History Steelers Rookie of the Year aka Joe Greene Great Performance Award Winners

The Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America named Najee Harris winner of the Joe Green Great Performance award or the Steelers rookie of the year for 2021.

Anyone who wins an award named after Joe Greene is automatically in good company, but the subsequent careers of other Steelers rookies of the year are checkered. Most, though not all, turned out to be productive football players.

Some grew into the Super stars they were supposed to be, while others saw their contributions eclipsed by other members of their draft classes. Click below to drive into each group.

Joe Greene, rookie of the year, Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger shakes with Joe Greene

One Year Wonders

1986, LB Anthony Henton – Who? Exactly my response. Played two years, started 4 games but did nothing of note. This ninth round pick was clearly out classed by 1986’s 2nd round pick Gerald Williams.

1987, CB Delton Hall – A second round pick who started gang busters only to fade. Started more fights than games (4) following his rookie year.

1994, RB Bam Morris – The man who made Barry Foster expendable. Did have a decent sophomore season, but got busted for drugs shortly after Super Bowl XXX.

Sean Davis, Chris Conley, Steelers vs Chiefs 2016 AFC Divisional Playoffs

Sean Davis hits Chris Conley in the 2016 AFC Playoffs. Photo Credit: Post-Gazette.com

1999, WR Troy Edwards – Grabbed 61 balls as a rookie, but never developed after that, perhaps in part to his “I can’t race air” attitude to training.

2001, LB Kendrell Bell – Wreaked havoc as a rookie. Injuries marred his second season and after that the word was that he scoffed at learning coverages or schemes

2008, LB Patrick Bailey – Made it in 2008 due to special teams but got cut less than a year later due to the 2009 Steelers atrocious special teams.

2012, OT Mike Adams – After a handful of solid games as the starting right tackle in 2012, the Steelers tried to move him to left tackle in 2013 with disastrous results.

2016, S Sean Davis – Davis had a phenomenal rookie year and strong start to his sophomore campaigns but the rest of his career was marred by position changes and injuries.

Productive, but Still Disappointing

1985, P Harry Newsome – Really, there was nothing wrong with Newsome, but when a punter is the best pick from your draft classs, that’s a disappointment.

1990, TE Eric Green – Green’s numbers were pretty good, by any standard. But my God, this man was supposed to be Gronk before there was Gronk. Instead his final year in Pittsburgh was marked by his tendency for running out of bounds.

1991, TE Adrian Cooper – Injuries in 1991 and a Green drug suspension in 1992 allowed Cooper to flash promise. But excusing a subpar 1993 campaign because of his contract situation earned him a ticket on the first bus to Minnesota.

1995, QB Kordell Stewart – A tremendous athlete, but as a quarterback he simply could not cope with the pressures of being a starter

1997, CB Chad Scott – Started as a rookie, then missed his entire second year due to injury. Many felt he should have played safety. He earned (and deserved) a 2nd contract but was never popular with fans.

Kordell Stewart, Steelers vs Raiders

Kordell shrugs off injury to lead 2nd half rally. Photo Credit: Getty Images via Twitter

2009, WR Mike Wallace –Roethlisberger and Wallace essentially rewrote the Steelers long passing play records in 2010, but that’s the problem. Wallace never grew beyond being a “One Trick Pony” and could never repeat his production in the playoffs.

2014, WR Martavis Bryant – He followed his stunning rookie year with a series of suspensions and “I want mines” Twitter tantrums. In between, he authored several excellent games that reminded everyone just how good he could have been.

2018, S Terrell Edmunds – It isn’t Edmunds fault that he was over drafted. And if it is true that he’s been a consistent player that has improved steadily, he still hasn’t been the play maker the Steelers needed.

Solid But Over Taken by Other Rookies

1988, RB Warren Williams – A dependable number two back, who belonged in the rotation back in the days when both the halfback and the fullback got carries. Still, he was eclipsed by both Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson and John Jackson

1992, FS Darren Perry – His development in training camp led the Steelers to cut Thomas Everett. Had a good career, but Leon Searcy, Joel Steed, and Levon Kirkland all grew into more prominent roles with the team

1996, FB Jon Witman – A solid full back whose running capabilities never were truly explored. Linebackers Earl Holmes and Carlos Emmons ended up being the most prominent members of the Steelers 1996 draft class

2002, OG Kendall Simmons – Stepped right up and started as a rookie, but multiple injuries and diabetes really limited his career. Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote, and Brett Keisel surpassed his contribution as a member of the Steelers 2002 draft class.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, A.J. Bouye, Steelers vs Jaguars

JuJu Smith-Schuster. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

2007, P Daniel Sepulveda – After a strong rookie year injuries hit Sepulveda hard and fellow 2007 draftees Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley and William Gay outshone him.

2011, OT Marcus Gilbert – Marcus Gilbert had a solid career until injuries set in, but Cam Heyward is clearly the cream of the Steelers 2011 Draft Class.

2017, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster – Smith-Schuster followed up his rookie campaign with a team MVP performance in 2018 but the real star of the Steelers 2017 Draft Class is T.J. Watt.

