Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Season Preview: Its Mike Tomlin’s Team & Ben Roethlisberger’s Time

Sometimes writing a Steelers season preview poses an extra special challenge. Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 season preview presents no special challenge because the defining themes of the Steelers 2017 season are obvious:

  • This 2017 Steelers squad is truly Mike Tomlin’s team
  • And it is Ben Roethlisberger’s time

Declaring that the Steelers are “Truly Mike Tomlin’s team” might sound a little strange, given that Tomlin already has 10 years and 103 victories under his belt and given that this site has never abided by the “Tomlin’s only won with Cowher’s players” nonsense (let alone the diarrhea mouthing of Colin Cowherd.)

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Steelers 2017 season preview

Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin during the Steelers Christmas win over the Ravens. Photo Credit: Kevin Lorenzi, The Times

But a quick look at the roster reveals that aside from Roethlisberger, James Harrison is the only Pittsburgh Steeler to have played for Bill Cowher. In fact, the Steelers roster has come full circle under Mike Tomlin, with his first ever draft pick Lawrence Timmons having played for 10 years before departing for Miami.

But, with Kevin Colbert at his side, Mike Tomlin has taken a Super Bowl capable team and led it to a championship in Super Bowl XLIII and got back to the big dance two years later in Super Bowl XLV. In that time he’s overseen a rebuild of every area on the depth chart and he’s done so without suffering a single losing season.

Ryan Shaizer, Mike Tomlin, Steelers 2017 season preview

Mike Tomlin and Ryan Shazier during the Steelers 2015 win over the Oakland Raiders. Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar, AP via PennLive

Along the way, Mike Tomlin has replaced both his offensive coordinator and his defensive coordinator, cycled through 4 offensive line coaches, 4 special teams coaches, 3 wide receivers coaches, 2 running backs coaches while adding former players to coach his defensive backs and linebackers.

  • Mike Tomlin’s thumb print falls deep and wide across the organization.

And that’s a good thing, because Mike Tomlin is one of the best at what he does. Mike Tomlin has weathered several stiff tests since winning the Super Bowl, including a 5 game losing streak in 2009, Roethlisberger’s suspension in 2010, a seemingly chronic curse of offensive line injuries for several straight seasons and a 2-6 start in 2013 that ended with a blown call keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs.

  • Keeping your head above water isn’t easy in the NFL, but Mike Tomlin has done it. Now it is time to soar.

For two seasons now, Steelers Nation has salivated at the prospect fielding an offense featuring all four Killer Bees: Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Injuries and suspensions have prevented that. When the Steelers open against the Browns, this will be a reality.

Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant

Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant catching touchdowns in the Steelers 2014 win over the Colts. Photo Credit: Getty Images, via CBS sports

During Mike Tomlin’s first several years in Pittsburgh, whether it was by design or by happenstance, the Steelers employed a “Plug and Patch” approach to building its offensive line. That worked, for a while, but the Steelers open 2017 with 5 offensive lineman playing on their second contracts.

On defense, the Steelers have methodically rebuilt their roster, done some exercises in trial and error (see Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones), made some mistakes (see Cortez Allen or Shamarko Thomas), and has some plain bad luck (see Senquez Golson).

While some elements remain relatively untested, the front seven of the Steelers defense appears to be rock-solid. And while the secondary still must prove itself, the acquisitions of Joe Haden and J.J. Wilcox represent Tomlin’s commitment to talent as opposed to staying within his comfort zone.

  • The lynch pin to Mike Tomlin and the Steelers rebuilding strategy has always revolved around one man: Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers signal caller caused some cardiac arrhythmia last January when he openly mused about retirement. Fans old enough to remember Mark Malone’s 46.4 passer rating as a starter in 1987, fret at the thought of losing a franchise quarterback, but the positive to all of this is that Ben Roethlisberger will likely leave the game and the Steelers on his own terms.

  • You might have to go back to the Kennedy Administration to find another Steelers starting quarterback who could say they did that.

Most fans now take it for granted that Ben Roethlisberger will hang it up after this season, but no one knows. Would another AFC Championship loss or playoff disappointment lead him to conclude it was time to start “Life’s Work?” Should things work out differently, might he decide to follow Jerome Bettis’ lead, and retire with the Lombardi in hand? Or would he return to try to tie Terry Bradshaw?

  • The truth is, Ben himself probably doesn’t even know.
Ike Taylor, Demaryius Thomas, Tim Tebow, Steelers vs Broncos

Demaryius Thomas stiff arms Ike Taylor en route to an 80 overtime touchdown pass in the Broncos 2011 win over the Steelers. Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger, Getty Images

The window on the first Steelers Super Bowl era slammed shut in a 6-0 loss to the Houston Oilers on a Monday Night Football game in December 1980 that I was far, far too young to stay up and watch. But I remember watching Tim Tebow sear the Steelers secondary in the playoffs and thinking, “This feels like it must have felt in 1980.”

But Ben Rothlisberger hadn’t yet turned 30. The question since that moment has been “Can the Steelers reload before Ben gets too old?” As a rookie, Ben Roethlisberger led a team of veterans in their primes on a 16 game winning streak that ended with a brutal loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

12 years later, Ben would take a team starting 3 rookies on defense, and throwing to wide receivers named Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers on a playoff run that ended in bitter defeat to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

  • In his sophomore year, Ben Roethlisberger rebounded from the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots to lead the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.

Now it is time to find out if Roethlisberger can respond in similar fashion at the opposite end of his career.

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Steelers 2017 Draft Needs @ Outside Linebacker: High-Moderate

The narrative of the Steelers history at outside linebacker since Chuck Noll made the switch to the 3-4 in the early 1980’s might begin:

  • Many are called, few fail, but when they do the fail mightily.

