It’s time to grade the Steelers draft. No, not the Steelers 2018 Draft but rather the Steelers 2013 draft.
You know, the draft that saw the Steelers make a bold trade involving a third round pick, replace a veteran wide out and draft of a quarterback? Sounds like the Steelers 2018 draft, doesn’t it? The comparison is intentional because reinforces a fundamental lesson:
- Accurately grading an NFL draft class takes time.
The Steelers 2018 draft class has spawned waves of criticism, while the Steelers 2013 draft class won its share of instant applause. SB Nation gave the Steelers 2013 draft an A, NFL.com awarded it an A-.
- Those grades don’t look so sharp today, do they?
Which doesn’t mean the Steelers 2013 Draft was a failure, but rather one that contained both failure and success as you’ll see below.
Steelers 2013 1st Round – Jarvis Jones – Bust
Is there anything new to say about Jarvis Jones? There’s not much. But it is useful to remember that Bucky Brooks of NFL.com claimed Jarvis Jones was the best pick made in the entire AFC North. Mel Kiper lauded Jarvis Jones as a “great pick.”
- Other analysts, such as Gil Brandt, remained skeptical.
The skeptics were right. The Steelers were perhaps too patient with Jarvis Jones (ah, if only James Harrison had been on the field against Dallas….) As it is, Kevin Colbert’s first and only unqualified first round bust is Jarvis Jones. Grade: Bust.
Steelers 2013 2nd Round – Le’Veon Bell – Grand Slam
Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated conceded that Le’Veon Bell “Fits this offense but may not have warranted pick 48.” Mel Kiper Jr. wasn’t thrilled with the Le’Veon Bell pick, but leave himself wiggle room by suggesting Bell might benefit from the Steelers line.
- Fast forward 5 years and Le’Veon Bell has set records that franchise Hall of Famers Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson couldn’t.
Le’Veon Bell’s 2nd franchise tag contract squabbles have damped his popularity, but Meril Hoge hit the nail on the head when he declared Le’Veon Bell the best back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft. Grade: Grand Slam.
Steelers 2013 3rd Round – Markus Wheaton – Serviceable Pickup
Nothing against NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks, but Brooks commended the Steelers for making Markus Wheaton the AFC North’s “steal of the draft.” Markus Wheaton wasn’t a steal. “Serviceable” is a better word to describe Markus Wheaton.
- 3rd round picks should become starters, and Markus Wheaton started 22 games his two healthy seasons with the Steelers.
He wasn’t a superstar, but in some ways Markus Wheaton’s ability to come up with clutch third down catches brought to mind Hines Ward’s early years in the trenches. But injuries marred Markus Wheaton’s rookie and 4th seasons, Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown missed Markus Wheaton him down the stretch in 2016.
The injuries weren’t his fault, but they limited Markus Wheaton’s value to the team. Grade: Serviceable Pickup
Steelers 2013 4th Round A – Shamarko Thomas – Bust
The Steelers, like the rest of the league have been more active in trading for players, but trading away future premium picks to move up in the draft goes against the Steelers DNA.
And Shamarko Thomas shows way. The Steelers traded up to get Shamarko Thomas, and Mel Kiper Jr. hailed the move as a great value add. Shamarko Thomas arrived in Pittsburgh as Troy Polamalu’s heir apparent. He departed as an afterthought.
Aside from some immediate work with the secondary during his first few rookie games, Shamarko Thomas’s defensive snap total might be countable on a single hand. Thomas was a good gunner on special teams, but players that cost you a 4th and next year’s third round pick must deliver more. Grade: Bust
Steelers 2013 4th Round B – Landry Jones – Quality Value Pick
The 2013 NFL Draft marked a change in the Steelers backup quarterback philosophy. The Steelers had always staffed a veteran backup quarterback since Bill Cowher’s 1992 arrival.
- But injuries to Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch forced them to reconsider.