They Budded into Super Stars

1984, WR Louis Lipps — He gave John Stallworth a second wind. Perhaps he wasn’t a “Great” receiver, coming of age during the days of Jerry Rice, but still a very, very good player.

weegie thompson, louis lipps, steelers wide receivers 1980's, 1988 Steelers

Steelers 1980’s wide receivers Louis Lipps and Weegie Thompson. Photo Credit: Getty Images, Pittsburgh Post Gazette

1989, SS Carnell Lake — One of the true gems from the Steelers 1989 draft class. Saved not one but two seasons by moving from safety to corner. An all-around great player and class-act

1993, LB Chad Brown — Brown set the mold for the super athletic inside linebacker in the Steelers 3-4 scheme, and then excelled during 1996 when injuries to Greg Lloyd forced him to move outside.

1998, OG Alan Faneca – A true Hall of Famer who anchored the Steelers offensive line for a decade and threw the key block on Willie Parker’s 75 yard run in Super Bowl XL.

2000, FB Dan Kreider – Never a Pro Bowler or All-Pro, but he was the best blocking fullback of his day, giving Pittsburgh the equivalent of a 6th offensive lineman on the field.

2003, S Troy Polamalu – A Hall of Famer, a true generational talent and a rare defensive player who could and did transform the course of a game with one play.

2004, QB Ben Roethlisberger – The definition of a Hall of Famer and the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, Ben did it his way from start to finish and was downright deadly in the 4th quarter.

2005, TE Heath Miller – The best tight end in Steelers history, who quietly excelled in blocking while being almost automatic as a receiver.

2006, WR Santonio Holmes – Never quite a game-changing talent, he made the catch of his life in Super Bowl XLIII, earning him MVP honors.

B.J. Finney, Le'Veon Bell, Alejandro Villanueva, steelers vs bills

B.J. Finney blocks for Le’Veon Bell against the Bills in 2016. Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman, USA Today Sports, via K-State Slate

2010, C Maurkice Pouncey – 9 Pro Bowls, 2 All Pro Awards 134 games and 134 starts – all after losing nearly two complete seasons to injuries.

2013, RB Le’Veon Bell – Yes, he authored an unceremonious departure from Pittsburgh, but broke rushing records that neither Franco Harris nor Jerome Bettis nor John Henry Johnson ever touched.

2015, LB Bud Dupree – Dupree was a late bloomer, but his play opposite of T.J. Watt in 2019 and 2020 made those Steelers defenses outright lethal.

Jury Still Out

2019, LB Devin Bush – Bush had a strong rookie year and was off to a good start in 2020 before tearing his ACL. Whether it was because of his ACL or something else, he did not play well in 2021.

2020, WR Chase Claypool – Chase Claypool dazzled as a rookie, but was consistent in his second season. He has the raw talent, but his attitude and commitment are open to question.

2021, RB Najee Harris – Running behind a horrendous offensive line, Harris always gave it his all and always found ways to shine.

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Remembering Steelers Punter Harry Newsome, Punter Extraordinaire and Former Rookie of the Year

It’s safe to say you probably don’t remember Harry Newsome, who punted for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1985-1989. I don’t blame you. After all, who remembers punters? Other than Josh Miller and Daniel Sepulveda, can you name another guy who has punted for the team over the last 15 years or so?

Heck, at least when it comes to Pittsburgh, there’s no correlation between the Steelers enjoying quality punting and successful seasons (yes, remember Steelers Nation, Mitch Berger owns a Super Bowl ring for Super Bowl XLIII.)

If placekickers are the redheaded stepchildren of professional football, punters are the dishwashers. Oh, it’s not that washing dishes is a horrible job or anything, but nobody goes to a restaurant to see a dishwasher; they go to eat food off of the dishes.

  • Chances are, if a person sees the dishwasher, it’s because they are helping him or her wash dishes as punishment for failure to pay a tab.

Which bring us back to Harry Newsome. If you’re looking for information on him, that might he difficult to find. Even his Wikipedia page is short and includes a disclaimer about lack of references and sources. 

But I can assure you, Newsome was a really good punter during his time in Pittsburgh.

steelers, steelers punters, harry newsome

The t-shirt says it all….

In-fact, in 1985, the year the Steelers drafted him in the eighth round out of Wake Forest, Newsome won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award, an annual honor handed out to the team’s rookie of the year. Yes, along side the names of Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Louis Lipps and Carnell Lake as Steelers rookie of the year award winners, you’ll also see Harry Newsome’s.

Of course, given that ’85 would also mark the Steelers first losing season in 14 years and usher in a period of turmoil for the franchise, perhaps it was an indictment of head coach Chuck Noll’s post-Super Bowl struggles with regards to the draft that a punter was his top rookie.

Newsome was around to be named the rookie of the year after beating out Craig Colquitt, who was the team’s punter for seven seasons and played in Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV.

Newsome averaged 39.6 yards per punt in ’85 and got better from there.

The only true “where are they now” kind of story I could find on Newsome is courtesy of a Bleacher Report article written in 2009. 

Sadly, the name of the article is Year of Hell, and it focuses on the record-setting six blocked punts Newsome endured in 1988, the year the Steelers finished 5-11 (after which Chuck Noll FINALLY relented and hired a full time special teams coach.)

