heck, they do not even need to start to be a successful selection.

Different draft slots will demand different levels of play and that idea has to be remembered come draft day.

The team with the top overall pick will not be able to fill all of its holes in one draft while a Super Bowl contender will not necessarily stack its roster with more Super Bowl caliber players.

So what are reasonable expectations? Is it to have a draftee become a starter, a valuable backup, a bench warmer?

If you are talking about the first round, it is reasonable to believe that within one season, two at most, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick should be a successful full-time starter.

Since Kevin Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, Pittsburgh has drafted Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, Kendall Simmons, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood and Maurkice Pouncey in the first round.

Each one of those players developed into quality starters no later than two years into their NFL career.

Only Simmons did not have sustained success, but most of that could be attributed to numerous health issues that he suffered through early in his career.

Do not expect a first-year starter in the first round this year unless Pittsburgh selects a guard, such as Mike Pouncey.

Aaron Williams would likely be the third cornerback, Cameron Heyward no higher than fourth at defensive end and any tackle would sit behind Max Starks or Flozell Adams, who is planning on returning for a second season with the Steelers if he starts.

However, if the first-round selection is a defensive back or defensive lineman, you could fully expect him to see increased playing time as they adjust to the NFL game. Though they won’t have a starting role as a rookie, they should be important reserves.

As we venture into the second round, expectations are typically just as high as teams still believe that quality starters should be found here.

Unlike the first round, second-round selections have more leeway in their development.

These players are not always expected to start as rookies and some may even have a two- to three-year timetable on their development.

But regardless of their development time, they are still expected to start.

Pittsburgh’s most successful recent second-round selection has been LaMarr Woodley. As a rookie, Woodley flashed his pass rushing skills and earned his way into the starting lineup by his second season.

Just last season, the Steelers made Jason Worilds their second-round pick and like Woodley, Worilds flashed his abilities to get to the quarterback.

But there just is not a spot for Worilds in the starting lineup. That means the team can bring him along slowly for a season or two before they expect him to replace James Harrison at right outside linebacker.

With plenty of depth at cornerback, Pittsburgh could find a future starter at the position in the second round, but they would still be at least a year away from starting and may have a limited role as a rookie.

This role could possibly go to cornerback Curtis Brown, in whom the Steelers have expressed interest.

Third-round selections still have a pretty high upside and at the very least should turn out to be top-of-the-line backups and have upside as an above average starter.

The Steelers appeared to have struck gold the last two seasons in the third with two very good looking receivers.

Their 2009 third-round pick, Mike Wallace, has already established himself as the best deep threat in the AFC and has plenty of room to get better. He was a pleasant surprise contributing as a rookie and entering the starting role in his second year.

Last year’s third-round choice, Emmanuel Sanders, showed that he can succeed in the NFL but has a much slower timeline.

Sanders played limited snaps last season and didn’t have the impact that Wallace did as a rookie. He is also not expected to start this season and instead will be eased into the lineup as a slot receiver.

That puts Sanders on a timeline of entering the starting lineup in year three or at worst remaining the slot receiver.

Given the Steelers strength at their starting positions, any third-round rookie is unlikely to see any starts this year, but with an older roster, a two- to three-year window before starting may be in place.

As teams get into the fourth and fifth rounds, they will sometimes gamble on players with high upside, but an equally big downside.

If they can get a starter from either round it would be a big bonus. Pittsburgh struck gold with Ike Taylor and Willie Colon as fourth-round starters as well as Larry Foote, a fifth-round starter.

Realistically, if the Steelers can get quality depth with these selections, that would be a success.

Last season, the Steelers got four players with very high upsides in these rounds. Though they lost fourth-round selection Thaddeus Gibson, he could one day develop for some NFL team.

But it was their three fifth-round picks that look very good.

Chris Scott can play either tackle or guard and could potentially take over for Trai Essex as the swingman on the offensive line.

Crezdon Butler has the skill set to be a successful cornerback in the league and made the roster as a rookie, though he did not see the field. He could potentially find himself low on the depth chart this year, giving the Steelers a very athletic dime back.

The star of the bunch could be Stevenson Sylvester. He has the look of a future starter at inside linebacker, but if nothing else was an outstanding special teams player, another top quality of fourth- and fifth-round selections.

At the tail end of the draft, sixth- and seventh-round draft picks are successes if they can even make the roster.

Sometimes they can make “splash plays,” as Mike Tomlin would say, as a rookie. For instance, Antonio Brown made some big plays in the playoffs last season.

Other players may be invisible, such as Jonathan Dwyer. He has a lot of talent, but has not put it together yet and is still a bit of a mystery.

Dwyer may need to put in his time before he earns the role of a backup or maybe he’ll be cut. Or maybe he’ll turn out like Brett Keisel, a former seventh-round pick who just made his first Pro Bowl.

The bottom line is that the Steelers are not going to draft seven starters this year, but that does not make it a failure. A Pro Bowl player, a second starter and three backups would be a very good draft that sets the team up well for the future.

Just remember the members of the Steelers front office and coaching staff are there for a reason and no matter how much research you have done, they have done so much more. Let them do their jobs and you enjoy the ride. It is easy to be critical when you aren’t making the final call.


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