It’s that time of year again. You know the one — right before the draft, in which headlines about news that normally wouldn’t take up headlines for more than a blink or two take up days worth of coverage because of the lack of news coming out of the league. In spite of this, we here at The Point of Pittsburgh are committed to bringing you top-notch quality about our beloved Steelers. Since it is indeed draft season and there has been quite a bit of concern raised in recent years, we thought it fair to look back and see Kevin Colbert’s best picks since he was hired and given the title of General Manager (Director of Football Operations until 2010).
The Pittsburgh Steelers are on the clock!
Round 1: Ben Roethlisberger, Quarterback, University of Miami of Ohio (2004)
We’ve just started and we’ve already hit the most difficult pick in the draft to decide on. If there is a pick that the Steelers have been consistently good at hitting on, it’s the first round. Since taking over the reins fifteen years ago, Colbert has had immense success finding and hitting on players in the first round. Here’s a small list of names he’s chosen with his first pick in the draft:
2001: Casey Hampton
5 Pro Bowls
2003: Troy Polamalu
8 Pro Bowls
5x First Team All Pro
AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year
Future Hall of Fame safety (first ballot?)
2004: Ben Roethlisberger
3 Pro Bowls
NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year
Franchise record holder for most wins, passing touchdowns, passing attempts, pass completions and passing yardage
Future Hall of Fame quarterback
2005: Heath Miller
2 Pro Bowls
2007: Lawrence Timmons
Pro Bowl appearance
Second-team All Pro
2010: Maurkice Pouncey
4 Pro Bowls
4x All Pro
That’s twenty-three Pro Bowl appearances with nine first team All Pro votes with two Hall of Fame players, both of whom are likely to go on their first try. Many of these players have been, or currently are, the best at their respective positions and have led their team to multiple Super Bowl appearances with two championships at the end of it. This choice was not easy, but franchise quarterbacks are not easy to find and thus the crowning jewel of Colbert’s drafting success so far has been Ben Roethlisberger.
We all know what Roethlisberger means to this team. Just extended to a five year deal, Roethlisberger is the heart and soul of this offense and this team. Even more impressive is looking at what feats Roethlisberger will likely achieve before retiring a member of the Steelers. If he plays out his current deal, he is essentially a lock for the 50,000 yard club and has the potential to reach the 60,000 yard club, a feat only achieved by three other quarterbacks currently in Dan Marino, Peyton Manning and Brett Favre. If this seems far fetched, consider that it is very likely that Roethlisberger’s best years are still ahead of him with weapons such as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and a finally stable and immensely talented, well-coached offensive line.
Round 2: Le’Veon Bell, Running Back, Michigan State University (2013)
I’m likely going to catch some flak for this one. Perhaps it’s warranted, but perhaps not. Early in Colbert’s tenure, there was poor decision making in the second round of the draft. Names like Ricardo Colclough, Alonzo Jackson and Kendrell Bell bring up a lot of rabble and mixed feelings amongst Steelers fans. For the most part, they represent missed opportunities. It wasn’t all bad, however, as names such as Marvel Smith and Bryant McFadden were long time members of the organization and each won two Super Bowls. Questionable talent aside, longevity with an organization is admirable.
It wasn’t until later in Colbert’s tenure that he really made his mark in the second round of the draft. In 2007, Colbert drafted a defensive end out of Michigan in LaMarr Woodley. While Woodley’s tenure with the team didn’t end swimmingly and left many Steelers fans with sour tastes in their mouths, his production when healthy can not be forgotten. From 2008 through 2010, Woodley was one of the most dominant edge rushers in the game. Notching an impressive 35 sacks in 47 games, Woodley was a terror on the edge on an elite defensive unit. He was a key part to obtaining the sixth Lombardi Trophy in the 2008-09 season.