Picking Landry Jones in the 4th round of the 2013 NFL draft was the product of Pittsburgh’s pivot. He wasn’t NFL ready in 2013 and or in 2014, but fought off 3 challengers at St. Vincent’s during the summer of 2015 as Landry Jones worked his way past Mike Vick for the number 2 spot and closed key victories against Arizona and Oakland in the process.
A large and vocal contingent of Steelers Nation remain hardened Landry Jones haters, but he’s worked himself into a competent NFL backup. Grade: Quality Value Pick
Steelers 2013 5th Round — Terry Hawthorne – Bust
In 20/20 hindsight, this move seems like another Steelers attempt to reload at cornerback on the cheap. But that’s not a fair assessment. Ike Taylor hadn’t shown signs of slowing in 2012, and Cortez Allen’s play late in 2012 made him appear like a stud poised to blossom.
- And with William Gay’s return, the Steelers cornerback depth chart looked solid in the spring of 2013.
None of this changes the fact that Terry Hawthorne, Illinois the cornerback, both failed to catch on in Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Grade: Bust
Steelers 2013 6th Round A – Justin Brown – Disappointment
Justin Brown made the practice squad in 2013 which isn’t bad for a 6th round pick.
- Word at the end of 2013 was that Justin Brown was looking good in practice.
Justin Brown made the regular season roster in 2014 and saw 21 balls thrown his way and he caught 12 of them. Still, as the Steelers closed in in the playoffs in late 2014, they deemed Brown expendable and he’s been heard from since. Grade: Disappointment
Steelers 2013 6th Round B – Vince Williams – Over Performer
Vince Williams experienced baptism by fire NFL style when an opening day injury to Larry Foote sent him from street clothes to starter in 3 weeks.
- And make no mistake about it, Vince Williams struggled for much of the 2013 campaign.
Yet Vince Williams improved by season’s end, and did well in relief of Ryan Shazier, Sean Spence, and Lawrence Timmons during 2014, 2015 and 2016. The Steelers signed him to a contract extension in 2016 season, and year later he was starting in Timmons place.
Vince Williams isn’t an athlete who’ll compel fans to command he shift to safety. But Vince Williams is a physical player and an asset when surrounded with the right players – you don’t get 8 sacks as an inside linebacker by accident. Grade: Over Performer
Steelers 2013 7th Round – Nicholas Williams – Farm Team
On the day he was drafted, Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell compared Nicholas Williams to Steve McLendon.
The Kansas City Chiefs reduced John Mitchell’s comparison to an academic one by poaching Nicholas Williams from the Steelers practice squad in 2014.
Pro football Reference tells us that Nicholas Williams made 26 appearances for the Chiefs and Dolphins from 2014 to 2016. Grade: Farm Team
Grading the Steelers 2013 Draft – C+
With 9 picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers draft report card spans the spectrum, with 1 Grand Slam, 3 Busts, 1 Serviceable Pickup, 1 Disappointment, 1 Over Performer, 1 Quality Value Pickup and 1 Farm Team pick.
- If you agree that a good draft should yield 3 starters, then the Steelers came up OK in 2013.
The fact that within 2 years, “experts” were labeling the 2013 NFL Draft as one of the worst overall drafts in recent league history only reinforces that assessment.
Yes, its true that only Vince Williams and Le’Veon Belll are starters, but Markus Wheaton was a legitimate starter when healthy, and Landry Jones was drafted to be a backup. And any draft that brings home a talent like Le’Veon Bell is by definition an “Above the Line” draft.
- Yet, the Steelers 2013 NFL draft class was hardly an unqualified success.
The Steelers missed badly on Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas. Both of those misfires carried costly opportunity costs as forced Pittsburgh to redraft for the positions by picking Sean Davis in 2016 and T.J. Watt in 2017.
- You can take the country from the boy, but you can’t take the boy from the country.
The part of me that was raised and reared in the US system of grading is tempted to give the Steelers 2013 Draft class a B-, “Good, but…” rating, but here in Argentina (where I’ve lived most of this century) grading is much more demanding, and so therefore I’ll give the Steelers 2013 Draft a C+.