For over two generations, the men who have manned the Steelers outside linebacker slots have inspired the imagination as the likes of Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon, and Joey Porter have terrorized opposing quarterbacks.

To Dick Haley, Chuck Noll, Tom Donahoe, Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s credit, the Steelers have had far more successes at outside linebacker than frustrations.

  • But when the Steelers have wiffed on an OLB pick, they’ve wiffed badly.

Think Alonzo Jackson and Jarvis Jones. They’ve been very few “Tweeners” in this group, save perhaps for Carlos Emmons and perhaps Jason Worilds.

Entering the 2017 NFL Draft, it is no secret the Steelers are looking to add an edge rushing outside linebacker to their team, the only question is how soon will they do it.

James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Steelers 2017 Draft Needs Outside Linebacker

James Harrison and Bud Dupree at Steelers OTAs. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports via Stillcurtain

Steelers Depth Chart @ Outside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft – the Starter

At this point in his career, the only question about James Harrison is how long he can stay a step ahead of Father Time. James Harrison was supposed to be done in after 2012. He went as far as to retire in 2014, only to be suiting up again less than a month later. That was supposed to be his swan song, but Harrison was back in 2015 and again in 2016.

After the Steelers demoralizing loss the Dallas Cowboys, Mike Tomlin reinserted James Harrison into the starting lineup.

  • The Steelers didn’t lose another game until the AFC Championship, and those two facts most certainly are not coincidental.

Another player who perhaps doesn’t get enough credit for the Steelers strong finish to 2016 is the man starting opposite James Harrison, Bud Dupree. The Steelers of course drafted Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Dupree started strong, but finished slow, and then missed the first half of 2016 with a groin injury.

Dupree got his first start of the season against the Bills, and registered 2.5 sacks. He followed that effort up with a sack on Christmas against Baltimore, and another in the season closer against Cleveland. He also split a sack with James Harrison in the AFC divisional playoff win over the Dolphins.

Steelers Depth Cart @ Outside Linebacker Entering the 2017 NFL Draft – Backups

Behind James Harrison and Bud Dupree the Steelers have Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo who split time in Dupree’s absence as starters in 2016.

When the Steelers signed Arthur Moats in 2014 he looked to be little more than a player the Steelers were taking a flyer on but, by the Steelers count, Moats has started 25 games over the past few years, and recorded 11 and half sacks.

  • Those clearly aren’t the types of numbers that get you to the Pro Bowl, let alone Canton, but they’re more than respectable given his pedigree.

The Steelers took Anthony Chickillo in the 6th round of the 2015 NFL Draft and Chickillo has already exceeded the expectations for someone picked so late. The Steelers list Chickillo as starting 7 games in 2016 during which he recorded 2.5 sacks, which is more than Jarvis Jones ever accomplished in a single season.

Steelers 2017 Draft Need at Outside Linebacker

The Steelers face two problems at outside linebacker.Steelers 2017 Draft Needs outside linebacker

Remember that Mike Tomlin explained his decision to start James Harrison by asking, “What are we saving him for?” While the move signaled the Steelers decision to officially call the Jarvis Jones experiment a failure, it also implied that James Harrison needed to be saved.

And he does.

James Harrison has shown that he can continue to play dominating football, but it is also clear that he can’t do it four quarters a game for 16 games. And unfortunately, both Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo play on the opposite side of James Harrison.

So the Steelers need to find and outside linebacker who they can not only bring along for the future, but they also need someone who can play well enough to get significant snaps starting on opening day.

Given that reality, the Steelers 2017 draft need at outside linebacker must be considered High-Moderate.

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Jarvis Jones Signs with Cardinals, Highlights Dangers of Drafting for Need

Former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker and first round draft pick Jarvis Jones signed with Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals yesterday, closing the book on what must be considered as Kevin Colbert’s first failure with a first round draft pick.

Jarvis Jones’ failure as a Steelers first round pick has been official for a while, but to understand why he failed one needs to look back to how he arrived in Pittsburgh.

Jarvis Jones, Steelers vs Chiefs, Mitch Morse, Jarvis Jones Pittsburgh West, Jarvis Jones Interception

Jarvis Jones returning an interception during the Steelers 2016 win over Kansas City as Mitch Morse tries to stop him. Photo Credit: Don Wright, AP via Arizonasports.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 off season with a problem. The 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement had flattened the salary cap for the first several season it was to be in force, and the Steelers had several contracts that they’d negotiated prior to the 2011 CBA.

On top of that, James Harrison’s body appeared to be breaking down, as he missed time in both 2011 and 2012 due to injuries. His play also seemed to be leveling off, although we now know that James Harrison was far from done.

The Steelers needed some extra salary cap room, they asked Harrison to renegotiate but James Harrison declined, so the Steelers cut him.

  • That left the Steelers with a glaring need for an outside linebacker.

Chris Carter had been given chances to show he might be worthy of the job, but experience showed Chris Carter clearly wasn’t the answer. Jason Worilds had flashed, but hadn’t shown he could deliver with the consistency that the Steelers needed at the outside linebacker or “edge rusher” position.

On top of that LaMarr Woodley had seen his last two seasons ruined by hamstring injuries, and members of the Steelers locker room questioned his commitment to staying in shape. All of that meant that the Steelers needed to come out of the 2013 NFL Draft with a starter-capable outside linebacker. And you generally find those in the first round.

Years later Jim Wexell would comment that Jones got the starting job for “political reasons,” although to be fair to everyone involved, Jarvis Jones actually had a pretty impressive rookie preseason campaign. But we know how the story ended. The Steelers stuck with Jarvis Jones for 3 and a half years as Jones flashed at times but was never consistent, and never could pressure the passer as Pittsburgh needed him to.

