Christmas came early at the South Side. And we’re not talking about the Christmas in April volunteer effort.
To start, he allowed a high first round pick to fall throughout the entire first round of the draft, until he landed right at the Steelers feet.
For an encore, he allowed another pick whom many scouts had graded as first round talent to fall all the way to the bottom of the second round, where again, the Steelers snapped him right up.
Not be outdone, old St. Nick did it again, allowing another player to fall to the Steelers in the fifth round who shouldn’t have been there. Some people are already calling it the steal of the draft.
This is of course the narrative that many are affixing to the Steelers haul in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hopefully, they’re right.
But recent history provides a cautionary tale. Because everything that is being said about the Steelers 2012 draft was said, almost word for word, about their 2008 draft.
You remember, the 2008 draft that pundits such as John Harris implored the Steelers to avoid?
In 2008 Rashard Mendenhall was one of the players that the Steelers decided they would not pass on if he fell to them. Yet fall Mendenhall did, and viola, he was a Steeler.
The same process repeated itself with Limas Sweed. Many had Sweed rated as an otherwise first round pick with the only knock against him an ailing wrist. Sweed fell and the Steelers got him.
While no one was quite calling Dennis Dixon “the steal of the draft,” many said that were it not for injuries suffered during his final year in college, he too had talent worth of a first or second rounder.
Days after the 2008 NFL Draft, many rushed to declare the Steelers a success. Peter Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) went so far as to declare the Steelers 2008 effort as “The Best Steelers Draft in Years.” He explained his view this way:
And this year, unlike several of recent past, our Steelers drafted tremendous football players who didn’t necessarily fit the fans’ ideas concerning pressing needs. Pittsburgh’s brass probably didn’t plan the draft out the way it eventually wound up, but when the draft unfolded as it did, they took advantage.
That’s good drafting, and the Pittsburgh Steelers should be – in my opinion – on any short list of teams which performed best on draft day.
Four years later, any assessment of the Steelers 2008 effort must carry a decidedly different tone.
Rating the Steelers 2008 Draft
- 1st Round, Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Mendenhall has been generally been a good running back who has flashed greatness. Were better players on the board passed over? Perhaps, but Mendenhall was a good pick.
- 2nd Round, Limas Sweed, WR
- 3rd Round, Bruce Davis, LB
Bruce Davis dressed for 5 games and recorded no stats for the Steelers. Total Bust
- 4th Round, Tony Hills, OT
Hills held a clipboard in 2008 and 2009, got a taste of action in 2010, but even Sean Kugler was unable to help him. Bust.
- 5th Round, Dennis Dixon, QB
Dixon had his shot at the big time in 2010. He did “OK” but Charlie Batch earned credit for carrying the Steelers in Ben’s absence. If its true that the Steelers did get decent value from Dixon, its also true that they didn’t get a groomable backup.
- 6a Round, Mike Humpal, LB
Got cut in camp. Bust.
- 6b Round, Ryan Mundy, Safety
Mundy made the practice squad and has since developed into a serviceable back up.
That’s one quality starter at a crucial skill position, a solid back up, and a spot role player rounded out by four busts.
Steelers 2008 Draft vs. Steelers 2012 Draft….
There are important differences between the two drafts. Neither running back nor wide receiver were urgent needs in 2008, yet when players fell to them, the Steelers took them. That’s called sticking to your board.
The same thing happened in 2012, but this time the falling players also coincided with the Steelers needs.
And while any objective analysis must render Limas Sweed as a total bust, many forget that what made those drops so spectacular was the fact that he had totally burned the secondaries covering him.
In other words, Steelers scouts correctly evaluated Sweed in terms of talent. But that’s why Sweed remains such a cautionary tale.
The NFL Draft is as much an art as it is a science.
Every draft pick comes with an X-Factor.
In 1991, the Pittsburgh Steelers had Huey Richardson rated highly. So did many other NFL teams. Yet he was so bad that Bill Cowher traded Richardson to the Redskins before his second season and the Redskins cut him shortly thereafter.
And so they should be. Each man represents a huge potential shot in the arm at an area of need. The key there is “potential.”
The 2012 draft could go down as one of the best in Steelers history. Or it could go down like the 2008 draft, where the team hit on a few players, but missed on many more.