Why, then, have I chosen to make Le’Veon Bell this selection? It really is simple: upside. In just two short years, Steelers fans have watched this young man go from a player with concerns about his potential and upside, as compared to fellow draft class mate Eddie Lacy, to being in the discussion for best running back in football. Bell has shown the explosiveness, patience and ability in the run and pass game that many haven’t seen since Marshall Faulk. Where Bell is at his best, perhaps, is his ability in the pass game to create space for himself, often making a defender miss or get run over. To put the cherry on top, Bell is also a weapon in pass protection, as much as a player can be a weapon in pass protection. He is the definition of a three down running back, with few of his kind in today’s NFL.
Barring injury, Bell is a candidate to own every franchise rushing record when it is all said and done. It is debatable whether or not the Steelers have ever had a weapon such as Bell in the backfield. Combined with number 7 under center, Bell is primed to have a very long and very productive career.
Round 3: Mike Wallace, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss (2009)
I know. I can feel the eye rolls through the screen. Bear with me though.
If there is a round that the Steelers have struggled finding adequate talent in more than the second round, it’s the third.
Kendrick Clancy, Hank Poteat, Trai Essex, Anthony Smith, Willie Reid and Bruce Davis. Yes, that Bruce Davis. These were all third round selections. Be honest with yourselves, how many of you remembered the name Kendrick Clancy or Hank Poteat before reading this article? While not all bad, names such as Chris Hope and Matt Spaeth perfectly summarize Colbert’s drafting ability in the third round: forgettable. Which leads me to number 17.
If there was a tenure more shortlived yet more disliked than Mike Wallace, despite his production, I’m not sure who it would be. Many forget that Wallace’s time here was quite productive as he notched over 750 yards receiving in his rookie season and then went on to have 2450 receiving yards over the next two seasons with 18 touchdowns thrown in. While failing to register 1000 yards in his final season in Pittsburgh, his last season was a far cry from a failure. Wallace’s ability could never be questioned, but his dedication and passion for the game was his inevitable downfall. Well, that and declining $10 million annually from the Steelers.
Round 4: Larry Foote, Inside Linebacker, Michigan (2002)
Let me preface this by saying that one day, this is likely going to be Martavis Bryant and not Larry Foote.
That aside, Foote’s play on this defense was exceptional and spanned 11 seasons. Over those 11 seasons, Foote totalled 621 combined tackles with 21 sacks thrown in for good measure. He, alongside James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons, stabilized the Steelers’ defense and contributed to the two titles won that decade. For a player selected 128th overall to contribute over 600 tackles and 21 sacks, Foote’s career with the Steelers can only be regarded as an overwhelming success. He played his last season of professional football with the Arizona Cardinals, notching 84 tackles.
Round 5: Clark Haggans, Outside Linebacker, Colorado State (2000)
The ability to find productive edge rushers anywhere in the draft is key for any front office in the league. The ability to find productive edge rushers who contribute to a Lombardi Trophy in the fifth round is just icing on the cake. Former Steelers outside linebacker Clark Haggans was that player. Drafted in the fifth round out of Colorado State, Haggans was a part of Colbert’s first draft fifteen years ago.
In Haggans’ eight year tenure with the Steelers, he notched over 200 tackles and 32.5 sacks while playing in over 100 regular season games. He, in combination with Joey Porter, provided dominant edge play for the Steelers for seven seasons.
Round 6: Antonio Brown, Wide Receiver, Central Michigan University (2010)
What if I were to tell you that the future franchise record holder for all major receiving statistics would be drafted in the sixth round of the NFL draft? That is likely what the Steelers have done with Antonio Brown, the receiver out of Central Michigan.
Twice Team MVP, All Pro and three-time Pro Bowl player, Brown has dominated the league since being handed the reins of the number one receiving duties. Once thought to be a product of playing opposite Mike Wallace, Brown has become one of the league’s best receivers in only two seasons. Looking at some of the other top receivers in the league, Brown really does stand by himself.
TOTAL RECEPTIONS, YARDAGE, TOUCHDOWNS SINCE 2013.
Antonio Brown: 239 receptions, 3197 yards, 21 touchdowns.
Calvin Johnson, Jr.: 155 receptions, 2569 yards, 20 touchdowns.
