James Washington drops a pass. Photo Credit: AP, via ProFootballTalk.com
But if it is true that James Washington’s rookie campaign pales in contrast to JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s efforts just one year ago, then it’s even more true that JuJu’s rookie performance was an exception.
Even a cursory look at history reveals Steelers wide receivers tend to struggle as rookies.
Pittsburgh 247’s Jim Wexell took aim at the Limas Sweed comparison, and after conceding that both were from Texas, both 2nd round picks, and both having grown up on farms, he offered this insight:
Through the same points in their 2010 rookie seasons, Antonio Brown had two catches in 21 targets; Emmanuel Sanders had 13 catches in 23 targets.
Compared to Antonio Brown, James Washington is killing it with his 8 catches on 25 targets! But in that light he’s no different than other rookie Steelers wide receivers who started slowly.
Steelers Rookie Wide Receivers Tend to Start Slowly
As a rookie, Hines Ward had 15 catches on 33 targets. While targeting numbers aren’t available, Lynn Swann had 11 catches and John Stallworth had 16. Combine those numbers and they hardly project to one Hall of Fame career, let alone two.
But Yancey Thigpen, while not a rookie, had all of one catch during his first season in Pittsburgh and only 9 more his next (although 3 of those were for touchdowns.) Ernie Mills had two catches as a rookie. Both went on to author fine careers as Steelers.
Sure, at this point James Washington is best known for plays he hasn’t made as a rookie, but so was Plaxico Burress. And there’s an important difference there. In diving unnecessarily to catch Ben Roethlisberger‘s throw, James Washington was simply trying too hard. By spiking the ball in the open field when he wasn’t down, Plaxico Burress was simply being dumb.
There’s one other thing to keep in mind: Strong rookie seasons, while promising, guarantee nothing.
Troy Edwards caught 61 passes as a rookie and scored 5 touchdowns. He started 1 game and caught 37 passes in two more seasons in Pittsburgh, and never matched his rookie campaign in 4 more seasons in the NFL.
Saying that James Washington’s rookie season has disappointed this far is simply observing the truth, but writing him off as a bust is foolishness in its purest form.
Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his students make some impressive strides during the past year, but nonetheless sees that they’re still not ready to weather the pass-fail nature of a full NFL playoff run, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the 2016 Season.
Le’Veon Bell in his record setting performance vs. the Bills. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
By any measure, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played a fine season in 2016. Statistically speaking, Ben Roethlisberger’s quarterback rating was a one point above what it had been a year ago. But Big Ben’s 2016 campaign is not without fault. Ben Roethlisberger ‘s struggles on the road have become alarming, and his play in the later two rounds of the playoffs, while not bad, fell well short of outstanding. To be fair, Roethlisberger spent most of the season playing with a depleted wide receiver crops. Landry Jones played respectably in relief of Roethlisberger, and impressed with his overtime win. Grade: B+
While this conversation doesn’t begin and end with Le’Veon Bell, it perhaps should. In playing just 13 games, Le’Veon Bell affirmed his status as one of the game’s best two way threats, broke both the Steelers single game regular season and playoff rushing record and teased at reviving the concept of “franchise running back.” DeAngelo Williams played well in relief of Bell, although he did miss most of the second half of the season due to injury. Fitzgerald Toussaint Only got 14 carries, but looked respectable. Roosevelt Nix role in paving the way for Bell is under appreciated outside of Pittsburgh. Grade: A+
This was an interesting year for Steelers tight ends. When he finally got on the field, Ladarius Green showed that he had “field flipping” capability, even if his advertised the straight away speed was slower than advertised. Unfortunately, Green only made it into 6 games. In his absence, the sum of Jesse James, Xavier Grimble, and David Johnson performance in a “tight end by committee” situation was greater than the whole of its parts. Grade: B
How good is Antonio Brown? How about this? You take away any hint of a legitimate number 2 wide receiver, as well as a must respect dependable tight end and he still makes over 100 catches and brings in two more touchdowns than he did a year ago. Oh, yeah, and he consummated one of the most dramatic comebacks in franchise history on Christmas with a truly incredible play.
