Once Again, Kevin Colbert Can Play “Wait and See” with Steelers Free Agent Will Allen

Art Rooney II’s pronouncement following the 2015 season that the Steelers needed to improve their secondary was clear and unequivocal. Undoubtedly Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert already knew that, but there’s nothing like getting reinforcement from the top to ensure a sense of urgency.

The decision the Colbert and Tomlin make on Steelers free agent Will Allen will speak volumes about how the Steelers translate that urgency into action.

Capsule Profile of Will Allen Career with the Steelers

Let’s play a game. I say “Steelers safety Will Allen” and you say the first word that comes to mind.

  • How about “indispensable afterthought?”

That might sound like an oxymoron but it accurately describes the role that Will Allen has played since arriving as “the other” free agent in 2010 on the heels of Larry Foote and Antwan Randel El’s return. The Steelers signed Allen, arguable as insurance in case Ryan Clark walked (that’s how it looked, solid reporting disputed that however.)

  • Then the Steelers promptly forgot Will Allen.

Ryan Mundy was Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” when ever Troy Polamalu or Clark needed to come out, and Tomlin stuck to that plan during all of 2010, 2011, and through the Steelers 2012 loss at Oakland’s black hole. That lose got Allen into the Steeelers line up.

While Allen helped improve their defense, the Steelers let him go as a free agent in 2013, only to bring him back in after Dallas cut him. Allen again helped stabilize the Steelers defense, as the stability he provided can at the expense of getting Shamarko Thomas snaps.

  • Allen was back in 2014, and while it feels disrespectful to write this, the Steelers defense was better with him in and Polamalu on the bench.

Still, the Steelers waited until Polamalu retired to resign Allen for 2015. But as always, the thinking was that Allen would back up Shamarko Thomas. Of course, Shamarko Thomas got benched, Will Allen started for the Steelers at safety.

The Case for Steelers Keeping Will Allen

In four straight years, Will Allen’s role was projected to play a secondary role in the Steelers defensive backfield, and in four straight seasons circumstances forced Allen to do more than expected and each time he delivered.

  • That’s a nice track record for someone who did little more than sit on the bench for two seasons.

When the history of Pittsburgh Steelers safeties is written, no one’s going to confuse Will Allen with Donnie Shell, Mike Wagner, Glen Edwards, Carnell Lake, or even Darren Perry. But Allen has provided consistent, competent play at a critical position and is a good man to have on your team.

The Case Against Steelers Keeping Will Allen

Will Allen is going to be 34 in 2016, and while his play was solid in 2015, he did begin to show signs of losing a step. And the Steeler secondary cannot afford to lose many steps. In some ways, Will Allen’s career arch with the Steelers mirrors that of Max Starks.

  • He’s a player the Steelers have wanted to move on from, but have never been able to do so.

The analogy isn’t perfect, but it makes a lot of sense. At some point management has to decide enough is enough and commit to moving on. The Steelers did it in 2013, even though Mike Adams was clearly in over his head at left tackle. There were certain growing pains, but by the end of 2013 Kelvin Beachum had silenced the calls to bring back Max Starks one more time.

  • And so it must be with Will Allen.

Will Allen has been one of the Steelers most underrated and under appreciated free agent pickups. He’s provided dependable depth and done all that has been asked of him. But it is time for the Steelers to move on.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Will Allen

Does Will Allen even want to come back and continue playing? Will Allen considered retiring after 2014, and had to be talked into returning, if Dale Lolley is correct. If he does want to play, then the Steelers can consider bringing him back, but resigning Robert Golden and finding a younger safety in the draft take prority.

If the Steelers think that Will Allen has one more season of football left in him, and Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, and Carnell Lake are far more qualified to make that decision than yours truly, then they can do what they’ve always done – plan to fall back on Will Allen if their other plans don’t pan out.

Free agency go your head spinning? Check out our Steelers 2016 free agent tracker and/or click here to read all articles on our Steelers 2016 Free Agent Focus section. 

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Shoring Up Secondary, Steelers Sign Ross Cockrell to 1 Year Contract

Pittsburgh took its first step towards shoring up its secondary in a move that saw the Steelers sign Ross Cockrell to a one year contract. Cornerback Ross Cockrell was one of the Steelers exclusive rights free agents, meaning he couldn’t negotiate with any other team, but the Steelers still needed to make him an offer.

If the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers had one unquestionable weakness, it was in their secondary. For starters, the 2015 Steelers fielded an accidental secondary, as no one, save for Mike Mitchell, played in the role envisioned for him when he was acquired.

That might seem like a tautology but the Steelers secondaries from 2011-2013 were far from dominant, but played better without much of a pass rush to speak of. While Ross Cockrell might not be close to being a “shutdown corner,” bringing him back to Pittsburgh is a smart move.

Ross Cockrell 2015 Retrospective

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin turned a lot of heads when the Steelers claimed Ross Cockrell off of waivers after the first wave of mandatory cuts. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo saw the move as sufficiently puzzling enough to question whether the Steelers coaches and scouting teams were not on the same page, much as they had been over offensive line in general and Max Starks in particular in 2007 and 2008.

  • While not speaking directly to Ray Fittipaldo’s point, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola boosted the level of debate on the subject.

Responding to a reader’s question, Labriola cited legendary Steelers scout Bill Nunn, who instructed younger scouts not to put too much faith into the performance of defensive backs on other teams, because you had no way of knowing what those DB’s had been instructed to do.

  • Enter Ross Cockrell, the 2014 4th rounder that Rex Ryan and company couldn’t wait to get rid of.

As a wavier wire pickups go, Ross Cockrell’s 2015 season alone makes him a success. Per the Steelers rendering, Cockrell started 7 games and suited up for 15, the only game he missed was the season opener at New England. While Ross Cockrell’s 2015 performance doesn’t project him as another Rod Woodson or Mel Blount, he did give the Steelers secondary something it sorely needed – turnovers.

The fumble recover shows some particularly good concentration and execution (available as of 1/23/16 — watch it now before Roger Goodell’s You Tube police have it taken down):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GPk3MghFHA

And without question, Cockrell’s most important play of the year came in the Steelers playoff win over the Bengals. It took Jarvis Jones to stop Jeremy Hill, Ryan Shazier to strip the ball and Ross Cockrell to recover it.

The Steelers secondary needs help. Ross Cockrell might not be “The Answer” to the Steelers defensive backfield woes, but he is certainly part of the equation.

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A Primer on Steelers Broncos Playoff History

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos are not playoff “rivals” the way the Oakland Raiders, Dallas Cowboys, Houston Oilers, Baltimore Ravens, and New England Patriots are, but the Steelers and Broncos have a rich playoff history.

Sunday’s divisional playoff game between the Broncos and the Steelers marks the 8th time Pittsburgh and Denver have squared off in the NFL post season. For the record, the Broncos enter this Sunday’s game with a 4-3 edge in playoff games.