Even after Jones’ limitations as a pass rusher became painfully evident, word was he still contributed in other ways. Then came the Steelers loss to the Cowboys:

Yes, we’ve shared this clip on the site 2 times before, but we do it because if ever there was one play for Jarvis Jones to prove his mettle as a run stuffer, it was this it and Jarvis Jones came up short.

  • Steel Curtain Rising neither claims knowledge of the Steelers 2013 Draft Board nor are we privy to Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s evaluation process.

It is indeed possible that Jarvis Jones wasn’t just the best pass rusher, but the best player the Steelers had on their board when it came time for the Steelers to select with the 2013 NFL Draft’s 18th pick. Jarvis Jones after all had terrorized opposing quarterbacks during his final two years playing for the Georgia Bulldogs. A recent column by Bob Labriola suggest that the Steelers trusted in what they saw on tape, rather than on the stop watch.

  • Clearly there was an error in the Steelers talent evaluation process with Jarvis Jones.

But in some respects, that doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that the Pittsburgh Steelers depth chart at Outside Linebacker all but obligated them to draft an outside linebacker in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Outside linebacker, or “Edge Rusher” is also a chief need for the Steelers entering the 2017 NFL Draft, but contrast their situation in 2013 with their current depth chart which features Bud Dupree, James Harrison, Arthur Moats and Anthony Chickillo. Yes, Aurther Moats and Anthony Chickillo start on the left side, but at least theoretically one of them could be moved to the right in a pinch.

  • The Steelers need to get an outside linebacker in the 2017 NFL Draft, but their depth doesn’t dictate that they reach for one.

And that’s a good position to be in. You never want to be forced to draft for need. Because as we’ve long said, “When you draft for need, Troy Edwards happens.” Now we can add “And so does Jarvis Jones.”

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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If Steelers Free Agent Jarvis Jones has an NFL Future, It Won’t Be in Pittsburgh

One of the most unfair things you can ask any athlete to do is to follow a legend. Last spring, Tony Defeo chronicled the Steelers careers of David Little and Walter Abercromie, two unfortunate souls brought into the NFL with the humble request that they replace Hall of Famers Jack Lambert and Franco Harris.

Which brings us to the case of Jarvis Jones, the man the Steelers turned to in the 2013 NFL Draft after they cut James Harrison with the expectation that he would fill the legend’s shoes.

Jarvis Jones, Brock Osweiler Steelers, Jarvis Jones free agent, steelers vs broncos

Jarvis Jones helps finish off Brock Osweiler in Steelers 2015 win over Broncos. Photo Credit: USA Today SteelersWire

Capsule Profile of Jarvis Jones Steelers Career

Jarvisy Jones first move in Pittsburgh was to request jersey number 95, or the number that Greg Lloyd had donned. That was a bold statement made by the man the Steelers asked to replace James Harrison.

In the early going, it looked like Jarvis Jones’ actions on the field might live up to his request. People forget, but Jones authored what then BTSC editor Neal Coolong described as “an electrifying preseason campaign” in 2013. On opening day, Jarvis Jones dramatic, behind the line of scrimmage tackle of Chris Johnson was perhaps the only positive Pittsburgh took out of their disastrous loss to the Titans.

  • Things didn’t go so smoothly after that.

Jarvis Jones held down the starting spot until mid season, but the Steelers eventually decided that shifting Jason Worilds over to the left side and starting LaMarr Woodley on right gave them their best chance to win. 2014 started off strong for Jones has he recorded sacks in the season opener and the Steelers third game against Carolina.

In 2015 Jarvis Jones reclaimed his starting role, but split time with James Harrison. While Jones didn’t seem to be struggling, he certainly didn’t show signs that he could pressure the passer Pittsburgh needed him to. Nonetheless, the Steelers coaching staff and/or its public relationships team continued to feed journalists stories of how Jones continued to make gains in the running game, a trend that continued into 2016.

Ironically enough, it was Jarvis Jones failure against the run in the Steelers loss to the Cowboys ended his team as a starter as this tweet from Steel City Blitz’s @Steeldad makes painfully clear:

Within 48 hours Mike Tomlin was benching Jarvis Jones and starting James Harrison. The Steelers won their next 9 games, and as explained in our free agent profile of James Harrison, that is no coincidence.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Jarvis Jones

So, with all of that said, is there a case to be made, however theoretical, in favor of the Steelers resigning Jarvis Jones? Yes, in fact there is.

Think back to the Steelers 2015 playoff win over the Bengals. Everyone remembers Ryan Shazier strip of Jeremy Hill and Ross Cockrell’s recovery, but people forget that it was Jarvis Jones who cut across the field to tackle Hill. Jones also had a sack in the game, and made several key stops.

  • Likewise, Jarvis Jones played very strong goal line defense in the season finale vs. the Browns.

To simply label Jarvis Jones as a “bust” and write off his time in Pittsburgh would be a mistake. He has shown flashes, even if he hasn’t been consistent. He might not be a starting caliber linebacker in the Steelers system, but he still has some playmaking talent and Jarvis Jones could still serve as a valuable backup.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Jarvis Jones

Anthony Chickillo has 2.5 sacks in 7 career starts. Arthur Moats has 11.5 sacks in 20 starts in Pittsburgh. Bud Dupree has 8.5 sacks in 9 starts. James Harrison got 5 sacks starting just 7 games this past year. How has Jarvis Jones done?

  • Jarvis Jones has a mere six sacks in 35 career starts.

In watching Jarvis Jones this year the words of Gil Brandt, the Dallas Cowboys famed personnel guru repeated echoed back. Looking at Jarvis Jones’ 40 time, Brandt concluded:

I think he’s one of those guys that when you’re rushing the passer, he’s going to almost get there, but not quite.