As the author pointed out in the story, Noll had little time for special teams during his career (all one has to do is watch highlights of those famous ’70s Super Bowls to see one special teams mistake after another–especially by kicker Roy Gerela and punter Bobby Walden–to know that was true), and in ’88, Newsome had to deal with four, count’em, four long-snappers.

“A good time of snapping the ball, handling the punt, then getting it away was 6.7 to 6.8 seconds,” related Newsome in ’09:

The handle  time of the punter himself should be somewhere between 1.2 to 1.3 seconds. I spent my time in Pittsburgh always trying to hurry my punts because the ball took so long to get to me. I even went from a three step punter to two steps. It didn’t help because the extra tenths of seconds on the snap, along with protection problems, left us often exposed. It would amp up the opponents even more knowing this.

As a bit of a cruel paradox, while Newsome was setting the Steelers record for punts blocked in ’88, he was also one of the few bright spots on the team, as he led the league with an average of 45.4 yards per punt.

In-fact, in Week 15, when the 4-10 Steelers traveled to face the 4-10 Chargers, the NBC announcer opened up the broadcast by saying (and I’m paraphrasing here), “The two best punters in the league are set to square-off this afternoon…..” You see, San Diego’s punter, Ralf Mojsiejenko, was hot on Newsome’s tail but ultimately finished with an average of 44.1 for the season.

Newsome would go on to play one more season in Pittsburgh, before leaving as a Plan B Free Agent after the 1989 Steelers storybook season. During his five years with the Steelers, Newsome averaged a respectable 41.4 yards per punt.

But he also had an incredible 12 punts blocked, and when he suffered two more during his four seasons with the Vikings, the sum-total of 14 tied him with Herman Weaver for an NFL record that still stands to this day.

In researching that aforementioned Bleacher Report article, I was mildly surprised to find out Newsome, who was a great athlete in his youth, was Pittsburgh’s emergency quarterback in-addition to the holder on field goals. This came in handy in 1986, when, following a botched field goal snap, Newsome threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Preston Gothard in a game against the Bears.

There’s another surprising Harry Newsome factoid:  Newsome had the longest punt in the history of Three Rivers Stadium when he booted one 84 yards in December of 1992 as a member of the Vikings.

In a lot of ways, a punter’s legacy is defined by the team he plays for. Harry Newsome’s career in Pittsburgh is a forgotten one, largely because of the struggles of the Steelers in the mid-to-late ’80s.

But not everything is blocked from memory (pardon the pun).

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The Colbert Record: Steelers 4th Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

In its current incarnation, the 4th round represents balance point of the NFL Draft. Rounds 1-3 represent the cream of the crop. Rounds 5-7 represent the bottom feeders.

  • Round four falls squarely in between.

A fourth rounder maturing into a starter should surprise no one; yet a fourth rounder who only develops into a part-time role player cannot be written off as a bust. This year’s edition of The Colbert Record looks at Kevin Colbert’s history with 4th round picks.

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2000 Fourth Round Pick – Danny Farmer

Wide receiver had been a weakness of the Steelers in 1998 and 1999. Based on the early returns, Troy Edwards had given the Steelers a foot hold on rectifying the problem, and the earlier pick of Plaxio Burress looked to improve the Steelers further. No one paid much attention to Hines Ward, so the pick of Danny Farmer seemed enticing.

  • At least until the Steelers opened camp at St. Vincent’s in Labrobe

Danny Famer couldn’t cut it, so Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert cut him. Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decried the move, pointing the Farmer’s absence after the Steelers 16-0, 2000 opening day loss to the Ravens. Smizik doubled down in December (when the 2000 Steelers had turned around their season), extolling Farmer, by then a Cincinnati Bengal for a great game against Jacksonville.

Farmer, however was out of football by 2003, and never had more than 19 catches in a season. He didn’t do much for the Bengals, which is better than what the Steelers got from him. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2001 Fourth Round Pick – Mathias Nkwenti

Unlike wide recievers, there are few stats measure offensive lineman. But one stat that does stand out is this: Mathias Nkwenti appeared in two games for the Steelers one in 2001 and another in 2003. Then he was out of football. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2002 Fourth Round Pick – Larry Foote

If you were looking to define a prototype for a “quality 4th round pick” you’d need to look to Kevin Colbert’s 2002 4th round pick of Larry Foote.

When news broke that 2001’s rookie stand out Kendrell Bell was injured and wouldn’t be able to suit up for the opener, most Steelers fans figured that John Fiala would be the “Next man up.” Fiala wasn’t a superstar, but he’d paid his dues on special teams and as a backup since 1998, and sort of fit the Jerry Olsavsky mold.

  • Bill Cowher instead looked to the rookie Larry Foote to start.

Foote got the first three starts of the season, and while Bell kept him on the bench in 2003, Foote assumed the starting role in 2004 and started from that moment until the Steelers hoisted Lombardi Number Six over their heads after Super Bowl XLIII.