Scroll down or click on the gold links below to relive a key moment in Steelers Broncos playoff history.

1977 – Distractions Detour Super Steelers

1977 AFC Divisional Playoffs
December 24, 1977, @ Mile High Stadium
Denver Broncos 34, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Steelers Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  Histories of the 1970’s “Super Steelers” regard the 1977 season as “The Lost One.” Unlike 1976, which saw the Steelers open and close the season with devastating injuries while playing with absolute domination in between, distractions defined the Steelers 1977 season. Al Davis sued Chuck Noll and the Steelers. Mel Blount took offense to Noll’s “Criminal element” comment. L.C. Greenwood temporarily signed with the World Football League. And this only begins the list….

Stats that StandoutTerry Bradshaw’s three interception game is a biggie, and Lynn Swann going 1-6 is another.  The Steelers tied the game twice, but never led.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Takeaway: The Denver Broncos scored 34 points on the Steel Curtain defense, the most that unit ever gave up in the post-season.
Aftermath:  The 1977 Denver Broncos went on to win the AFC Championship, but lost in Super Bowl XII to the Dallas Cowboys. The 1977 Steelers early playoff exit loss prompted Noll to make a number of roster changes and update his offensive philosophy.…

1978 – Steelers Offense Unleashed

1978 Divisional Playoffs
December 30th, 1978 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh Steelers 33, Denver Broncos 10

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  Of all of Chuck Noll’s teams, the 1978 Steelers are regarded as the best. The defense was still excellent while the offense was exploding. The 1978 Steelers took the NFL by storm, going 14-2 in the regular season, only dropping games to the LA Rams and the Houston Oilers.

Stats that StandoutRobin Cole, Steve Furness, Donnie Shell, Dwight White and Joe Greene combined for 6 sacks of Craig Morton. John Stallworth also caught 10 passes for 156 yards, his first 100+ post season effort.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Takeaway:  Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Franco Harris all scored touchdowns, a post season first for a trio that would go on to terrorize opposing defenses over the next 20 games or so.
Aftermath:  The Steelers crushed the Houston Oilers in the AFC Championship game the following week to the tune of 35-5 in a sleet-filled fest at Three Rivers Stadium. Shortly thereafter, in only the Super Bowl matchup between multiple Super Bowl winners, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XIII. Red Miller’s Broncos faded in the seasons to come.

1984 – Steel Curtain Crushes the Orange Crush

1984 AFC Divisional Playoffs
December 30, 1984 @ Mile High Stadium
Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Denver Broncos 17

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  After missing the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, 1984 marked Pittsburgh Steelers third straight playoff appearance. But this one carried a big difference. Terry Bradshaw had retired, giving way to Mark Malone. Most had expected the 1984 Steelers to sink, but they flew winning the AFC Central Division Championship and ruining the San Francisco 49ers almost-perfect season along the way. In his second season, John Elway led Denver to a 13-3 regular season record.

Stat that Stands OutMark Malone threw no interceptions, John Elway threw two.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  This was the last playoff win for John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Bennie Cunningham and Jack Lambert (although Lambert was injured, and did not play).
The Aftermath:  A week later in the AFC Championship game vs. Miami, Dan Marino made the Steelers sorely regret not drafting him. The 1984 Steelers were a surprise, and one could be forgiven for thinking the Steelers reloading process following the first Super Bowl era was gaining momentum.

Alas, the opposite was true. It would be five years before Chuck Noll would return to the playoffs, and he’d post losing records in 3 of the 4 seasons in between, causing Dan Rooney to fire his brother Art Rooney Jr. as the head of scouting.

1989 – ’89 Steelers (Barley) Miss a Mile High Miracle

1989 Divisional Playoffs
January 7, 1990 @ Mile High Stadium
Denver Broncos 24, Steelers 23

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: The Denver Broncos bounced back from an 8-8 season in 1988 and were the odds-on favorite for the AFC Championship. In contrast, the 1989 Steelers started the season losing their first two games by a combined score of 92-10 and were shut out 3 times during the season. But Chuck Noll stood behind his team, and the 1989 Steelers made the playoffs, and then shocked the world by upsetting the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome.

Stat that Stands Out:  Heretofore unknown and/or horrendously underappreciated outside of Pittsburgh, Steelers fullback  Merril Hoge dominates Denver with 100 yards rushing by the first half, and 180 all-purpose yards from scrimmage, cementing his status as one of Steeler Nation’s first heroes of the post-Super Bowl era.
Plays You Wanna Have Back:  Trailing 24-23 with 2:20 left to play and needing 45 yards to get into Gary Anderson’s range, Bubby Brister fires a missile at rookie Mark Stock who drops it at the Steelers 41…
Plays You REALLY Wanna Have Back:  Two plays later, on 3rd down, Chuck Lanza, (who was drafted to be Mike Webster’s heir apparent) is in for future Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. A poor Lanza snap causes a Brister fumble and a Broncos recovery.
Aftermath:  The Denver Broncos go on to beat the Cleveland Browns in the 1989 AFC Championship, but get slaughtered in the Super Bowl by George Seifert’s San Francisco 49’s to the score of 55-10. Despite the 89 Steelers playoff loss to the Broncos, Chuck Noll remains convinced that, with players like Dawson, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, and Greg Lloyd, he has the talent to win big. However, he hires Joe Walton as his offensive coordinator, a decision that turns out to be a disaster for all parties involved.

1997 – 2 End Zone Interceptions Is Too Many

1997 AFC Championship Game
January 11, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Denver Broncos 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 21

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: Two years prior, the 1995 Pittsburgh Steelers had lost a heart breaker in Super Bowl XXX. Despite free agent turnover at quarterback, right tackle, outside linebacker, defensive end, safety and cornerback Bill Cowher’s Steelers seemed to defy gravity. Meanwhile at age 37, John Elway was facing “Now or never” time in his career, but for the first time he had a good defense and offensive weapons, not the least of which was Terrell Davis.

Stat that Stands Out:  Steelers quarterback Kordell Stewart threw two end zone interceptions in separate short yardage/goal line situations as Chan Gailey chose to throw rather than pound it in with Jerome Bettis.
What IF Moment: Despite the picks, Kordell Stewart brought the Steelers to within three with just over 2 minutes left to play. Unfortunately, the Steelers defense could not get the ball back as the Broncos offense killed the clock. Carnell Lake, playing cornerback due to the ineffectiveness of Donell Wo0lford, said that he felt the Steelers would have won the game had Rod Woodson still been in Pittsburgh.
The Aftermath:  The Denver Broncos went on win the Super Bowl, the first of two for Elway. The Steelers lost more free agents that year John Jackson and Yancey Thigpen but, unlike in years past, the players the Steelers had drafted to replace them couldn’t cut the mustard.