Unfortunately, Antonio Brown didn’t get a lot of help from his fellow wide outs. “Disappointment” is the only way to classify Sammie Coates‘ second season. Coates was supposed to make us forget about Martavis Bryant, but instead reminded us of Limas Sweed.
Eli Rogers performed extremely well, although his fumble in the AFC Championship hurt the team. Ditto Cobi Hamilton. The former practice squad barnstormer came up with several clutch catches during the year, and Demarcus Ayers did the same when he finally saw action late in the year.
This improvement is both impressive and promising with an eye towards the future. However the Report Card grades on performance and results, and the Steelers didn’t have a Super Bowl caliber wide receiving corps this year. Grade: C+
Limas Sweeds drops the ball during the 2008 Steeler AFC Championship game against Baltimore. Photo Credit: Keith Spakocic, AP via NY Daily News
After years of plug and patch the Steelers cemented their 4th lineman to a long term deal when they inked David DeCastro to his new contract. The Steelers 2016 offensive line did an excellent job in what is its most important task at this point in the Tomlin era – to protect Ben Roethlisberger. And the synergy between Le’Veon Bell waiting for holes to open and the line opening them was something special to behold. Still, there were times when the line struggled to open running lanes, namely on the road vs. Baltimore and of course at the goal line in the AFC Championship and their grade must reflect that. Grade: A-
Let’s begin by ordering some crow with a side of humble pie. When Cameron Heyward went on injured reserve, this site declared, “Game Over.” Fortunately, that’s not what happened. Instead, led by Stephon Tuitt, everyone on the defensive line stepped up their play a notch. Nine games into the season, the Steelers defensive line looked incapable of stopping anyone. By the season’s end, the Steelers were holding feature backs to negative yardage for entire halves.
The Steelers defensive line didn’t put up a lot of sexy statistics, but they delivered time and time again by making the types of plays that don’t show up on stat sheets, but win games. Grade: B
Art Rooney II and James Harrison share a post-game handsake. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
In 2016 the Steelers linebackers returned to their status as the strength of the defense. This resurgence was fueled by strong second halves by Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier, who seemed to make splash play after splash play. Bud Dupree got a late start to 2016 thanks to an injury, but Dupree came in second on the team in sacks despite only playing in 7 games and starting in four.
James Harrison of course came off the bench to start the Steelers final 7 games, and the improvement of the Steelers defense with Harrison in the lineup full time is by no means coincidental.
If Harrison did provide a spark to the pass rush, and made smothering tackles in run defense, his days of covering receivers downfield should be at an end.
Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats all provided valuable support as backups, but the unit was clearly better when all four starters played together. And that’s not something that’s been true of the linebacking corps for a long time. While this group made a lot of progress in 2016, their struggles in the AFC Championship game show they still have another leap yet to make. Grade: B+
The secondary was the Steelers weak link in 2015 and arguably has been a weak link for some time before. Management gambled and essentially re-wrote the depth chart, taking a huge gamble in the process. Artie Burns and Sean Davis were both at the center of this gamble. While Sean Davis was the more consistent player who was playing like an absolute stud by year’s end, Artie Burns also made impressive strides as they year went on.
Ross Cockrell likewise vindicated the faith that the coaches and front office showed in making him a starter, and Mike Mitchell didn’t provide as many splash plays as he did in 2016, but provided veteran leadership and stability. William Gay offered steady play, but it is fair to ask whether he’s losing a step.
The Steelers secondary was no longer a liability in 2016, but they remain powerless to prevent Tom Brady from having his way with them, and until that changes they must continue to improve. Grade: C+
Special teams coach Danny Smith is everyone’s favorite scapegoat in Steelers Nation. While the Steelers special teams did leave a lot to be desired at times, all of the blame doesn’t necessarily fall on Danny Smith’s shoulders.