Foote of course departed in 2009, but was back in 2009 as a backup, only to reassume the starting role after James Farrior’s retirement. 105 regular season starts and 11 playoff starts including two Super Bowls is pretty impressive for a fourth round pick. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2003 Fourth Round Pick – Ike Taylor

If Larry Foote fulfilled all that can be expected of a 4th round pick, then 2003’s fourth round pick is an example of a 4th rounder who completely exceeds expectations. And to think, Mark Madden declared the pick of Ike Taylor as the worst pick in franchise history.

  • Something tells me that Mike Holmgrem and Matt Hasslebeck would beg to differ.

Ike Taylor won’t get recognition alongside the Jack Butler, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson as one of the franchise’s true great cornerbacks because he couldn’t hold on to interceptions. But from 2005 until 2012ish, Ike Taylor was able to shadow the opponents best receiver and often times take him out of the game. Grade: Grand Slam

Steelers 2004 Fourth Round Pick – Nathaniel Adibi

If Steelers lore is correct, a faction of the Steelers draft room wanted to use this pick on Michael Turner. Bill Cowher wanted Nathaniel Adibi. Unfortunately Cowher got his way. Nathaniel Adibi never played a down in a regular season NFL game, Michael Turner rushed for 7,338 yards in a 9 yard career. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2005 Fourth Round Pick – Fred Gibson

Just as he did in 2000, Kevin Colbert drafted wide receiver in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Like Danny Farmer, Fred Gibson never played a down for the Steelers. Unlike Danny Farmer, Gibson never played anywhere in the NFL. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2006 Fourth Round Picks – Willie Colon and Orien Harris

Many times during Mike Tomlin’s early tenure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette refered to a lack of alignment between the front office and the coaches on the offensive line, and looked to the Steelers seemingly bipolar treatment of Max Starks.

Bouchette might have had a point, but Steelers coaches were already angling to replace Max Starks with Willie Colon by the end of his rookie year. Colon did beat out Starks on the right side, and held down the fort there from 2007 to 2009. Injuries of course ruined his 2010 and 2011 season and derailed it in 2012 when he’d settled in at offensive guard. Grade: Quality Value Pick

Orien Harris, defensive tackle out of Miami was the Steelers second fourth round pick in 2004. He never played a down for the Steelers, but did appear in 18 games for the Bengals and Browns in the next three season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2007 Fourth Round Picks — Daniel Sepulveda and Ryan McBean

The Mike Tomlin era began with two fourth round picks and it started with a bang, of sorts.
Mike Tomlin looked to make a statement with his first draft by trading up to get a punter to emphasize the importance of special teams. Daniel Sepulveda was the pick.

Sepulveda had two decent seasons punting, until injuries cost him the 2008 season. He injured himself again in 2010. To the surprise of many, the Steelers brought him back in 2011, but his last game was the Steelers All Saints day upset of the Patriots. It is not Sepulveda the Steelers picked him first, but if you pick a punter in the fourth round, he’d better be All World. Sepulveda wasn’t that even when healthy: Grade: Disappointment

The Steelers second 4th round pick was of Ryan McBean, a defensive tackle out of Oklahoma State. McBean played one game as a rookie in Pittsburgh during 2007 for the Steelers, and then 46 the three years afterwards including 21 starts. Unfortunately, McBean played his last four seasons for Denver and Baltimore. His stats indicate OK value for a 4th round pick, unfortunately, the Steelers didn’t benefit from any of that value. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2008 Fourth Round Pick – Tony Hills

As mentioned when profiling 2008’s 3rd round pick Bruce Davis, Jim Wexell wrote that Mike Tomlin would match Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together during training camp and extol both men on, saying, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you.”

  • Unfortunately, Tomlin was wrong about both men.

Davis was gone in a year. Tony Hills however, stuck around. However, he did not dress in 2008 nor did he suit up in 2009. Hills got a little bit of a reprise under 2010’s special teams coach Sean Kugler, and he actually saw action in four games. The Steelers experimented with him at guard during the 2011 preseason, but cut him.

Since then Tony Hills has stuck on with Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas, Miami and most recently in 2015 New Orleans, seeing spot duty (and one start) in 18 games. But when you draft a tackle in the 4th round, you really need more than four games in 3 seasons. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2009 Fourth Round Pick – Traded

The Steelers traded their 4th round pick along with their second to get Denver’s two 3rd round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Steelers 2010 Fourth Round Pick – Thaddeus Gibson

The Steelers used their 2010 4th round pick on linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. The early reports on Gibson out of Latrobe were positive. However, when the Steelers needed to make a roster move in October, Gibson’s spot was sacrificed. San Francasico snapped him up, where he saw spot duty in two teams. He’d get spot duty in two more games the next season with the Bears, and then a roster spot sans the spot duty with the Titans. Gibson was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 Fourth Round Pick — Cortez Allen

Kevin Colbert certainly has had bigger 4th round disappointments than Cortez Allen (see 2012’s) and the same can be said for Art Rooney, Dick Haley and Tom Donahoe before him. But none have had a stranger trip than Cortez Allen.