2005 – Steel Curtain Begins to Rise

2005 AFC Championship Game
January 22, 2006 @ Invesco Field at Mile High
Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Denver Broncos 17

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory: At 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak, the NFL had left the 2005 Steelers for dead. Bill Cowher challenged his team to run the table, and they complied. They beat the Bengals in the Wild Card game, shocked the Colts by upsetting them in the AFC Divisional Playoff round. The Broncos, for their part were number 2 seeds, and had just knocked off the defending Champion New England Patriots.

Stat that Sticks Out: How about Ben Roethlisberger going 21-29-275-2. True, Ben threw a couple of “Almost interceptions” but clearly a franchise quarterback was blossoming before our eyes.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  Shortly before the game ended, Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II arrived down on the field to accept the Lamar Hunt Trophy. Dan Rooney extended his hand to Bill Cowher. As Cowher put out his right hand, his left hand shot up with his index finger pointing upward and he could be lip read saying, “We still got ONE more game.”
The message and meaning was clear:  The Steelers 2005 AFC Championship victory represented a means, not a goal.
Aftermath:  The Steelers advanced and triumphed in Super Bowl XL, the Steel Curtain had Risen Again, and Pittsburgh’s Second Super Bowl era had begun.

2011 – Steelers Get Tebowed….

2011 AFC Wild Card Game
January 8, 2012 @ Sports Authority Field at Mile High
Denver Broncos 29, Pittsburgh Steelers 23

Steelers-Broncos Playoff History Backstory:  The Pittsburgh Steelers were declared “Old, Slow and Done” after the Baltimore Ravens devastated them on opening day. Yet the 2011 Steelers fought back, and finished 12-4 including an incredible midseason upset over the New England Patriots. Tim Tebow was the story of the 2011 Denver Broncos. While his mechanics and the quality of his play left a lot to be desired, week after wee Tebow simply seemed to find new ways to win games.

Stat that Sticks Out:  Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas for 80 yards and a touchdown on the first play of overtime.
Steelers Broncos Playoff History Take Away:  Was this a lucky loss for the Steelers? Losing in overtime in such dramatic fashion demoralized Steelers Nation, but the Steelers, who entered the game with a long  injured list, lost Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, and Max Starks during the game and likely would have not only been promoting players from the practice squad, but giving them snaps had they won.
Final Farewell:  This the last game for Super Bowl veterans James Farrior, Hines Ward, Bryant McFadden, Mewelde Moore and Chris Kemoeatu.
The Aftermath:  The Patriots slaughter the Broncos in the following week, and John Elway has seen enough, and brings Peyton Manning to Denver. The Steelers enter salary cap purgatory and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin begin a rebuilding process over the course of two back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

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Mike Adams Season Ends as Steelers Do Not Practice Him

Sometimes things simply aren’t meant to be. Is that the case for the Pittsburgh Steelers and offensive tackle Mike Adams? Time will tell, but events are certainly trending in that direction. Mike Adams began training camp on the Steelers PUP list and Pittsburgh had until 4:00 pm Tuesday to begin practicing him, or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

  • He did not practice with the Steelers on Tuesday which means Mike Adams season ends.

Once considered a first round worthy draft pick, Mike Adams history with the Steelers has been rocky to say the least. Mike Adams failed a drug test at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, prompting Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to remove him from their draft board.

Fortunately, Mike Adams agent Joe Panos has a good relationship with the Steelers, and set up a meeting between Adams and the Steelers. Adams entered rehab, fell out of the first round, and the Steelers drafted Adams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

While Mike Tomlin stopped well short of pronouncing Mike Adams as his starting left tackle, he signaled his intentions by moving Willie Colon to guard and making way for Marcus Gilbert to start at right tackle. The door was open for Mike Adams to grab the Steelers starting left tackle spot in training camp. Adams wasn’t up to the challenge, so the Steelers turned to Max Starks as they had so many times before.

  • Mike Adams got playing time in 2012 at right tackle as injures ravaged the Steelers offense line (sound familiar) and did a good job.

The Steelers went into training camp 2013 with Mike Adams at the top of the depth chart at left tackle. Adams held down the spot, but Kelvin Beachum most certainly pushed him for starting time. The Steelers nonetheless started Adams hoping to use Kelvin Beachum’s utility as a lineman who could play all five positions.

  • The Mike Adams experiment at left tackle was a disaster.

Per Neal Coolong of USA Today’s Steelers Wire, Mike Adams gave up 13 sacks and, for perhaps the only time in his career, Ben Roethlisberger appeared rattled by the pass rush. Adams was replaced by Beachum but has played well in the times he has been called upon to start due to injury.

Injury Costs Mike Adams Opportunity

Mike Adams back injury cost him an opportunity to redeem himself during 2015. There was no way he was beating out Kelvin Beachum for the starting left tackle spot, but he could have likely earned the number 3 tackle slot. Instead that role falls to Alejandro Villanueva, who has started since Beachum tore his ACL.

Still, Adams is in the final year of his rookie contract, and he is coming off of back surgery. Such a pedigree does not generally entice suitors to throw money at NFL free agents, so Adam’s phone will likely stay quiet.

Will the Steelers be one of the teams that calls? As Mike Adams season ends, that remains to be seen.

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Watch Tower: Is Steelers Cornerback Crisis Symptom of Scouting-Coaching Rift?

The Watch Tower’s lights haven’t shined in a while, and that’s not for lack of major Steelers news, but rather because there’s been too many Steelers stories to stop and cover. Rather than play catch up, today’s Watch Tower focuses solely on press coverage of the Steelers cornerback crisis.

Ray Fitapano Strikes a Cord on Steelers Cornerback Crisis

Cut down day at the South Side got interesting. As expected, after cutting down the Steelers roster Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin went shopping, picking up Jordan Todman and Cashaud Lyonsin the process.

Steelers Nation reacted as if Rod Woodson had just been cut. Grant and Chickhillo returned via the practice squad, ending “the crisis.”

  • But cutting 4th round draft picks isn’t standard Steelers operating procedure and the move signaled a deeper story which Ray Fittipaldo pounced upon.

The Watch Tower has harped on the need for the press to provide greater insight into the Steelers draft evaluation and selection process, and Fittipaldo’s article on the Steelers cornerback crisis in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s blog illustrates why.

  • Fittipaldo suggests that the root of the Steelers cornerback crisis involves a breakdown between the coaches and the front office.

This is ironic, because as Fittipaldo reminds readers, in Pittsburgh coaches have a significant voice in the draft evaluation and selection process. But that hasn’t stopped the Steelers from cutting rookie cornerbacks they’ve drafted for three straight years.

Fittipaldo drives home the point with the decision to trade for Brandon Boykin and the signing of Ross Cockrell. Cockrell was the Bills 2014 4th round pick who was cut, whom the Steelers had never coached, but someone in the organization rates more highly than of Grant, while the Steelers traded away a 4th or 5th round pick only to keep Boykin off the field vs. the Patriots.