Chris Boswell provided another solid year of place kicking. Whether it was kicking field goals in the snow at Buffalo or in windy Cincinnati or on the road in Kansas City, Boswell was Mr. reliable and arguably the MVP on two of those 3 contests. His counterpart Jordan Berry had a solid year, but failed to do anything to stand out.
The Steelers kicking and kick coverage units were the bigger area of concern.
While the NFL is trying to eliminate kick returns, the Steelers kick returners routinely trade 15 yard returns for 25 yard touchbacks. And while the Steelers avoided getting burned by a punt or a kickoff returned for a touchdown returned long return this season, there were too many close calls.
On the positive side, the Steelers special teams defended several on-sides kick attempts; however, 2007 remains the last time the Steelers executed an on sides kick of their own.
The Steelers also got caught on two fake punts.
In all fairness, the Steelers special teams rose to the occasion in the playoffs against the Chiefs, but overall their play during the course of the season was too inconsistent, and rarely “special.” Grade: C-
One of the things that frequently gets lost in the shuffle is that Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley had far fewer weapons to work with in 2016 than he had at his disposal in 2015. Nonetheless, the Steelers offense still finished in the top ten in terms of both scoring and yards.
Todd Haley drew fire for not relying on Le’Veon Bell enough against Miami in the regular season and the perhaps for trying to rely too heavily on him in the first matchup against the Ravens.
But the Steelers offensive found the right balance during the second half of the season.
On defense, Keith Butler’s second full season did not start well, as the Steelers struggled at times, and at the season’s mid-point, Butler’s defense was drawing unfavorable comparisons to Tony Dungy’s 1988 Steelers defensive squad, which set franchise records for futility.
But during the second half of the season, the Steelers defense began playing a new tune.
And if the inserting of James Harrison and Bud Dupree helped improve performance, the absence of Cam Heyward can hardly be considered a plus. The bigger change was that Butler got his players to focus on doing their job and, equally importantly, he got production out of his 3 rookies. By the season’s end the Steelers defense was one of the best at sacking the quarterback, and also improved in creating turnovers.
Mike Tomlin addresses the Steelers. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
By his own admission, Mike Tomlin won’t be considered a success until his team raises Lombardi Number 7. Fair enough. It is also fair to criticize Tomlin for the team’s lackluster performance in Philadelphia and also for the loss at Miami.
Those are the types of losses that can sink a season. But Mike Tomlin kept his team from riding the emotional rollercoaster, and they went on a 9 game winning streak, with the team seemingly getting stronger with each win.
Trying to stack two Super Bowl eras on top of each other is very hard to do, and the Steelers still have a ways to go before they accomplish that goal. But the Steelers took another step closer in 2016. Grade: B
Unsung Hero Award
Losing a player like Heath Miller is never easy, and it becomes all the more difficult if the high profile free agent you sign to replace him only manages to play 6 games.
But the Steelers transition away from the Heath Miller era at tight end was largely successful, and Jesse James was a big reason for that. James’ blocking improved as the season wore on, and he found himself making several critical catches for the team during December and January, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the 2016 season.
When I was a kid, my grandfather would rattle off obscure names of former Pittsburgh Steelers from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s. These players obviously weren’t stars, but to him, they were favorites that he had a soft-spot in his heart for.
Perhaps today, there are 40-somethings who grew up in the 1980s, telling their kids about this former Steelers receiver named Weegie Thompson.
But 31 of those catches, 502 of those yards and three of those touchdowns occurred during his final year, which probably helped his draft-status immensely.
It also didn’t hurt that Thompson stood at 6′ 6″ and weighed 212 pounds–measurables that would equal the playing field for most unheralded college receivers looking to make it at the pro level.