Jarvis Jones validated Gil Brandt’s prediction over and over again during the 2016 season. The experiment has been replicated, repeatedly. And there’s only one possible conclusion: The Jarvis Jones experiment has failed.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Jarvis Jones

There’s no suspense and no mystery behind this Steelers 2017 free agent decision. The Steelers Christmas show down with the Ravens was the franchise’s biggest regular season game since 2010 and Mike Tomlin deactivated Jarvis Jones.

  • Mike Tomlin’s actions speak volumes.

Jarvis Jones has flashed enough to show that he does belong in the NFL. Perhaps in another system he can carve out a role as a starter or as a key role player. Teams don’t draft guys with the 17th pick to be mere role players. Jarvis Jones has had his chances in Pittsburgh to show he can do more, and he simply can’t.

It is time for both the Steelers and Jarvis Jones to move on.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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How Long Does It Take to Grade an NFL Draft? 5 Years & the Steelers 2011 Draft Class Shows Why

How long does it take to grade an NFL Draft class? Google “2016 NFL Draft Grades” you’ll get 3,980,000 returns. OK, the 2016 NFL Draft hasn’t generated 4 million report cards, but there’s no shortage of grading done on a draft that’s less than a week old.

steelers, draft, grade, steelers draft grades, a plus

Image Credit: Real Sport 101

  • Instant draft grades are understandable, enjoyable but ultimately meaningless.

True NFL draft evaluation takes years. How many? Well, Dale Lolley suggests 3 years suffices. That’s reasonable. Four years offers a natural number because that’s when players become free agents. A draft class has certainly revealed a lot about itself in four years.

  • But 5 years is really the magic number when it comes to draft evaluation.

Were Chuck Noll still with us, he would applaud. 5 Years might seem a little too long to wait, and 5 years certainly is an eternity a Twitterized, update by the second sports landscape. But think about it. IT makes a lot of sense, and the Steelers 2011 Draft Class provides a compelling example.

Why Wait 5 Years to Evaluate a Draft?

Let’s concede that 5 years IS a long time to wait to grade an NFL draft class, especially when you consider that the average pro football career is 4 years. But, as your statistics teacher told you (or will tell you) the mean gives you the balance point of your data set.

  • For an NFL draft class that half of every NFL draft class is out of the league by the end of year four.

That also means that by year five you’re going to a meaningful body of work, or “data set” if you will, on everyone from that class. Guys who hung on simply because they were playing on inexpensive rookie contracts will be out of the league by then.

Others who were late bloomers (think Brett Keisel) will have established themselves. Players who might not have been a good fit for the team the drafted them will have found success elsewhere (think James Farrior and Ryan Mundy).

  • That sounds logical on paper, but 5 years STILL seems like too long a time.

A look at the evolution of the Steelers 2011 Draft Class shows why prudent draft evaluations come after 5 years.

Evolution of the Steelers 2011 NFL Draft Class

Drafting second to last in each round is the price you pay for making it to the Super Bowl and losing, but despite that the Steelers 2011 Draft was well received. Kevin Colbert labled the Steelers first pick as a historic day for the franchise. The Steelers met their needs, at least theoretically.

  • Cameron Heyward, the Steelers 2011 first round pick did not play much that season.

That’s no surprise, as Aaron Smith started the season, Brett Keisel was still in his prime, and Ziggy Hood had finished 2010 with a bang (yes, its true, people forget that.) Marcus Gilbert got a baptism by fire when Willie Colon was lost for the season and won the rookie of the year award. And Cortez Allen saw spot duty, but showed a lot of promising signs.

  • Still, no meaningful evaluation of the 2011 Draft class was possible at season’s end.

In 2012 Steelers Nation got to see more. Chris Carter got some starts while James Harrison was out, but could not hold off Jason Worilds. Cam Heyward got playing time but still didn’t start. Baron Batch returned from injury, but wasn’t the same (or the flashes he’d shown prior to tearing his ACL weren’t just that, flashes.) Marcus Gilbert started the season, but was out most of the year injured.

  • Cortez Allen started late in the year and looked like Mel Butler Woodson.

After two years, it looked like some meaningful conclusions on the Steelers 2011 were Possible. But were they…?

Evaluation of Cameron Heyward was mixed. Some pointed to per-snap production stats that were far better than Ziggy Hood’s. Others concluded his failure to start was a warning sign of an impending bust. Some concluded that the Steelers decision to draft Mike Adams might spell trouble for Marcus Gilbert. Curtis Brown hadn’t shown anything when he got on the field.

  • The Steelers 2011 draft class did begin to sort itself out during 2013 – to a point.

Cam Heyward emerged as the stud that the Steelers drafted him to be, relegating Ziggy Hood to the bench. Marcus Gilbert’s start to the season was shaky, but by season’s end he had the starting job, and a new contract locked down. Cortez Allen got injured, and struggled a little, but finished strong. Chris Carter showed he wasn’t the answer, in contrast, and Baron Batch never made the final roster.

  • By the end of 2014, the argument for closing the books on a grade for the 2011 draft class was strong.

Cameron Heyward continued to terrorize offenses, while Marcus Gilbert quietly settled into becoming one of the better right tackles in the league. Curtis Brown and Baron Batch were out of football (as was Keith Williams). Chris Carter was bouncing around the league.

  • Yet Cortez Allen remained an enigma.

The Steelers thought enough of his first three seasons of production and his work in preseason to extend his contract. And based on past experience with Steelers DB’s, Cortez Allen looked poised to have a breakout year. Except he didn’t. He struggled in coverage. He lost his starting job, then was benched, then went to IR.