  • Like all good scribes Fittipaldo saves his knockout punch for the end:

It’s enough to make one wonder if there is disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff, and it’s just not public knowledge.

Fittipaldo’s final statement suggests that he is speculating here and not basing his story on inside information from a source. More than a few fans not constrained to the need to verify stories with sources have jumped to the conclusion that the Steelers did not play Brandon Boykin to lower his potential trade cost.

The rumors got loud enough that one beat writer, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, reported on it and informed that “a team source scoffed at the idea that Mike Tomlin would think about next year’s draft with a game on the line.”

  • But regardless of whether Fittipaldo’s musing or acting on a leak, he marshals strong circumstantial evidence.

And breakdowns between coaches and the front office over personnel evaluation are hardly unprecedented in the Tomlin era.

Steelers Coaches, Front Office Were Once Unaligned on Offensive Line

Several times during on-line chats from 2008 to 2011, Ed Bouchette alluded to a breakdown between the Steelers coaches and the front office over offensive line personnel, with Max Starks severed as a poster boy for his story.

Steelers coaches benched Starks in 2007 only to see the front office name Max Starks the transition player in 2008. The move did not sway the Steelers coaches, who opened the season with Max Starks on the bench, momentarily making him a 7 million dollar 4th string tackle (yes, we’ll repeat it again, Trai Essex went in at Jacksonville when Marvel Smith got injured.)

Bouchette never gave the story the feature level treatment it deserved, but years later, with the Steelers en route to 2013’s 0-4 start, Jim Wexell appeared to at least indirectly validate Bouchette’s hypothesis arguing:

Nor will I blast the organization for making the necessary change away from Bruce Arians a few years ago. He wasn’t interested in rebuilding the crumbling foundations that are the offensive line, the running game and in general the protection of the major investment.

While Wexell’s comments are unrelated to the Steelers cornerback crisis, they indicate that Bruce Arians had a lot of influence over the Steelers offensive selections. Recent comments on Steelers.com by Steelers Digest editor Bob Labrolia indicate that Dick LeBeau held similar sway over the Steelers defensive selections.

If that’s the case, then it doesn’t seem like the transition from Dick LeBeau to Keith Butler has done more to get the Steelers front office and coaches in sync when it comes to the Steelers secondary.

The Watch Tower will keep tabs to see if more hard information makes its way into the Steelers press coverage to strengthen this story, but for the moment it will simply tip its cap to Ray Fittipaldo for putting this story on the radar.

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Steelers vs Best NFL Draft Classes of Last 25 Years

NFL.com’s Jim Reineking has taken the trouble to rank the NFL’s best and worst draft classes of the last 25 years. Steel Curtain Rising has reviewed at the Steelers performance in the worst draft classes of the last 25 years and concluded that the Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Tom Donahoe and Mike Tomlin ended up picking pretty well out of what Reineking picks as a bad crop.

But how have the Steelers done when the pickings have been good? Click below to check out specific drafts, or just scroll down for the full analysis.

Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Steelers 2015 draft class

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert after the 2015 NFL Draft

Steelers 2001 Draft Class

Reineking ranks the 2001 NFL Draft as the best in the last 25 years, counting 3 certain Hall of Famers (LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Drew Brees for those taking notes) plus other stars such as Reggie Wayne and Michael Vick. He also notes 34 overall Pro Bowl selections, plus 17 first rounders making the Pro Bowl.

In the 2001 NFL Draft, the Steelers traded down and pick Casey Hampton who anchored the center of a defense that dominated the NFL for the next decade. Next, the Steelers picked Kendrell Bell. Had the 2001 draft’s story been written in January 2002, the Steelers would have gotten an A based on Bell’s and Hampton’s performances of that year.

  • But legitimate draft evaluation takes 4-5 years for a good reason.

Kendrell Bell missed the first four games of his second season due to injury, and only reached is rookie season form during the middle of 2002. After that, he faded. Aside from Bell, 6th round pick Rodney Bailey and 4th round pick Chukky Okobi were the only 2001 draftees to get any real time, and both of them essentially saw spot duty.

  • Any draft that delivers a Casey Hampton is hard to knock as “bad.”

But if the 2001 NFL draft class was the best of its generation as Reinking suggests, then Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher certainly should have done better.

Steelers 2007 Draft Class

Steel Curtain Rising has praised the Steelers 2007 draft class at length, and Reineking ranks the 2007 NFL Draft class as the second best.

The 2007 NFL Draft was Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s first effort together, and is one of their best. If their first choice, Lawrence Timmons, took a little longer to develop than desired, “Law Dog” has been the Steelers best and most consistent defender for three consecutive years.

Fans remember LaMarr Woodley for his second contract flame out, but who (other than BTSC’s Michael Bean) saw that coming? From opening day in 2008 until he injured his hamstring in the Steelers 2011 upset of New England, LaMarr Woodley sacked the quarterback 44 times in 55 games.

In 2007 Colbert and Tomlin also picked Matt Spaeth, Daniel Sepulveda, and William Gay in the 3rd 4th and 5th rounds. Both Spaeth and Sepulveda were “reaches” but Spaeth’s provides immeasurable value to the running game, and he’s greatly underrated as a pass catcher.

After a strong 2008, William Gay drew the fans ire in 2009 and 2010, only to score 4 touchdowns since his return from a sabbatical season in Pittsburgh West aka Arizona Cardinals.

If Reineking’s 2nd best ranking of the 2007 NFL Draft class is right, then Pittsburgh came away with 3-4 quality football players who helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII.

Steelers 1996 Draft Class

The 1996 NFL Draft is the only draft manned by Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher to make Reineking’s list. The biggest move of the draft was shipping the Steeler’s second round pick to St. Louis for Jerome Bettis.

But you measure drafts for the picks you take rather than the trades you make, and that gives Steelers 1996 draft class a paradoxical quality. At the top, Jamain Stephens is the worst Steelers first round bust this side of Huey Richardson and the 3rd round pick linebacker Steve Conley washed out after two seasons.

In the middle, Penn State fullback Jon Witman gave the Steelers solid, but far from spectacular, value as a 4th round pick, while 5th round pick Earl Holmes famously congratulated Bill Cowher for “picking the best linebacker in the draft.” While James Farrior quickly made Steelers Nation forget Earl Holmes, Holmes did start 79 games in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh picked fellow 4th rounder Jahine Arnold to replace Ernie Mills, but Arnold was a bust.

  • The Steelers arguably got the best value out of their 6th and 7th round picks in 1996, in the form of Orpheus Roye and Carlos Emmons.

Roye impressed as a rookie on specials teams, and was starting by his third year. Bill Cowher wanted to keep him, but Cleveland threw 30 million dollars at Roye, whon only had 4.5 sacks at the time.

Carlos Emmons was the classic case of a 7th round pick who simply seized the opportunities present late in the 3rd and 4th quarters of early preseason games. Emmons wasn’t a 7th round pick-turned stud the way Brett Keisel was, but he developed into a respectable starter.