Thompson was part of the same class that produced Louis Lipps. After a rookie season that included 17 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns, playing behind both Lipps and the legendary John Stallworth, it may have looked like the future was bright for the young Thompson.
Unfortunately for Thompson, he never broke through to the top of the depth chart and never caught more than 17 passes in any given season.
Steelers 1980’s wide receivers Louis Lipps and Weegie Thompson. Photo Credit: Getty Images, Pittsburgh Post Gazette
But as Thompson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette then, he had few regrets about his career:
I don’t dwell on it. I was proud to be a member of the Steelers and of the time I spent in Pittsburgh. I played hard and performed to the best of my abilities when I was there. I gave it my best and I’m pretty comfortable with that.
However, while Thompson had a rather obscure career that included just 79 receptions for 1,377 yards and 11 touchdowns, thanks to his abilities as a blocker, he was able to gain lasting respect from one of the all-time greats, Hall of Fame safety Ronnie Lott.
What follows is a snippet of the article, along with a quote from Lott:
Call it respect–for yourself, for others. It had meaning to Lott. You earned his respect by playing hard and tough, and within the rules. He still fairly gushes when he talks about a journeyman Pittsburgh wide receiver named Weegie Thompson. In Thompson’s rookie season, 1984, the Steelers were the only team to beat the 49ers. One reason they did was by assigning Thompson to block Lott on every play.
“He blocked my butt all day–and fair,” Lott remembered. “Every play, he came after me. And I respect the hell out of Weegie Thompson to this day. He’s one of the toughest guys I ever played against.”
The 2013 NFL Draft is only days away which means its time for Steel Curtain Rising’s latest edition of the The Colbert Record, and in depth review of Kevin Colbert’s performance.
Last year The Colbert Record praised the Steelers General manager for never missing on a first round pick. The development (or lack thereof) of Ziggy Hood and/or Cameron Heyward might force us to revise that, but even then Kevin Colbert’s record in the 1st round of the NFL draft would remain without no peer. (Click here for a full review of Colbert’s 1st round record.)
This year we take aim at Kevin Colbert’s body of work in the second round.
Although still highly coveted, second round picks in the NFL Draft are considered second best, and they are a lot harder to evaluate. Indeed, during the 1980’s the NFL Draft’s second round became known as the Steelers “Jinx” round as Pittsburgh misfired on players like Charles Lockett and Derek Hill (to name two).
How has does Kevin Colbert’s record in the second round stack up against that of Tom Donahoe and Dick Haley? Today we take a look.
In his time in Pittsburgh, Colbert has made 11 second round NFL Draft picks, opting to trade the pick in the 2006 and 2009 NFL Drafts.
Here’s a Snap shot of Colbert’s Second Round Picks (click on the name for a more detailed profile)
When Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000 the Steelers were mess at tackle even though Tom Donahoe had invested heavily at the position throughout the late 1990’s. Unfortunately most those Donahoe picks were busts, from Jamain Stephens in 1996, to Paul Wiggins in 1997, to Chris Conrad in 1998, and Kris Farris in 1999.
Colbert sought to rectify that by picking Marvel Smith in the second round of the draft, and Smith became an immediate starter and developed into a Pro Bowler. After starting at right tackle, he moved to left tackle following Wayne Gandy’s departure, and helped anchor a line that led the Steelers to victory in Super Bowl XL.
The Steelers traded down in the 2001 NFL Draft and still got the man they wanted, Casey Hampton. Trading down in the first allowed the Steelers to move up into the second, where they signed Kendrell Bell.
Kendrell Bell was an immediate sensation who appeared incapable of wrong . His goal line stop of Jerome Bettis during training camp and the ensuing “crack” that was heard all over Latrobe were the stuff of legend.
Bell took the league by storm as a rookie, registering nine sacks and earning AP all Rookie Honors.