  • By season’s end, four year’s had elapsed since the Steelers made their picks in 2011 NFL Draft, yet a definitive grade remained elusive.

A Cortez Allen rebound could transform and “OK” grade on the Steelers 2011 Draft to a good or even great one. Alas, Cortez Allen didn’t rebound. Either because of injury or aptitude, he didn’t play outside of the Steelers opener vs. New England and went on IR earlier in the year. Last month the Steelers cut Cortez Allen.

Waiting 5 years to grade an NFL Draft Class isn’t sexy and it won’t win you many page clicks. But if you really want a meaningful draft evaluation, then you really must way 5 years.

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The Colbert Record: Steelers 2011 Draft Grades

The picks are in. The number 1 jerseys have been printed and proudly displayed. Roger Goodell has been summarily booed. The press conferences have been held….

Yes, the 2016 NFL Draft was just a few days ago while the 2011 NFL Draft is a foggy memory after all. But day-after NFL draft grades are about as valuable as the bridge in Brooklyn that your new best friend salesman can get you a really good price on.

It takes several years to evaluate the impact of an NFL Draft Class and, as Steel Curtain Rising will indicate shortly, in our next post, the Steelers 2011 Draft Class shows it does take 5 years to grade an NFL drat class.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2011 1st round pick – Cam Heyward, Defensive End, Ohio State

All NFL coaches and general managers are required to proclaim their love for their draft picks as soon as they’re announced, and especially 1st round draft picks. The Steelers are no example.

  • But Kevin Colbert declaration that drafting Cam Heyward in 2011 represented a “Historic day for the franchise” was out of character

And Kevin Colbert was right.

Cameron Heyward is every bit the ass kicker on the defensive line that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him to be. Cam Heyward brings it on every down. He stuff the run. He tackles backs behind the line of scrimmage (and then some). He rushes the passer. He routinely makes difference-making plays that fail to appear on the stat sheet. He leads both on the field and off it. Grade: Quality Performer (projects to Grand Slam before he’s done)

Steelers 2011 2nd round pick – Marcus Gilbert, Guard, Florida

When the Steelers picked Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the plan was to give him an apprentice year behind Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott. That changed after the Debacle in Baltimore sidelined Willie Colon for the season. Flozell Adams made it be known his severices were available…. For a price.

Gilbert did well enough in 2011 that the Steelers could finally move Willie Colon to guard, as it had been rumored they’d long wished to do. Marcus Gilbert’s tenure as the Steelers right offensive tackle hasn’t been without its rocky stretches, but since the Steelers said “Thanks, but no thanks” to Flozell, Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers right tackle. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2011 3rd round pick – Curtis Brown, Cornerback, University of Texas

As far back as 2011, fans and the press were calling on the Steelers to invest a first round pick in a cornerback. That year, they had to wait until the 3rd round when the Steelers drafted Curtis Brown out of Texas.

Pro Football Reference tells us that Curtis Brown stuck around with the Steelers four 3 seasons, and appeared in 34 games, mostly on special teams. The truth is that Brown is most memorable for getting his first extended playing time in the San Diego Chargers shocking upset of the Steelers in 2012.

Brown struggled with injuries, appeared in 7 games in 2013, and was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 4th round pick – Cortez Allen, Cornerback, The Citadel

Cortez Allen as a draft pick has been evaluated recently when looking at Kevin Colbert’s record with 4th round picks. Here’s the skinny:

In mid-2011 Dick LeBeau turned to rookie Cortez Allen to help upset the New England Patriots. At the end of 2012, Cortez Allen made his first starts, and looked like his name really should have been Ike Woodson Blount, causing 5 turnovers in two games. Injuries and below-the-line play slowed got Allen off to a slow start in 2013, but he finished with a bang.

The Steelers extended his contract, and Allen’s career promptly derailed. Perhaps there’s another side to the Cortez Allen story that Steelers Nation will someday learn. Perhaps not. Either way his grade remains unchanged. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2011 5th Round pick – Chris Carter, Linebacker, Fresno State

While the Steelers were at St. Vincents during the summer of 2011, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gerry Dulac said to readers that Chris Carter would become the steal of the 2011 NFL Draft (provided he bulked up.)

  • And no one can say the Steelers didn’t give Carter the chance to shine.

When James Harrison was recovering from an injury in early 2012, the Steelers actually started Chris Carter over Jason Worilds, as Carter made 3 starts and appeared in 8 games. Carter even made a start in 2013. Alas, he had little to show for it in terms of “Splash plays.”

The Steelers parted ways with Carter after 2013, and he’s appeared in 19 games for the Bengals, Colts and Ravens, but never seeing anything but has yet to bring down a quarterback…. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2011 6th Round Pick – Keith Williams, Guard, Nebraska

The Steelers used their 6th round pick in 2011 on Guard Keith Williams, who didn’t make the team. He did make appearances in two games for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Grade: Bust

2011 7th Round Pick – Baron Batch, Running Back, Texas Tech

Has there ever been a Steelers 7th round pick who created more of a buzz than Baron Batch? Perhaps there has, but you’d be hard pressed to uncover him. The Steelers drafted Batch at the bottom of the 7th round, but the pick drew positive reviews.

  • The early returns were good in training camp.

Then disaster struck, as Batch tore his ACL. Batch returned in 2012, but per observations made by Tony Defeo who’d seen him the previous summer, he lacked the spark he’d shown as a rookie. Batch did do well enough to qualify for a roster spot, but only saw spot duty, and did not do particularly well when his number was called, although this young man can tell his grandchildren that he scored a touchdown in the Steelers loss to the Titans.

The Steelers brought Baron Batch back to training camp in 2013, but he was cut. Grade: Disappointment

Final Grade on the Steelers 2011 NFL Draft

While this logic might not be universally accepted, conventional wisdom holds that picking 3 starters makes a draft a success.