Overall, the 1996 draft was fairly characteristic of the drafts during of later part of Tom Donahoe’s tenure, which saw the Steelers misfire on early picks, but do reasonably well after that.

Steelers 2004 Draft Class

Reineking ranks the 2004 NFL Draft class as 4th and that’s the draft where the Steelers passed on Marcus Turner for Nathaniel Adibi, a linebacker who never donned a regular season uniform. They also whiffed on offensive tackle Bo Lacy, center Drew Caylor, and defensive end Eric Taylor. Tight end Matt Kranchick, a 6th round pick from Penn State, made the 2004 roster and appeared in two games. He hung on until November of 2005 where he caught one pass for 6 yards while appearing in four games before getting cut.

Second round pick Ricardo Colclough held down a roster spot for 4 years with the Steelers, and was given multiple chances to contribute. But he failed to make an impact as either a return man or a corner.

2004’s third round pick Max Starks journey with the Steelers has been well chronicled here and parts elsewhere. Any way you measure it, Max Starks delivered excellent value as a third round pick.

  • 1 out of 7 players analyzed thus far that Pittsburgh picked in 2004 developed into a viable NFL player.

Sounds pretty bleak, especially when you consider the Steelers were drafting early in each round. But they used that low draft position to take a young man out of Miami Ohio, whose name is Ben Roethlisberger and that pick by itself makes the entire 2004 NFL Draft a smashing success for the Steelers.

Steelers 2011 Draft Class

For Reineking, the 2011 Draft Class is the NFL’s 5th best. An even though 4 years is sufficient to offer some solid draft analysis, the 2011 draft could still end up being either a boom or a bust for the Steelers.

6th round pick Keith Williams never made the team. 7th round pick Baron Batch was creating a buzz at St. Vincents until an injury ended his rookie season before it started, and he was never the same. Gerry Dulac once said that 5th round pick Chris Carter could be the steal of the draft, and Carter got chances but ultimately failed to prove Dulac right. 3rd round corner Curtis Brown was a bust.

Second round pick Marcus Gilbert’s development was shaky, as he was alternating with Kelven Beachum in early 2013, but his development has been solid enough since then that he got a second contract.

First round pick Cameron Heyward, for some unknown reason, found himself trapped below Ziggy Hood on the Steelers depth chart, but when the coaches finally rectified that, Cameron Heyward exploded into the stud he was supposed to be when the Steelers picked him first in 2011.

  • While Gilbert and Heyward add a lot of value to the Steelers 2011 draft class, alone they can’t prevent it from being a disappointment.

The honor falls to 2011’s third round pick, Cortez Allen. Cortez Allen flashed as a rookie, finished incredibly strong as a sophomore, struggled then stabilized in his third season, saw the Steelers extend his contract prior to his fourth season where he promptly imploded. Carnell Lake has a major Cortez Allen Reclamation project on his hands, and the success of that will determine whether the arrow on the Steelers 2011 draft class points up or down.

Symmetrical Quality for Steelers in Reinking’s Top 5

Reineking’s top 5 NFL Draft classes of the last 25 years have a symmetrical quality for them for Steelers fans. 2001 and 2004 were Kevin Colbert-Bill Cowher drafts, 1996 was a Tom Donahoe-Bill Cowher draft, while 2007 and 2011 were Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin drafts.

While the sample size is small, the duo of Colbert-Tomlin has been the most consistent, while the Colbert-Cowher hit very high on a couple of picks, but they missed almost completely on the rest. And, as mentioned, Donahoe did poorly early on but uncannily got better as draft position degraded.

This raises some interesting questions, which Steel Curtain Rising will discuss next week when mini-camp ends and the NFL’s true off season begins.

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Lessons from Past Steelers OTA’s – When “Football in Shorts” Does Yield Insights

Phase III of the Steelers 2015 off season workouts begin today, which are officially titled “Organized Team Activites” or just Steelers OTA’s. In the past Mike Tomlin has thrown cold water on drawing conclusions based on OTA’s, calling it “Football in shorts.”

  • And he’s right. There are real limits to what coaches, let alone fans, can learn from “Football in shorts.”

Fans are going to want to assessments on the Steelers 2015 draft class, they’ll progress reports on Bud Dupree, Senquez Golson, Sammie Coates and the rest of the crew. Unless any of those men get injured, there’s unlikely to be any meaningful news or insight on those players coming out of Steelers OTA’s

Yet looking back, past Steelers OTA’s have in fact given fans useful insights about the season to come — as well as plenty of false flags.

Steelers 2014 OTA’s & Minicamp – Shamarko 3rd on Depth Chart, Sean Spence Healthy

During OTA’s In 2014, Steelers Nation learned that Sean Spence had recovered enough to make a run at a roster spot after spending his first two years on IR.

 

Fans also learned that Shamarko Thomas, then going into his second year, was behind Will Allen on the depth chart at safety, something which remained constant through training camp all the way up to the Steelers playoff loss vs. the Ravens.

Steelers 2013 OTA’s & Minicamp – First Look at Le’Veon Bell and Shamarko Thomas

A photo of 2013 minicamp featured reserve cornerback in 2011 3rd round pick Curtis Brown wearing an ice pack, a development that foreshadowed his final summer at St. Vincents. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review also told us the Le’Veon Bell ran with power, and that Landry Jones struggled passing. He also told us that Shamarko Thomas looked strong in gunner drills, and for whatever question still surround Shamarko as a safety, he’s played well on special teams.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s & Minicamp Polamalu Present, Wallace AWOL

In 2012 the big news out of Steelers OTA’s and minicamp was who was there – and who wasn’t. Following the departure of veterans like Aaron Smith and James Farrior, Troy Polamalu made a point of attending OTA’s to add leadership. However, Mike Wallace was absent, signaling his hold out. 2012’s OTA’s also featured the introduction of Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the offense to Todd Haley’s system, and Ben’s admonition to the rest of his players to “not get frustrated” again signaled things to come.

Steelers 2012 OTA’s were also when we learned that Todd Haley had “officially” restored the fullback position to the Steelers offense, as David Johnson would make the switch.

Yet, Steelers OTA’s in 2012’s and mini-camp also contained their share of false flags, as Dale Lolley reported how strong rookie 5th round pick Chris Rainey looked while adding that Baron Batch looked fully recovered from his ACL tear. Rainey disappointed on the field before disappointing off the field, while Batch was never the same.

The other big “News” of 2012 OTA’s was Kordell Stewart’s decision to “retire” as a Steeler.

Steelers 2010 OTA’s & Minicamp the Roethlisberger Suspension

There were no OTA’s or mini-camp in 2011 thanks to the NFLPA’s lockout. In 2010 there wasn’t a lot of “news” out of OTA’s and/or minicamp as Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension dominated coverage, although word was rookie Jonathan Dwyer looked strong. The big insight came from Dale Lolley, who signaled Kraig Urbik’s rise on the depth chart (which the Steelers unfortunately could not take advantage of.)