The Steelers took Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft and as a rookie, Allen played a role in shutting down (or at least containing) the Patriots Rob Gronkowski in the 2011 Steelers upset of the Patriots. Word was that in 2012, Allen pushed Keenan Lewis hard for the starting slot. Lewis won, but when injures opened the door for Allen to start late in 2012, Allen responded with two interceptions and one forced fumble vs. the Bengals and then two forced fumbles in the season finale vs. the Browns.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, it appeared, had found their cornerback.

Allen got injured in the Steelers season 2013 opener vs. the Titans (who didn’t get injured that day), and struggled when he returned to health. However, his pick six in the snow at Lambeau sealed the Steelers win over Green Bay.

  • That was the Cortez Allen the Steelers had been waiting for.

The Steelers went out on a limb, and resigned Cortez Allen to a 25 million dollar contract before the 2014 season. IT was a good deal for Allen. He pocketed just under 6.3 million for just 12 games. The Steelers of course have cut Allen and moved on. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 4th round pick – Alameda Ta’amu

By 2012 Casey Hampton was on his last legs and, while Steve McLendon was looking good, the Steelers still were not ready to anoit him as Hampton’s successor. So Kevin Colbert traded up to get the last pure nose tackle in the draft Alameda Ta’amu.

  • One of the ironies about the pick, was that David DeCastro’s highlight reel showed him manhandling Ta’amu earlier in the year.

That was worrisome, but not nearly as worrisome as Ta’Amu’s drunken rampage through the South Side that could have easily killed someone. To the chagrin of many, the Steelers kept him around, but eventually let him go. Ta’Amu landed in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, where he played in 21 games. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2013 4th round picks – Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t trade future draft picks. It simply runs against the franchise’s philosophy. In 2013 the made an exception, however, and traded up to grab Shamarko Thomas, a safety out of Syracuse.

  • The word was that Shamarko would have gone 1st had he been 2 inches taller.

The Steelers put their money where their mouth was by working Shamarko into the slot early in the season. Shamarko got hurt, Will Allen returned, and after the Steelers 2013 debacle vs. New England, Shamarko’s snaps with the secondary can be counted in single digits (or almost.)

The Steelers haven’t give up on Shamarko yet, but at this point he’s doesn’t look to get off of special teams outside of an emergency. Grade: Bust

The Steelers surprised many when they drafted Landry Jones in the 4th round of 2014. Many speculated he was arriving as Ben Rothlisberger’s replacement. Instead, he replaced Charlie Batch. Landry Jones struggled in both the 2013 and 2014 preseasons, making fans long for the days when Brian St. Pierre held the clipboard.

  • The Steelers challenged Jones in 2015 at St. Vincent’s and Jones responded.

Landry Jones quite frankly still must prove he’s a competent number 2 NFL quarterback, but his off the bench performances vs. the Cardinals and the Raiders prove he’s a competent number 3 NFL quarterback. Grade: Serviceable Pick Up

Steelers 2014 4th Round Draft Pick – Martavis Bryant

When the Steelers turn comes to pick in the fourth round, it would be wise for Dan Rooney to veto any decision to pick a wide receiver…. As he did in 2000 and 2005, Kevin Colbert looked to build wide receiver depth in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unlike Danny Farmer and Fred Gibson, his pick, Martavis Bryant, has played in the NFL.

  • And unlike Farmer and Gibson, Bryant has shown he has transformational talent.

But Bryant is of course dogged by off the field substance abuse issues, and will miss his third season due to a suspension.

Please Mr. Colbert, do not draft any more wide receivers in the 4th round. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2015 4th Round Draft Pick – Doran Grant

When the Steelers cut Doran Grant to make room for some waiver wire pickups, Steelers Nation reacted as if Mel Taylor Woodson had been sent packing. The reaction was exaggerated as the Steelers resigned Grant to the practice squad, and then the active roster.

  • But Grant only had one snap in 3 games.

Normally one would caution that it is far, far too early to come to any conclusion on a 4th round pick after a rookie year, and it IS too early to give up on Doran Grant. But given Kevin Colbert’s track record here, one would like to see more encouraging results. Grade:  Farm Team

Kevin Colbert’s Record in the 4th Round

In his seven drafts with Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert had some bad misses with his fourth round picks, but he also found Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, and Willie Colon in the fourth round, and those men have 5 Super Bowl rings between them for games in which they started.

  • Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been a disaster in the 4th round.

They’ve traded up three times and only have an oft-injured average punter, a nose tackle most famous for an off the field incident, and safety who was supposed to replace Troy Polamalu but can only seem to play on special teams. Cotez Allen flashed ability, but faded even more quickly. Martavis Bryant tantalizes, but his toking might cost him an NFL career.

Landry Jones has grown into a respectable player, but his late development in 2015 isn’t enough to compensate for all the other outright busts. Grade: D

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The Colbert Record: Revisiting the 2007 Draft

Steel Curtain Rising was launched in January 2008 and as such its inaugural edition of The Colbert Record didn’t have a very useful perspective for breaking down the 2007 draft, which was the first time Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin drafted together.

Time has given ample perspective both for analyzing the Steelers 2007 Draft and reviewing what little was said here about it.

What Was Said in 2008 about 2007…

The first thing that jumps out (aside from the typos) from my initial analysis of the 2007 draft was that only four players merited mention in April of 2008, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth, and Daniel Sepulveda.