  • By that measure, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin came up short with the Steelers 2011 Draft Class.

The Steelers struck gold with Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert in rounds 1 and 2, looked like they had something in Cortez Allen, but their other 5 picks amount to 3 Disappointments and 2 outright busts. Overall Grade for Steelers 2011 Draft:  C+

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15 Key Dates that Defined the Steelers 2015 Calendar Year

Regardless of whether the Pittsburgh Steelers, with a little help from Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills, can salvage their 2015 Season, the year 2015 will always be bookended by twin losses to the arch rival Baltimore Ravens.

Here are 15 moments that defined the Steelers 2015 calendar year

1 – January 5th 2015 – Ravens Bounce Steelers from Playoffs

No this isn’t important because the Ravens got their Heinz Field monkey off their back, it is important in how they did it. Joe Flacco exposed the Steelers corners, and the Steelers were surprisingly unable to generate any pass rush – twin themes who would go hand-in-hand throughout 2015

2 – January 10, 2015 – Dick LeBeau “Resigns”

In a move that shocked both Steelers Nation and LeBeau himself, Mike Tomlin informs LeBeau that he will not be back in 2015. LeBeau is allowed to “resign.” Later, rumors that Keith Butler’s impending departure more or less forced Tomlin to make a decision are confirmed. Regardless of the wisdom of the move, LeBeau’s legacy of excellence remains intact.

3 – March 9th 2015 – Steelers release Brett Keisel

Although Brett Keisel played extremely well for the Steelers in 2014, his injury vs. New Orleans apparently sealed his fate. Brett Keisel’s release ends an era on defensive line for the Steelers, one that started in September 2000 when Aaron Smith broke the starting lineup.

4 – March 11th 2015 – Jason Worilds Retires

All season long, the question of whether the Steelers would or should resign Jason Worilds and whether they should resign him dominates the debate in Steelers Nation. Worilds takes the decision out of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s hands, by announcing his retirement lieu of a contract with potentially 8 figures worth of guaranteed money.

5 – March 15th 2015 – Steelers Resign Ben Roethlisberger and Sign DeAngelo Williams

When the Steelers resign Ben Roethlisberger to a contract, they also sign a free agent backup running back . That’s the way it worked in 2008 (Mewelde Moore was the free agent in 2008, for those of you taking notes), and that’s the way it worked in 2015. The decision to extend Ben Roethlisberger’s contract was almost pro forma, but more ignorant parties in the press and Steelers Nation kept suggesting the deal would not get done.

At the same time it looks like the Steelers are simply taking out an insurance policy, and a risky one at that given DeAngelo Williams age, as Le’Veon Bell is slated to make a full recovery. As it turns out, suspensions and injuries ruin Bell’s 2015 season, and DeAngelo Williams performs above almost everyone’s wildest expectations.

6 – March 22nd 2015 – Steelers Resign James Harrison

Deciding the James Harrison most certainly has something left in the tank and not wanting to see him finish out his days as a Tennessee Titan, the Steelers bring back James Harrison, both for the value he will offer on and off the field.

7 – April 10th, 2015 – Troy Polamalu Retires

This move is not quite a surprise as all accounts indicate that Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Keith Butler want Polamalu to retire. Still, the Steelers do not want to cut him and see a repeat of Franco Harris in Seattle.

Moreover, the fact that they resign Will Allen the next day shows that either Art Rooney II or perhaps Dan Rooney left the door ajar for Polmalu’s return in 2015. Troy Polamlau takes umbrage to being pushed out, but the Steelers legend’s decision to retire allows him to go out quietly, on his own terms.

8 – July 23rd & 25th 2015 – Steelers Extend Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert Contracts

To the disappointment of many in Steelers Nation, Art Rooney II decides to extend the contracts of both head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert, quashing any speculation about whether the two men will enter 2015 on the hot seat.

9 – August 10th, 2015 – Jerome Bettis Enters Hall of Fame

After several years of frustration, legendary Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis takes his rightful place in Canton, Ohio at the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the face of the Steelers franchise. Bettis is the first Steeler of the second Super Bowl era to enter the Hall of Fame.

10 – September 10th 2015 – Missed Opportunities Cost Steelers vs. Patriots

Beyond headsetgate, the Steelers defensive struggles to stop Tom Brady, but the team is surprisingly competitive in a 28-21 loss to the Patriots. Although the Steelers last touchdown is of the garbage time variety, the Steelers did miss two field goals, which teases that the Steelers could have been competitive against the defending Super Bowl Champions.

11 – October 3rd 2015 – Steelers Lose in OT to Ravens

A shaky performance by Michael Vick (and that’s being generous) and two missed field goals by Josh Scobee cost the Steelers an overtime decision to the Baltimore Ravens. Not only do the Steelers lose their first AFC North game, but it also gives them another AFC loss. These twin realities will haunt the Steelers later.

12 – October 19th 2015 – Landry Jones Leads Steelers Over Cardinals

Never in the history of Steelers football has the third string quarterback position aroused so much passion in Steelers Nation has it has with the case of Landry Jones.

Even after a strong preseason in 2015, fans continued to question Landry Jones roster spot. The idea of “Landry Jones to the Rescue” was laughable to many. Yet Jones came off the bench to help the Steelers beat the Cardinals after an injury to Michael Vick.

13 – November 1st, 2015 – Steelers Lose to Bengals

The loss drops the Steelers to 4-4 and costs the Steelers the services of Le’Veon Bell to an MCL tear. It’s also the first game in which Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Bell play together. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 offense power quartet’s total time on the field together last just over 1 quarter….