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp 2009 – Hill’s Demise, Mundy’s Rise Foreshadowed

The Steelers 2009 OTA’s and minicamps provided Steelers Nation with a mix and match of insight and false flags. Max Starks was absent and, tellingly, second year man Tony Hills did not take his place. Ryan Mundy also got extensive work, foreshadowing the Steelers efforts to groom Mundy as a future starter. (he never got there in Pittsburgh, but Ryan Mundy’s put up decent numbers in New York and better numbers in Chicago.)

However, Dale Lolley also opined that the 2009 Steelers showed a fire missing in 2006, an observation which ultimately did not carry over into the regular season.

Steelers 2008 OTA’s & Minicamp – Mike Tomlin Cautions Against “Football in Shorts”

Steelers OTA’s in 2008 provided Mike Tomlin’s “football in shorts” comment when asked about the development of Dallas Baker. The spring practice sessions also revealed that Anthony Smith still hadn’t learned anything, as evidenced by an over the top display following an interception. Dale Lolley, again offered some solid insight on the rise of Darnell Stapleton, who would start for the Steelers following Kendall Simmons’s injury vs. Baltimore that coming fall.

Also, it was Lolley who gave Mewelde Moore some of the love that the rest of the press covering the Steelers missed – and this is something that Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower missed when it critiqued the members of the Steelers media for ignoring Moore.

Steelers OTA’s & Minicamp – 2007 All Eyes on Faneca and Tomlin

The story in Steelers OTA’s and Mini-camp in 2007 was the Alan Faneca situation. Faneca was decidedly unhappy about not getting a contract extension from the Steelers, and went very public with his grievances.

  • Everyone wanted to see how rookie head coach Mike Tomlin handled the situation, and the record shows he handled it well.

One false flag came from Dale Lolley, who described Dan Sepulaveda’s punting as “awesome” something that didn’t translate to the field of play. He also singled out the Steelers interest in undrafted rookie free agent Kyle Clement, a kid who never made the team, but for some reason was a magnet for search visitors during Steel Curtain Rising’s maiden season.

[Quick note on sources. After 2012 Google is not very helpful in returning meaningful results for the queries “Steelers OTA’s” and/or “Steelers Mini-camp” even when limiting queries by date. Thankfully Dale Lolley has a site index archive that is searchable by date. Kudos to him. He gets the back links, for what they’re worth.]

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The Colbert Record: Steelers Third Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

Steel Curtain Rising’s annual installment of the Colbert Record began this morning with our evaluation of Kevin Colbert’s performance in the the Steelers 2010 Draft.

Now that the Steelers have drafted Bud Dupree with their first pick, focus shifts to day two of the 2015 NFL Draft which brings us to the third round. Accordingly, Steel Curtain Rising shines a light on Kevin Colbert’s draft record with third round picks.

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Tom Donahoe Leaves Kevin Colbert Tough Third Round Act to Follow

The NFL Draft’s third round is often called “the value round” as that is the spot in the draft where you still have a high probability of finding and impact player, yet the risk associated with missing on a third rounder is lower than the first and second rounds.

  • The NFL Draft’s third round was the Steelers money round during Tom Donahoe’s tenure.

Colbert’s predecessor simply excelled in the third round drafting Joey Porter, Hines Ward, Amos Zereoue, Mike Vrable, Jon Witman, Brenden Stai, Jason Gildon, Bam Morris, Andre Hastings, and Joel Steed.

Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Steelers did draft a few busts in the third round – Kris Farris, Chris Conrad, Steven Conley and Paul Wiggins all come to mind, but looking look across the 8 Donahoe-Cowher drafts  and you’ll literally cannot find a year in which the third round was a total loss for the Steelers.

How well has Kevin Colbert done by comparison? Time to find out.

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Steelers 2000 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kendrick Clancy and Hank Poeat

Joel Steed remains an overlooked key to the 90’s Blitzburgh defenses, but his abrupt in January 2000 left newly arrived Kevin Colbert with a gaping hole to fill in the Steelers defense. First Colbert’s signed Kimo von Oelhoffen and second he drafted Kendrick Clancy in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Clancy played in nine games as a rookie. In 2001 he actually kept Casey Hampton on the bench – for three games, before yielding the starting spot. Clancy never started another game in Pittsburgh, but he played in 15 games in 2000 and 17 games in 2002 and 2003. The Steelers cut him in 2004, but brought him back after Hampton torn his ACL. Clancy went on to play – and start, for the Giants, Cardinals, and Saints, playing all the way until 2009.

It’s hard to call a guy a “bust” because he couldn’t beat out Casey Hampton and Kendrick Clancy certainly wasn’t a bad pick. But still you expect more from a third rounder. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Kevin Colbert used his second third round pick in 2000 on Hank Poeat, a cornerback from Pitt. Yet Poeat’s primary contribution in Pittsburgh was as a kick returner, where he excelled as a rookie, returning a punt for a touchdown in the Steelers final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

But Poeat’s fortunes as a return man declined after 2000, and he never made an impact as a corner. The Steelers let him go after 2003, but Poteat played for Tampa Bay, New England, the New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns until retiring in 2009. Grade: Disappointment

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Steelers 2001 3rd Round Draft Pick – Forfeited

When the Steelers signed Will Wolford to play guard in 1996 his contract contained a stipulating that Wolford got an extra $500,000 if he got switched to tackle. The page of paper that that clause was typed on (yes, typed) got lost, but Dan Rooney remembered it, and the Steelers honored their word to Wolford.

Unfortunately, paying that extra $500,000 resulted in a salary cap violation, which the Steelers turned themselves in for. As a result, they lost their third round pick in 2001.

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Steelers 2002 3rd Round Draft Pick – Chris Hope

The Steelers drafted Chris Hope in 2002 with an eye towards replacing Bret Alexander, who was turning 31. Hope neither started as a rookie nor as a sophomore, but earned a starting slot by his 3rd year, which was 2004 the year the Steelers went 15-1 and had the NFL’s number 1 defense.

Hope returned to start 16 regular season games in 2005 and started throughout the playoffs, playing his last game for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. The Steelers never really felt that Hope was a long-term answer at safety – and Ryan Clark represented an upgrade there – but he did what a third round pick should do – develop into a reliable starter. Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2003 3rd Round Draft Pick – Traded to Kansas City

The Steelers didn’t have a third round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft because Kevin Colbert traded it to Kansas City, as part of moving up to take Troy Polamalu….

…That was perhaps his wisest draft day decision.

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Steelers 2004 3rd Round Draft Pick – Max Starks

Kevin Colbert’s third round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Max Starks, has perhaps the most colorful history of any in the group.