Here’s a sampling:

Sepulveda has shown he has to (sic) tools, now he needs to be consistent

Third round pick Matt Speath hasn’t done much more than catch touch downs (sic).

LaMarr Woodley recorded four sacks in limited playing time and added two more during the payoffs – so we know why the Steelers let Clark Haggans go.

No mention of William Gay at this point, nor the other members Steelers 2007 Draft who were still on the roster at that point.

2007, Then and Now

Those other members on the roster never got much mention for a reason. Later that spring, Mike Tomlin reported that wide out Dallas Baker had looked good in OTA’s but cautioned against reaching conclusions on “Football in shorts.”

Defensive lineman Ryan McBean also held a roster spot at that point, but he, like Baker, was cut in training camp. McBean sat out training camp, but latched on with and started in Denver in 2009, played in 2010-2011 as a backup there, and finished with Baltimore in 2012.

  • The Steelers may have been starved for defensive lineman, but McBean clearly wasn’t the answer.

Of greater interest of course are the ones who stayed. Mark Kabloy of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review spoke with former Eagles, Browns, and Ravens scout and current NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah who fixed the goal of finding three starters in every draft. That’s an imperfect and imprecise metric, but one that is serviceable.

  • Judging purely by that quantitative measure, 2007 was a success for the Steelers.

LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons emerged as a full time starter and William Gay has developed into a starter if not quite a full time one, having started 48 of the 96 games he’s played in Pittsburgh. Strictly speaking, Spaeth too counts as a “starter” as he is listed as having started 41 of 64 games in Pittsburgh.

  • So using Daniel Jeremiah’s formula (which was also Art Rooney Jr.’s) the numbers say the Steelers 2007 draft was a success.

But if numbers don’t lie, they also sometimes fail to tell the full story.

Steelers 2007 Draft, Beyond the Numbers

Lawrence Timmons – Did not end up unseating either Larry Foote or James Farrior in 2008, although he did get a lot of playing time and looked to be a star in the making.

He started in 2009 and was shaky, but followed with a very underrated role on a strong 2010 Steelers defense. Yet, in 2011 Timmons played poorly only to bounce back in 2012 where he was the defenses best and most consistent player. Timmons wasn’t as strong in 2013, but he also had to compensate for the huge drop off in Vince Williams.

  • Overall, Timmons has lived up to his first round status, if unevenly at times.

LaMarr Woodley – Woodley stromed into the starting spot in 2008 and didn’t look back until his hamstrings gave out vs. New England in 2011. As Tony Defeo of Behind the Steel Curtain observed, Woodley amassed sacks during that period faster than any other defender in Steelers history. Yes, Woodley’s tenure ended in disappointment, but those disappointments came with his second contract.

  • From a pure draft evaluation stand point, Woodley was an excellent pick.

Mike Tomlin quipped in early 2007 that Matt Spaeth was a fantasy league superstar, netting 3 touchdowns in 5 catches. Spaeth picked up the slack nicely during Heath Miller’s absence in 2008, but since then his role has evolved to primarily that of a blocker. Spaeth has developed into a solid number 2 tight end in the NFL which is more than respectable.

  • Still, Spaeth hasn’t delivered the type of value you’d like to see from a third round pick.

Daniel Sepulveda finished 2008 on IR and again found himself on the list in 2010 and then again in 2011. In between those stints he showed himself to be a serviceable punter, but Sepulveda was never anything special.

  • Clearly the Steelers both missed on Sepulveda and never should have drafted him (or any punter) this high.

William Gay saw next to no time as a rookie. In 2008 he split starting chores with Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend. In 2009 he inherited the starting slot and struggled, but did fine covering the slot in 2010. By 2011 he was a “semi-starter” on first and second downs, moving to the slot on thirds.

Like McFadden he went out to Pittsburgh West and like McFadden Gay was back in a year. Unlike McFadden, and he improved upon returning, earning him the moniker Big Play Willie Gay.

  • Gay’s taken a lot of flak from the fans in his time, but he’s delivered phenomenal value for a fifth round pick.

Final World on the Steelers 2007 Draft

When the complete body of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s collective draft work is finally know, the Steelers 2007 draft isn’t likely to be remembered as a great draft, but it certainly has earned the distinction as a good one.

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Justin Kapinos

Justin Kapinos lost his roster spot to rookie Drew Butler at the end of the Steelers 2012 preseason. The Steelers waived the injured Kapinos, and when no one claimed him his rights reverted back to the Steelers making him a restricted free agent.

What does all that mean?

  • Absolutely nothing.

The Steelers should not and most assuredly will not offer Kapinos a restricted free agent tender.

Make no mistake. Kapinos did a stint with the Steelers in 2010 and punted well enough then that it was surprising that he was available when Daniel Sepulveda got injured again in 2011. Which is not to say he was the second coming of Josh Miller.

Taking Kapinos to training camp would be a wise move. Tying up salary cap space, even temporarily, in order to do that would not.

  • Expect the Steelers to do the wise thing with Kapinos.