14 – November 5th 2015 – Cortez Allen’s Goes on IR

Really, Cortez Allen going on IR this is a culmination of a series of disappointing events, from Senquez Golson’s season-ending surgery to Shamarko Thomas’ benching to the acquisitions of Ross Cockrell and Brandon Boykin showing that essentially nothing has gone according to plan in the Steelers secondary in 2015.

15 – December 27th 2015 – Steelers lose to Ravens

With a clear shot at the playoffs, against a 4-10 team playing its backup quarterback, another Mike Tomlin team gets tripped up by a trap game.

And that’s the way it was for the Pittsburgh Steelers year two thousand. What will 2016 bring? Mike Tomlin and the Steelers will begin answering that on Sunday vs. the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire.

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Steelers Cut Shawn Lemon, CFL Standout’s NFL Dreams Must Wait

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 training camp is less than a week old, but already heads are rolling at St. Vincent’s.

Neal Coolong of DK on Pittsburgh Sports is reporting that the Pittsburgh Steelers have cut former CFL stand out Shawn Lemon.

The Steelers signed Shawn Lemon during the off season to a fair amount of fan fare. Lemon had no NFL experience, but had started in 2013 and 2014 for the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders where he amassed 13 sacks during 18 games in the 2014 season. The Stampeders went on to win the 2014 Grey Cup and Lemon’s next stop was Pittsburgh.

Prior to the 2015 NFL Draft, Lemon appeared to have a good shot at making the Steelers final roster, with Jason Worilds heading for retirement, James Harrison’s status unknown, and only Arthur Moat’s returning for sure.

However, the Steelers drafted Bud Dupree in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft followed by their decision to draft Anthony Chickillo in the 6th round.

James Harrison of course agreed to return to the Steelers, and Pittsburgh also is returning 2014 practice squad “star” Howard Jones as well as Jordan Zumwalt, who the Steelers took in the 2014 NFL Draft. Outside linebacker coach Joey Porter relished having so complex numbers problem on his hands, indicating that having 7 or 8 men vying for four or 5 roster spots would create healthy competition.

  • It would seem that Shawn Lemon, who began camp on the PUP list, would be the first casualty of that competition.

It is a shame that the former CFL star will not get his chance to prove himself on the team, but perhaps Pittsburgh has already seen enough from the rest of the men they have to move on.

Shawn Lemon is no stranger to the waiver wire. Before playing for Calgary, he played for the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Saskatchewan Roughriders, and Edmonton Eskimos. He also played for the indoor football for the San Jose SaberCats, Orlando Predators and the Sioux Falls Storm.

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The Colbert Record: Grading Steelers 2010 Draft Class

Tonight, probably before the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft is complete, you’ll begin to team’s draft performances graded. Bold franchise-saving first round moves will be praised. Catastrophic mistakes will be castigated. Oversights will be lamented.

  • In the end it all means nothing.

That’s right, nothing.

Legitimate evaluations of any draft come, at the earliest, three years after the fact, and ideally at least four years later. Five year draft evaluations give an even more complete picture.

This latest edition of The Colbert Record goes about grading the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Draft Class, which should rightly be considered the crown jewel of the draft class of the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin era.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

2010 Draft First Round – Maurkice Pouncey – Striking Gold at Just the Right Time

The Pittsburgh Steelers neglected offensive line building via the NFL Draft between 2006 and 2009 for reasons never fully explained or explored . Even when they used premium picks on offensive lineman they failed to find value, such as taking Kraig Urbik in 2009.

That changed in 2010, when the Steelers used their first round pick on Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey not only forced Justin Hartwig’s retirement, he’s made 4 straight Pro Bowls. The Pro Football Focus types will tell you that Pouency is overrated.

It says here that the Steelers resurgence on offensive line began the day they picked Pouncey. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Draft Second Round – Jasion Worilds – Unspectacular But Sold Shot at Replacing Replace Silverback

When the Steelers passed on Sean Lee and picked Jason Worilds, Worilds was clearly picked as heir apparent to James Harrison….

…What was that about best laid plans of Mice and Men?

Worilds ended up replacing LaMarr Woodley, and he’s now out of football while James Harrison returns for a final season. Which isn’t to say that Jason Worilds was a bad pick. He did have difficulties finding a place in the Steelers lineup, but did well in his time before assuming a starting role in mind 2013.

Worilds was a good outside linebacker, but suffers by comparison to the tremendous legacy the Steelers boast at this position. And given how high they took Worilds, you’d expect a little more. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

2010 Draft Third Round – Emmanuel Sanders — Finding Excellent Value in the Value Round

You expect third rounders to develop into starters, and that’s exactly what Emmanuel Sanders did. Injuries limited him in 2011 and 2012 to a lesser extent, but Sanders made plenty of the opportunities given to him at the time.

In early 2012 comparisons between Sanders and a young Hines Ward were not inappropriate. When he finally broke the starting lineup full time in 2013, he didn’t quite reach that level, but he did quite well. Grade: Quality Value Pick +

2010 Fourth Round – Thaddeus Gibson — Striking Out on the Inside

The man who got the ink coming out of mini camp and during the early days of the Steelers 2010 training camp was Thaddeus Gibson. Yet, as the competition progressed, Gibson couldn’t keep up. He made the roster, but the Steelers cut Gibson in October and San Fran picked him up (prompting Ed Bouchette to cry “Dwaine Board” once again). However, unlike Dwaine Board, Thaddeus Gibson never did anything of note in his stays with San Francisco, Chicago, or Tennessee. Grade: Bust

2010 Fifth Round – Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, — A Mixed Bag

The Steelers drafted 3 players in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh was big on Chris Scott, even after he injured himself in before training camp, ruining his rookie year. Scott made it back to play in two games in 2011 but couldn’t hold on. He did land in Pittsburgh Northeast in 2012 but saw little action. However, Carolina picked up, where he made 8 starts in 2013 and returned to play in 10 games in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