Max Starks gets knocked around a lot. He even had doubters on both Bill Cowher’s final coaching staff in 2006, which carried over to Mike Tomlin’s initial staff in 2007. The Steelers front office disagreed, making Starks their transition player in 2008. The coaching staff was unmoved, starting the season with Starks on the bench in 2008, and even giving Trai Essex the initial nod when Marvel Smith went down in the critical Steelers 2008 road win over Jacksonville.

It says here that Max Starks saved the Steelers season in 2008. Arguably, he did it again in 2011 and one can shudder to think of what would have happened had the Steelers not brought him back in 2012. Max Starks started 2 in Super Bowl XL and again in Super Bowl XLIII. Can you really ask more of a third round pick? Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2005 3rd Round Draft Pick – Trai Essex

Kevin Colbert again went the tackle round in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, this time picking Trai Essex.

Essex never developed into a full time starter at tackle, nor could he hold down the starting job at guard. But Trai Essex became a valuable 6th lineman who was able to back up at all five positions on the line. While that’s commendable, you do expect a third round pick to become a starter. Essex never quite fit that bill. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2006 3rd Round Draft Picks — Anthony Smith, Willie Reid

Bill Cowher’s last draft left a lot to be desired particularly in the third round. First the Steelers drafted Anthony Smith. Smith was a hard hitter.

But he was an even bigger prima donna, showboating after a big play in 2006, and then moronically guaranteeing victory prior to the Steelers game vs. New England in 2007, only to have Tom Brady torch him with relish. He also injured a player in during the 2008 training camp, drawing Mike Tomlin’s ire. There’s a word for players like this. Grade: Bust

Willie Reid, the Steelers second 3rd round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, didn’t generate the ink that Anthony Smith did, but he was just as disappointing. He appeared in 1 game as a rookie returning 1 kick and 1 punt in a loss vs. San Diego. He returned six more kicks in 2007 and caught 4 passes in that season then was done. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2007 3rd Round Draft Pick – Matt Spaeth

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin surprised a lot of people when they picked Matt Spaeth in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. And since that time it has become clear that the Steelers picked Matt Spaeth too early. That’s not a knock on Spaeth per se. It’s not his fault he was drafted so early. But he really never delivered value commensurate with his status as a third round pick.

Certainly, the Steelers have a quality second tight end in Matt Spaeth. His blocking has been a critical element to Le’Veon Bell’s success. And he’s far underutilized in the passing game. But third round picks should perform at a higher level. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick – Bruce Davis

During training camp 2008, Jim Wexell reported in Steelers Digest that Mike Tomlin would pit Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together in one-on-ones while yelling, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.” The infamous Steelers 2008 Draft Class will go down as Colbert’s worst, with perhaps Bruce Davis serving as the poster boy.

  • As it turns out, Tomlin failed to make a player out of either man.

The Steelers drafted Bruce Davis as an outside linebacker, but he only played in 5 games on special teams, and he couldn’t cut it there. The Steelers wasted little time in cutting him in training camp the next summer. Davis resurfaced with the Raiders in 2010 and 2011 were he recorded 4 tackles in 10 games, and then Cincinnati in 2012 although he never played for the Bengals. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2009 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis

As a rookie Kraig Urbik didn’t play a down, but the Steelers had high hopes for him as they saw great progress in his second summer at St. Vincents. Word was that Urbik, a guard, skills as a back up center were part of what sent Justin Hartwig to the waiver wire. Alas, Byron Leftwich’s preseason injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster, and that meant Urbik had to go.

The Steelers wanted to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Buffalo Bills had other ideas. Urbik has started 53 of 69 games for them since then…. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers knew Hines Ward’s time was coming to an end by 2009, and drafted Mike Wallace with the second of their 3 third round picks. While the decision not to offer Mike Wallace a long-term deal was controversial at the time, the Steelers wisdom in choosing Antoinio Brown instead has been vindicated.

But that doesn’t alter the evaluation of Mike Wallace as a draft pick, because he it was an excellent pick. Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie, posted in inhuman yards-per-catch average in his first season as starter, and was a legit home run threat on every play. The drop off in his play during his second two years does impact his overall grade, but clearly Colbert made the right pick here. Grade: Over Performer

With their final 3rd round pick in 2009 NFL Draft the Steelers picked Keenan Lewis. Lewis was a late bloomer, as injuries ruined and Joe Burnett kept him off the field. 2010 was little better, as Lewis disappointed. Carnell Lake personally oversaw his rehabilitation, and Lewis began to work himself into a quality corner in 2011 and established himself as the starter by 2012.

The Steelers did get some value out of Lewis before he left via free agency, but just a little short of what you’d expect and need as a third round pick. Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, his grade would be higher, but this draft evaluation only covers performance of players as Steelers. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2010 3rd Round Draft Pick – Emmanuel Sanders

The third round pick in 2010 of Emmanuel Sanders got covered in our analysis of the Steelers 2010 NFL Draft. Emmanuel Sanders impressed coaches as a rookie, even keeping Antonio Brown on the bench early in the season, with Mike Tomlin invoking the “Two dogs one bone” metaphor. Sanders got hurt in Super Bowl XLV, and injury that Bruce Arians said hurt the team’s game plan.

Injuries limited Sanders in 2011 and then again in 2012, but he emerged as a full time starter in 2013 and made the most of his opportunity. The Steelers optned not to resign him, but Sanders was still a quality third round pickup. Grade: Quality Value Pick+

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Steelers 2011 3rd Round Draft Pick – Curtis Brown

Super Bowl XLV made it glaringly clear that the Steelers needed to improve at cornerback, and Kevin Colbert addressed the position in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by picking Curtis Brown….

…And he undoubtedly regrets the pick to this very day.

As a rookie, Brown forced a fumble during an ugly Steelers loss vs. Houston. He apparently played well on special teams, but it was Cortez Allen who saw action at corner. Brown never started a game, but saw a lot of action as a nickel back vs. San Diego in 2012, which was one of the most horrific performances by the Steelers of the Tomlin era. Brown only played in 7 games in 2013 and the Steelers gave up on him after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Draft Pick – Sean Spence

The Steelers had already parted ways with James Farrior and were looking to groom a replacement for Larry Foote by the time the 2012 NFL Draft arrived. Kevin Colbert picked Sean Spence out of Miami. Early in preseason, Spence looked like a stud in the making. Then disaster struck, costing Spence not only his rookie year, but also his sophomore year.

Nonetheless, Spence returned for his third season, and started nine games splitting time with Vince Williams after Ryan Shazier’s injury. Spence helped force a fumble in the Steelers 2nd quarter explosion vs. Houston, and recorded a sack vs. Cincinnati. Any formal grade on Spence will need to wait, but he looks like a solid pick up on Colbert’s part. Grade: Too Early To Tell

Steelers 2013 3rd Round Draft Pick – Markus Wheaton

Kevin Colbert drafted Markus Wheaton in the 2013 NFL Draft with an eye towards replacing Mike Wallace and the soon to depart Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton did next to nothing as a rookie, but he did earn the starting nod in 2014 and turned in a solid season.

