The 10 Biggest Draft Mistakes in Pittsburgh Steelers History

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IApril 1, 2013

The 10 Biggest Draft Mistakes in Pittsburgh Steelers History

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers get a lot of credit for the fine drafting they've done in the past 40-plus years. Lost in the pomp and circumstance of the 1974 draft and the mid-round steals, however, are the players and decisions that simply didn't pan out for one reason or another.

    With the draft approaching later this month and Pittsburgh desperately needing a successful haul to restock the team with young talent, here's a look back at some of the not-so-fine moments the Pittsburgh Steelers have had over the years.

Drafting Alonzo Jackson in the Second Round in 2003

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    Pittsburgh had a ton of success in the first decade of the 21st century adding stars in the first round. They netted Casey Hampton, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller and others with those early picks.

    The second round, however, was unkind to Pittsburgh most of the time. 

    Among the absolutely worst second-round picks was Alonzo Jackson, a standout player at Florida State that was drafted with the idea that he could eventually take over at outside linebacker and become a star. 

    Jackson struggled with the speed of the game and couldn't adapt to the professional level. He never became anything of note with the Steelers or with any other NFL team. Pittsburgh passed on Lance Briggs, who went on to a successful career in Chicago, with the pick.

Drafting Troy Edwards in the First Round in 1999

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    Tavon Austin is one of the hottest wide receiver prospects in this year's draft class, but Pittsburgh might be wise to steer clear if the Steelers believe in history repeating itself.

    First-round wide receivers have not been kind to Pittsburgh. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress had some good years, but had their careers in Pittsburgh cut short for various reasons.

    No receiver drafted in the first round has been more disappointing than Troy Edwards. Edwards had a short tenure with the team (three years) and was never productive. He failed at subsequent stops as well. 

    Edwards' best contributions in Pittsburgh came as a return man. Pittsburgh passed on a ton of defensive prospects and offensive linemen, who went on to long, successful NFL careers, to draft Edwards, who is easily the worst first-round pick the team has made in the past 15 seasons.

The Entire 2008 Draft Class

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    Rarely does a team miss on an entire draft class, but Pittsburgh managed to do so in 2008. 

    Here's a look at that class for Pittsburgh:

    1st: Rashard Mendenhall, RB

    2nd: Limas Sweed, WR

    3rd: Bruce Davis, DE/OLB

    4th: Tony Hills, OL

    5th: Dennis Dixon, QB

    6th: Mike Humpal, OLB

    6th: Ryan Mundy, S

    Only Mundy, Hill, Dixon and Mendenhall are still on NFL rosters and only Mendenhall had more than cursory success in Pittsburgh. Sweed was another second-round mistake that became injury-prone and error-prone. Hills never became more than a fringe backup.

    The conversion of Davis to linebacker didn't work out, and he failed to contribute on future rosters. Humpal didn't make the team and never caught on anywhere.

    Mendenhall had a couple of good seasons, but his big mouth got him in trouble with fans and his lackadaisical play in 2011 got him a ticket out of town. Mendenhall never truly took hold of the starting job either.

    Dixon proved to be a decent backup, but never developed into more than a third-string player. Mundy became a solid backup, but his inability to hit legally or cover consistently hindered his development.

Drafting Kendrell Bell in the Second Round in 2001

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers usually don't allow rookies to start on defense—unless there's a glaring need or good reason, but in 2001, Kendrell Bell's meteoric rise at inside linebacker earned him the starting job next to veteran Earl Holmes.

    Bell won Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that season and looked to be the next in a long line of great linebackers who wore black and gold.

    That didn't happen. Bell developed a nagging injury problem that plagued him every year. His play fell off sharply due to injuries and the fact that opposing offenses had a year of film on him. 

    Eventually, he was shipped off to Kansas City where he remained a so-so player for the Chiefs. He never again lived up to his draft status as an early second-round pick and is one of the few linebackers Pittsburgh has ever missed on in the early rounds of the draft.

Drafting Mark Malone in the First Round in 1980

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    With the iconic Terry Bradshaw's career winding down after four Super Bowls and countless excellent plays, Pittsburgh focused their efforts on finding a replacement for Bradshaw in 1980. They selected Mark Malone with the last pick in the first round. 

    Like many who become the first to follow the franchise's icon at the quarterback position, Malone failed to live up to the lofty expectations set for him.