The record shows that Crezdon Butler actually appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2010, but he got cut in 2011. However, he’s hung on since then, playing for Pittsburgh West aka Arizona, Pittsburgh Northeast aka Buffalo, Washington, San Diego, and Tampa. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers third 5th round pick of the 2010 NFL Draft was none other than Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester played well on special teams as a rookie and looked to make a big leap during his sophomore season. He didn’t, lasting all of a handful of plays in his first start in the Steelers upset over New England. Still, Stevenson developed into a reliable back up, and Sylvester’s return in 2013 helped bring the Steelers back to their winning ways. That’s fine for a 5th rounder. Grade: Quality Value Pick

2010 Sixth Round – Jonathan Dwyer, Antonio Brown — Hitting the Jackpot

The Steelers first pick in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft saw them grab Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers was checkered, as Dwyer seemingly showed up to training camp over weight and only made the team due to injuries and/or late pre-season surges. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers might be labeled a disappointment by many and perhaps there’s some justification to that. But you don’t expect to draft a stud in the sixth round and, taking that into consideration, Dwyer delivered excellent value for his draft position. Grade: Over Performer

  • You don’t “expect “ to draft a stud in the sixth round, but sometimes you do.

Antonio Brown proves that good players remain on the board in every round. Brown made his mark early as a rookie in the Steelers upset vs. the Titans. He made it again in the playoffs vs. Baltimore and again vs. the Jets. His play in 2011 made Mike Wallace expendable, and the franchise hasn’t looked back since. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Seventh Round – Doug Worthington — Another Farm Team Pick

The Steelers picked up Doug Worthington with their last pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and Worthington never held on. He got picked up in 2011 by the Washington Redskins, and appeared in six games in 2012. He was back in DC in 2013 but saw no action, and held a roster spot at some point for the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2010 Draft Clearly Colbert and Tomlin’s Best

It’s been five years since Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin picked the Steelers 2010 Draft class, and only two players remain on the team from that group. Normally that would be a damming commentary, but the truth is that the Steelers came out of that draft with two studs, and got solid contributions from several other players during the course of their rookie contracts – a key to success in the salary cap era. Overall Draft grade: B+/A-

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Steelers 2015 Free Agency Scorecard Delivers Mixed Bag for Steelers Nation

The Steelers continue to make piece meal free agency moves and could — and they most certainly should resign Will Allen before all is said and done. They could possibly add a corner at a bargain basement veteran minimum price.

  • But by and large the table is set.

And a lot of Steelers Nation is not happy about some of the choices the team has made, although their M.O. has been the same as it always has been:

  • Look to fill a few holes,
  • Do some bargain hunting,
  • Refuse to overpay,
  • Invest in resigning their own players

Most fans wanted the Steelers to sign a corner and/or an outside linebacker and the Steelers appeared to be interested in doing either of the two things, but ultimately found the market too expensive.

The Steelers did of course sign DeAngelo Williams to back up Le’Veon Bell (and start in his place when his suspension for a DWU becomes official).

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Steel Curtain Rising Readers Speak

The Steelers had 14 unrestricted free agents heading into the 2015 off season in addition to two aging roster veterans who were on the bubble.

The decision to resign or let a player walk is always an emotional one, and one that fans often do not understand. Yours truly can remember a moment, in 1993 or 1994, when the internet was in its infancy seeing a fan lay into Dan Rooney and Tom Donahoe for resigning Dermontti Dawson while he still had 1 year on his deal. If memory serves, the fan wrote:

  • “Dan Rooney needs to understand that the point of free agency is to sign guys from other teams, not your own.”

Of course Daniel Snyder spent his first dozen years as owner instructing his coaches and personnel staff to do just that, and the results speak for themselves. Oh, and during that time Dermontti Dawson has been elected to the NFL Hall of Fame.

  • Still, the poll that Steel Curtain Rising ran during February and March is revealing about the wants of this little corner of Steelers Nation.

With that in mind, how does the Steelers 2015 Free Agency scorecard stand up against the desires of fans, or at least against the desires of our readers here at Steel Curtain Rising.

James Harrison, Arthur Moats, and Matt Spaeth found a lot of love from visitors to this site, and the Steelers came through, resigning each player. Brett Keisel, Jason Worilds, and Brice McCain also found a lot of love, but none will return to Pittsburgh in 2015.

  • Readers also reaped a ringing endorsement for Troy Polamalu back.

This came in spite of one article arguing that it the ideal situation would be for Troy Polamalu to retire, and another saying that Will Allen presented a wiser choice for a veteran safety back up. It’s hard to say goodbye, and yours truly won’t be too upset of Polamalu came back at the veteran minimum.

As for the rest of the depth chart, Ike Taylor has found little love here, and probably rightly so as his phone isn’t ringing in Free Agency.

  • The rest of the depth chart didn’t evoke much passion from our loyal readers, although the restricted free agents remain popular.

Finally, Clifton Geather’s name got left off of the poll and he was completely left out of the Steelers 2015 Free Agent focus. This was an honest oversight, but yours truly also didn’t think there was any chance he’d be back. Well, the Steelers resigned Geathers and he’ll get his shot this summer at Latrobe.

Make Your Voice Heard Steelers Nation

Voting in a poll is one thing and we thank everyone who took the time to vote (and please vote in our current poll on the Steelers needs heading into the 2015 NFL Draft. But polls are one demensional, and say nothing about why you felt/feel as you do.

So take a moment to leave a comment, and let fellow fans know your thoughts about what decisions the Steelers have made in 2015 thus far.

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