Wheaton might not have gotten the ink that Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get, but he made a lot of key catches. Again, one season as a starter is NOT enough to evaluate a player, but right now he has the look of a quality value pick, if not more. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Steelers 2014 3rd Round Draft Pick – Dri Archer

The Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get Shamarko Thomas in 2013, but got a compensatory pick for losing Mike Wallace. They used it on Dri Archer, who was the fastest man in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers idea was to use Archer as a kick returner and utility back/wide receiver in the mold of Eric Metcalf (yes, I just dated myself!)….

It’s way, way too early to write off Dri Archer, but his rookie year can only be described as disappointing. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Conclusion – Kevin Colbert’s Checkered Third Round Record

The NFL Draft’s third round has not been as kind to Kevin Colbert as it was Tom Donahoe. Which is OK, as Colbert’s money round has been the first round of the NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers draft

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin discuss the Steelers Draft

Still, Colbert is charged with making the right pick in each round, and the record shows that he’s done it several times for the Steelers, most notably with Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Hope, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

However, Colbert has had his share of under performing third round picks, and he’s picked more than one outright bust with both Cowher and Tomlin (see Willie Reid Davis and Curtis Brown.)

While its too early to tell on some of his later picks, the arrow does appear to be trending up for Colbert’s third round record, but for now his grade must reflect a balance between his 3rd round successes and 3rd round failures. Grade: C+

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Steelers 2015 Draft Needs at Offensive Tackle

With the 2015 NFL Draft 9 days away, Steel Curtain Rising’s pre-draft analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers draft needs analysis has covered the offensive line positions of center and guard and today the focus is on tackle.

Analyzing Steelers Depth at Offensive Tackle – The Starters

A quick look at the Steelers depth chart at offensive tackle reveals one player who is doing what he was drafted to do, and another two who appear to have been switched at birth.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert in 2011 in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft with the idea that they would bring him along slowly. When Willie Colon found himself a casualty of the Debacle in Baltimore on opening day 2011, the Steelers turned to rookie Marcus Gilbert as his replacement.

Gilbert started 13 games that season including the playoff loss to Denver. He returned to his starting role in 2012, but injuries limited him to 5 games. Gilbert was back in 2013 starting 16 games, although he was challenged for his spot early in the season.

The person who mounted that challenge to Gilbert in early 2013 is Kelvin Beachum, the Steelers 2012 7th round pick. Going into his sophomore season, Beachum appeared to be carving a role for himself as the team’s 6th lineman, showing himself able to play all five positions on the line. Of course, the opening day disaster at Tennessee saw Beachum thrust into the role as starting center.

  • He didn’t stay there long, as Mike Adams struggled at left tackle, and ultimately was replaced by

Beachum, who has held down the starting role since. While Beachum isn’t the second coming of Tony Boselli, he does continue the Steelers tradition of solid play at left tackle in the vein of John Jackson and/or Max Starks.

Analyzing Steelers Depth at Tackle – the Back Ups

The Steelers once considered Mike Adams as a first round player, but surpsied many in 2012 by taking him in the second round after he failed a drug test. The Steelers hopped Adams would show enough in camp in 2012 to win the starting role, but ultimately he didn’t, and Pittsburgh brought Max Starks back for a final season.

  • Adams did get the starting nod in 2013, and he was a complete disaster.

IT would be both wrong and unfair to pin 2013’s 0-4 start on Mike Adams shoulders. But he was a prime contributor, unable to offer Ben Roethlisberger even the most basic of protections, to the degree that some wondered aloud of Roethlisberger wasn’t losing his ability. The benching served as motivation for Adams, and Adams has done well in spot duty, including four starts.

  • Still, as Adams enters the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, word is the Steelers interest in bringing him back is low.

Behind Adams, the Steelers depth consists of Mitchell Van Dyk (who? yeah that’s what we asked), and Alejandro Viallnueva, a former Army Ranger who did a year on the Steelers practice squad in 2014.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2015

Priority Status of Offensive Tackle for Steelers in 2015 NFL Draft

There’s no such thing as having “too many good tackles” in the NFL.

The position is simply too vital to a team’s success as the first four games of 2013 revealed. The Steelers have two solid starters and one good backup. Kelvin Beachum will be a free agent next year. The Steelers must decide if he’s their future at left tackle, or if they want a player to more closely fits the prototype for the position.

Moreover, the way the draft is breaking down, tackle could easily be the best available player by the time the Steelers get to pick at number 22. The priority status for tackle for the Steelers in the 2015 NFL Draft must be considered Moderate High.

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Foote Surprised He Got Boot from Steelers

On of the first moves the Pittsburgh Steelers made to open their 2014 off season was to wave veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. And by Foote’s own account, the caught him by surprise.

Speaking on Pittsburgh sports radio station 93.7 “The Fan” Foote recounted:

My agent met with (the Steelers) down at the Combine in Indianapolis. The talk was that we couldn’t get lined up, we lost a few games early on because we couldn’t even get lined up.

Based on that conversation, Foote assumed he would be spending 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania instead of Pittsburgh West aka at the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers gave Foote the boot, clearly having made other plans.

The move itself is not surprising. While the Steelers did struggle with Vince Williams starting, Williams improved, and could certainly be expected to deliver more value for the salary cap dollar than 34 year old Foote.

Insight into How the Steelers Function?

The main function of stories like these is to tide Steelers Nation’s voracious appetite for news until training camp starts. This one might, however, offer some insight into how the Steelers do business.

  • Before proceeding, it’s important to acknowledge that Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information here.

It’s impossible to understand the meaning of Foote’s story without knowing the context of the conversation. What’s most likely is that Foote struck up a causal conversation with a Steelers coach or scout, who said something like “How’s Larry doing? You know, we missed him dearly last year. We couldn’t even get lined up right for the first half of the year….”

It’s also possible the Steelers arrived at Indianapolis intending to bring Foote back but saw enough of the available inside linebackers to make the veteran expendable.

But there’s also a chance that the conversation reveals a split between Steelers scouts and coaches over whether to bring him back or not. Such disagreements are common.

At the end of the day, Steelers Nation will never know and even if there was disagreement, it is healthy for coaches and front offices to have differing opinions.

Regardless, despite subtracting Foote and his 12 years of experience, the Steelers nonetheless have to potential to see inside linebacker swing from one of the thinnest to one of the deepest units on the team in years.

Lawrence Timmons will return to start, and 1st round pick Ryan Shazier is already projected as a fellow starter. Sean Spence recovery has progressed far enough to give him a serious shot at a roster spot, and the there’s incumbent starter Vince Williams. Free agent Arthur Moats can also play on the inside, and of course there’s Kion Wilson, the man who took the field when Foote got hurt vs. Tennessee.

That’s all on paper of course. Things will start sorting themselves out for real on the fields at St. Vincent’s very, very soon.

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