Dez Bryant: 181 receptions, 2553 yards, 29 touchdowns.
Demaryius Thomas: 203 receptions, 3049 yards, 25 touchdowns.
Brandon Marshall: 161 receptions, 2016 yards, 20 touchdowns.
Brown has separated himself from the pack despite his small stature. The smallest player aside from Brown on this list is the 6’2, 229 lb Dez Bryant. Brown stands at a less-than-imposing 5’10, 186 lbs. His production is not the only eye-popping thing about Brown, however, as he may indeed be the best route runner on this list of future Hall of Fame receivers as well. There may not be a receiver in the league with the same quickness and “smoothness” that Brown possesses when cutting in and out of routes. Brown also became the first player in league history to notch 5 receptions and 50 yards in 20 consecutive games. That number is now 32, spanning two full seasons. There seem to be three constants in life: death, taxes and Brown notching 5 receptions and 50 yards against whomever has the unfortunate assignment of covering Brown that week.
There was talk early in the season whether or not Brown was a top-five receiver in the NFL. This now seems like a silly discussion. It’s time to have the discussion whether or not there is another receiver in the league better than Brown not named Calvin Johnson.
Round 7: Brett Keisel, Defensive End, Brigham Young University (2002)
Traditional 3-4 defensive ends are space-eating players who free up the linebackers to rush the passer on the outside. To find a player selected in the seventh round who can not only fill this role for over a decade, but also provide versatility and the ability to collapse the pocket via an interior pass rush is astounding.
Eloquently nicknamed “Da Beard” by Steelers fans, Brett Keisel was another integral player on the Steelers’ defense during the last decade in which they won two Super Bowls and went to a third. His play along the defensive line with nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith (drafted in ’99, one year prior to Colbert joining the front office) solidified the Steelers’ defensive line for over a decade.
Undrafted Free Agent: James Harrison, Outside Linebacker, Kent State (2002)
Every draft has undrafted free agents in camp, right?
James Harrison was once an afterthought at outside linebacker when the team had Joey Porter and Jason Gildon manning the edges. Initially taken as an undrafted free agent back in 2002, Harrison was released and signed three times during his early years with the Steelers. He spent the majority of the 2002 and 2003 seasons on the practice squad, playing special teams late in the season in ’02. He was even released back in 2004 by the Baltimore Ravens. Imagine that: Terrell Suggs and James Harrison on the edges for a decade in Baltimore. I shudder to think.
Harrison’s career took quite a turn in 2004 when he was signed by the Steelers after Clark Haggans sustained an injury in camp. Since then, he has never looked back. Eventually, Harrison would become one of the best 3-4 outside linebackers of this generation. Harrison was a five time Pro Bowl, two time All Pro and Defensive Player of the Year linebacker for the Steelers. Harrison also has one of the most impressive plays ever in a Super Bowl, the 100 yard interception for a touchdown against the Kurt Warner-led Arizona Cardinals.
While his statistics don’t pop off the page, many forget that Harrison’s career really started in 2007 when he became the starting outside linebacker for the Steelers. From 2007 to 2012, Harrison notched 60 of his career 71.5 sacks and only managed to play a full 16 games three times in those six years.
I expressed concern when the Steelers brought him back this past season. I worried about the wear and tear on his body and the toll this game takes on its players. I worried about his fitness level (as silly as that may sound) as he was out of the game for so long and missed an entire training camp. I worried that his age would catch up to him and he would become a liability on the field for the Steelers. Harrison would become the best outside linebacker on the team by seasons end. The Hall of Fame has to come knocking one day for 92.
There has been concern about the Steelers’ drafting ability in recent years. While some of it is justified, most of it is background noise. You’ll notice of these picks, three of them have been made in the last five seasons. When counting in names such as Maurkice Pouncey and Lawrence Timmons, the true story comes into focus: the front office knows what it is doing. We all witnessed the free agent frenzy in March, in which teams like Miami spent and continued to spend in hopes of buying a title. If history has taught us anything, the true path to a Lombardi Trophy begins in April.