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Steelers Cut Tony Hills, Crezdon Butler, Jeremy Kapinos, John Gilmore, and Jarrett Crittenton

The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers final roster cuts are in. To get to 53 men, the Steelers cut punter Jeremy Kapinos, veteran tight end John Gilmore, undrafted rooke free agent Jarrett Crittenton and in two surprise moves, veteran guard/tackle Tony Hills and sophmore cornerback Crezdon Butler.

The departure of Butler is surprising because he recently had a strong preseason outing against Atlanta, although he had a difficult night against Carolina.

Daniel Sepulveda will again start the season as the Steelers punter. The Steelers have flirtered with letting him go for some time, but just can’t seem to pull the trigger — even a moster performance in preseason by Kapinos couldn’t pus them to do it.

The move to cut Tony Hills draws even more surprises, given that Hills was in contention for the starting right guard spot just a week ago.

John Gilmore’s departure is less of a surprise and amounts to a huge vote of confidence for Weslye Saunders.

Practice Squad Candidates?

The Steelers will most certainly attempt to bring Crezdon Butler back via the practices squad.

It will be interesting to see if Tony Hills makes the practice squad. Although drafted in the 4th round of the 2008 NFL draft, Tony Hills has only played in 3 NFL games, which may leave him eligible for the practice squad.

The Steelers can sign 8 players to the practice squad and may begin doing so tomorrow.

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Steelers Cut Ivy, Warren, Bryant, Williams and Grisham – 5 More Face Ax

The Steelers cut 21 players today, paring their roster down to 58. 5 more cuts must be made by tomorrow night. Topping the cuts were:

  • Linebacker Mortty Ivy
  • Defensive lineman Crobin Bryant
  • Cornerbacks Donavan Warren and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith
  • Offesinve tackle Kyle Jolly and Keith Williams
  • Wide Reciever Tyler Grisham

Also cute were: Baraka Atkins, Mario Harvey, Chris McCoy, Brett Greenwood, Macho Harris, Colin Miller, Armand Robinson, Wes Lyons, Jamie McCoy and Swayze Waters.

Candidates for the Steelers Practice Squad?

Mortty Ivy, Crobin Bryant, Dovanan Warren and this year’s 6th round pick Keith Williams are all likely practice squad candidates.

Tyler Grisham and Kyle Jolly spent time on the Steelers practice squad in previous seasons and could conceivably be back.

Who Do the Steelers Cut Next?

The Steelers still need to make five more moves. Word is that Steve McClendon is pushing Chris Hoke for a roster spot, and Justin Kaprios could very well likely spell the end of Daniel Sepulveda.

Likewise, Keenan Lewis might find himself being asked to return his playbook. Either way, the Steelers coaches will make some tough choices in the next 24 hours which, while unplesant, is a good problem to have.

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Mewelde, Hoke, & Dixon Sign with Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers came to a string of agreements with free agents today, resigning Mewelde Moore, Chris Hoke and Dennis Dixon. All three were reported to be one year deals.

Punter Dan Sepulveda who was cut just a few days ago, was also resigned, presumptively at a lower salary.

What These Moves Mean

In Mewelde Moore the team gains an experienced back-up running back whose good hands the team can depend on when a 3 shows on the down marker. Steel Curtain Rising has been big on Moore since he joined the team in 2008, which Mewelde Moore’s best year.

Moore saw his action reduced last year, as both his number of carries and his average dropped. However, he continued to produce in the passing game and his presence in camp will ensure that players on the bubble such as Jonathan Dwyer and the 2011 7th round pick Barron Batch take their fight for roster spots seriously.

Gerry Dulac was reporting last night that the Steelers were not considering resigning Chris Hoke. Dulac explained today on PG Plus that the two sides had not been able to agree on a contract, which put his signing in doubt. Fortunately for Steelers Nation the two sides came to an agreement.

The nose tackle is the fulcrum on which the success of the 3-4 defense swings, and Chris Hoke has been more than up to the task when Casey Hampton has to come out.

The Steelers clearly wanted Dixon back, but Dixon will have to fight for a roster spot, as the Steelers are unlikely to bring four quarterbacks into the regular season. Charlie Batch may be fragile, but he proved his worth to the team last year.

Sepulveda Gets a Bounce

Just a few days ago it seemed like Daniel Sepulveda’s days as a Steeler were over. Perhaps the Steelers had already seen enough of the punters they have in camp to bring him back, perhaps this move has been in the works all along.

One way or another Sepulveda knows it is now or never.

Unsigned and Unwanted?

Trai Essex, Keyron Fox, and Anthony Madison are all unrestricted free agents from the Steelers 2010 roster and all remain unsigned.

Gerry Dulac has already reported that Essex will not be back. Trai Essex falls into the category of being a jack of all trades and master of none. Although he can and has played each of the guard and tackle positions, he has played none of them with distinction.

  • Essex may not join Steelers at St. Vincents, but he’d likely be the first person they’d call in the event of injury.

Keyron Fox flashed a lot of promise in 2009, only to make a name for himself with idiotic penalties in 2010, not the least of which came as the Steelers were attempting to mount a come back in the final moments of Super Bowl XLV. It appears that Fox has worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Madison’s absence proves to be the most interesting, as the Steelers special teams have suffered dearly without him in the past. Madison also showed his versatility in 2010 by playing some cornerback.