    His best performance came in 1984, when he guided Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game. After eight seasons in uniform, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers as Pittsburgh elected to move on with Walter "Bubby Brister" and then Neil O'Donnell. 

    Pittsburgh didn't pick another quarterback in the first round until 2004 when they chose Ben Roethlisberger, who finally lived up to Bradshaw's legacy with the franchise and led Pittsburgh to their only other Super Bowl victories.

The Buddy Dial Trade

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    A draft mistake doesn't always have to be a pick. Sometimes, a move made during the draft is just as disastrous for a franchise as any player taken during the process.

    In 1963, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a star receiver in Buddy Dial, who had been drafted in the second round of the 1959 draft. For the 1964 draft, the Steelers traded Dial to Dallas for the rights to draft Scott Appleton, a highly touted defensive tackle.

    Appleton declined to play in the NFL and went to the American Football League's Houston Oilers. While Appleton never ended up amounting to anything of note for the Oilers, the Steelers' failure to sign him is one of the franchise's greatest mistakes.

    Dial's career was derailed by injuries, but it will never be certain what might have happened had the Steelers kept their star offensive player instead of trying to fix their defensive line.

Drafting Will Blackwell in the Second Round in 1997

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    When Will Blackwell was drafted in the second round of the draft, it looked like a steal. Here was a player who had a standout career at San Diego State falling to Pittsburgh late in the second round of the draft. The Steelers needed receivers, so it made sense.

    A real steal would have been Derrick Mason, who was drafted in the fourth round and went on to a long, successful career in Tennessee and Baltimore. Blackwell spent his five-year career in Pittsburgh doing nothing that would be confused with success.

    Pittsburgh's late-1990s drafts weren't the stuff of legend, but picks like this, with so much NFL-caliber talent coming after them, really hurt a team for several seasons.

Drafting Tim Worley in the First Round in 1989

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    After missing on Walter Abercrombie earlier in the decade, the Pittsburgh Steelers took Tim Worley in the first round to become the starting running back who would pick up the legacy left by Franco Harris, Rocky Bleier and others.

    Worley developed a terrible allergy to holding onto the football, and the fumbling badly derailed him. He compounded his problems on the field by having drug issues off it. 

    Eric Metcalf, Steve Atwater and Andre Rison were all drafted later in the round and would've been excellent contributors for Pittsburgh.

    Instead, the Steelers got Worley, who never amounted to anything, despite never having injury problems. The only thing that offsets this is the emergence only a few years later of Barry Foster, who proved to be a much better running back.

Passing on Dan Marino in 1983

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    Art Rooney, the Pittsburgh Steelers prolific owner, supposedly wanted Dan Marino badly in 1983, but was concerned about rumors that Marino was into drugs. Concerned with the moral implications and the possibility of tainting a franchise that had always taken a hard line with troubled players, the Steelers passed on Marino in favor of Gabe Rivera.

    Rivera, a defensive linemen, was an excellent choice in his own right, but his career was tragically cut short by an accident that left him paralyzed. 

    Marino, of course, went on to become on of the most-successful quarterbacks of the 1980s and 1990s and who is eclipsed in the record books by only Brett Favre and Peyton Manning.

    Pittsburgh needed a quarterback in the worst way, but passed on Marino. Today's Pittsburgh team wouldn't make the same mistake as they have shown the desire to take the best player and use their leaders and system to control their behavior off the field as much as possible.

Drafting Jamain Stephens in the First Round in 1996

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    After Super Bowl XXX turned out badly for Pittsburgh, the Steelers saw several players leave. One of those was offensive lineman Leon Searcy. To replace him, Pittsburgh drafted Jamain Stephens in the first round.

    When Pittsburgh drafted him—despite his size—it was known that he wasn't a good fit for an offense that needed big men up front to block for a smashing rushing attack that would be led by Jerome Bettis.

    Stephens also had conditioning problems and arrived at camp way out of shape heading into his third season. The annual run test doomed him, and he collapsed on the field during workouts on the first day of camp. Pittsburgh cut him immediately.

    Passing on Dan Marino is indefensible, but there's simply no competing with a player who didn't even make it through one day of training camp so early in his career. Stephens never amounted to anything in the NFL and is one of the worst first-round draft picks in history.