If the Steelers can find cap space, they would be wise to welcome Madison back.

Roethlisberger, Harrison Renegotiating

The Steelers remain over the cap, but Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison are renegotiating their contracts to provide the team with relief.

Even still, the Steelers may need to release more veterans to get under the cap by Thursday.

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Steelers Sign Bates, Boot Sepulveda

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed rookie free agent punter and Michigan State alum Aaron Bates today and in effect, gave the boot to 2007 fourth round draft pick Daniel Sepulveda.

Jeremy Kapinos, who was signed after Sepulveda injured his ACL yet again last year , remains on the roster and the roster spot is likely his to lose.

Mike Tomlin turned heads in his inaugural draft when he traded up in the fourth round to select a punter. Tomlin said he liked Sepulveda not only for his kicking, but because he was a good open field tackler, and he wanted to emphasize that special teams is part of the game.

Chalk that up to a nice idea on paper that never worked out in practice. Sepulveda was never a dominant punter, and spent two of his four years on IR.

In fact, the Steelers made their appearances in Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV with Mitch Berger and Kapinos handling the punting chores.

Bouchette’s Bragging Rights

Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette can justifiably claim bragging rights. He spoke out against using such a high draft pick on a punter the day the pick was made — and on every occasion he could since then.

This Bud’s for you Mr. Bouchette. (Now, can we please stop bemoaning the pick?)

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Unrestricted Free Agents, Part I

The NFL Lockou…. er, um, free agent signing period is about to start.

Seriously, the NFL Players and Owners are headed to a work stoppage. But at some point there will be some kind of free agency, and here is a look at some of the decisions the Steelers face:

Ike Taylor – Drafted in 2003, Ike Taylor has been a fixture at corner for the Steelers, save his mid-season benching at during Bill Cowher’s final year. Taylor is the team’s top corner. He does not have the interceptions to be considered an elite corner in the league. At age 31, this figures to be Taylor’s last big money contract.

Cutting to the Chase on Ike Taylor: The Steelers need Ike Taylor, and after having franchised him he appears to be their top priority. Taylor is never going to evolve into a shut down corner at this stage of his career, but if he will never be a “great” corner in this league is already a very good one.

  • Expect Taylor to stay.

Nick Eason – Joined the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2007 and has served as a reliable back up, rotating into the starting role in the face of injuries to Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith. In five starts in 2010, Eason recorded 1.5 sacks.

Cutting to the Chase on Nick Eason: Eason gives you everything you want in a back up, versatility, knowledge of the system, enough ability to so that opposing offenses know he is no push over, and an ability to make a play.

  • The Steelers should and most likely will bring Eason back.

Jonathan Scott – Joined the team as an unrestricted free agent in 2010, largely on the strength of his relationship with offensive line coach Sean Klugler and his ability to play in a “musical chairs” type environment. My God, did that ability come in handy in 2010. Only projected to be a back up, Scott played in all sixteen game and started nine.

Cutting to the Chase on Jonathan Scott: Yes Scott did appear to be the weak link on the Steelers line in any number of games, but Max Stark’s injury forced him into the starting line up at left tackle, the most difficult position. Scott may not have always excelled, but no one will question his tenacity.

  • The Steelers made it to Super Bowl XLV because guys like Jonathan Scott stepped up and refused to pay the naysayers any mind. The Steelers should bring him back.

Matt Spaeth – Joined the Steelers as a 3rd round draft pick in 2007. Spaeth has started a fair number of games in the two TE set, and early in his career the Steelers threw to him infrequently, but Speath did catch it fairly well. Speath got more action in 2010 due to Heath Millers injury and his performance was so-so.

Cutting to the Chase on Matt Spaeth: Spaeth has not lived up to his potential as a 3rd round draft pick, and David Johnson made some strides this year.

  • Matt Spaeth will likely test the market but almost as likely return to the Steelers.

Daniel Sepulevda – Joined the Steelers as a fourth round draft pick in 2007, but has only completed two full seasons as the team’s punter.

Cutting to the Chase on Daniel Sepulevda – Like his counter part Matt Speath, Sepulevda has failed to live up to his potential, and now has 3 ligament tears in two knees.

  • The Steelers could do worse than Dan Sepulevda but they can and have made two Super Bowls without him. And Justin Kapios looked pretty good….

Chris Hoke – Joined the team as an undrafted free agent in 2001, and has played in 108 games and started 16, including 10 in 2004 the year the Steelers went 15-1.

Cutting to the Chase on Chris Hoke: Is there a more under recognized player on the Steelers defense? Chris Hoke’s value to the team defies statistics. When Casey Hampton must come out, the Steelers do not miss a beat with Chris Hoke.

  • The Steelers must do what they have to in order to keep Chris Hoke. Given his lack of notoriety, Hoke may draw little interest, but the Steelers must not be complacent.

So concludes part I of Steel Curtain Rising’s annual Steelers Free Agent Focus. Stay tuned for part II, coming soon to a lock out near you.

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