Unfortunately, like previous Steelers who’d won the Joe Greene Rookie of the Year award (see Delton Hall, Troy Edwards), Kendrell Bell turned out to be a one year wonder. Injuries set him back in 2002, but when healthy he was effective. In 2003 he appeared lost, with some commentators suggesting that Tim Lewis had “coached the aggressiveness out of him.”
Injuries again were an issue in 2004, and Larry Foote replaced him in the starting line up, and he openly discussed about whether he wanted to jeopardize his value on the free agent market by playing the Steelers playoff games.
Bell clearly had athletic talent, but apparently resisted learning coverage schemes and assignments, an attitude which can cost you dearly in the NFL.
Antwaan Randle El is easily the most versatile of Kevin Colbert’s 2nd round picks. Randle El made an immediate impact as a rookie returning kickoffs, returning punts, catching passes, running reverses, and throwing passes.
Randle El continued to be a quadruple threat for the Steelers in 2003 and 2004, before graduating to the starting role in 2005. Measured in pure quantitative terms, the trend line of his production dropped after his rookie year, but in qualitative terms his contributions got larger.
While a legitimate threat running a reverse, this former college quarterback also threw four regular season touchdown passes for the Steelers, showing he could hurt the opposition in multiple ways.
And of course his most pass was the last one he threw in his first stint with the Steelers. You might remember it from Super Bowl XL:
And while the coaches were unimpressed with his speed or by how much he’d forgotten of the playbook, El gave it his all and his 2-2-0-2 passing record shows the element of unpredictability he brought to the offense.
LaMarr Woodley and/or Marvel Smith can lay a stronger claims to being Kevin Colbert’s best second round pick, Randle El was unquestionably the most exciting to watch.
Shortly after the 2003 NFL Draft the Steelers Digest published a profile of him at Steelers mini camp with a photo of Jackson warning number 95. Upon seeing that I uttered aloud (much to the confusion of my wife), “Son, you have to earn the right to wear Number 95 in Pittsburgh.” (“95” of course being the number worn by the legendary Greg Lloyd.)
Unfortunately, Jackson either never understood that or quite simply lacked the God given ability to live up to the challenges of the NFL.
In 2 seasons with the Steelers, Jackson appeared in only 9 games and recorded 2 tackles.
Amazingly Ricardo Coclough lasted 4 seasons with the Steelers, showing some promise as a rookie and in his sophomore season as he registered 2 sacks and one interception while appearing in 30 games.
Things petered out quickly for Coclough in the third game of his third season as he fielded a punt he should not have, allowing Cincinnati to back the Steelers up deep in their own territory. Bill Cowherput him in injured reserve the next day.
Mike Tomlin actually gave him a second chance, but Coclough only made token appearances in three games.
At the end of the day, Coclough was neither able to make the transition to NFL corner nor was he able to make himself a threat in the return game. Another bust.
It’s never really a good thing when play 6 years in the NFL and your best play comes in your rookie year, as Byrant McFadden’s did when he made a key pass defense in the end zone in the Steelers AFC Divisional Playoff victory vs. the Indianapolis Colts.
However, unlike Kendrell Bell, Bryant didn’t fade after his rookie year, but rather never quite seemed to realize his potential. As a second round pick Bryant was supposed to replace Deshea Townsend, but never could quite beat him out, and when he finally did, he had to split time with William Gay
The Steelers of course allowed McFadden to defect to Pittsburgh West after Super Bowl XLIII, only to bring him back during the 2010 NFL Draft. While McFadden was an improvement over William Gay (who struggled as a starter in 2009), he clearly wasn’t the answer and lost the starting job to an improving Gay in 2011.
You’d generally like to see a little more out of a second round pick, but the Steelers got decent value for B-Mac, and he certainly was no bust.
The first two picks of the Mike Tomlin era were both linebackers, and for a long time Steelers Nation often wondered if the order shouldn’t have been reversed. LaMarr Woodley did not get a ton of playing time as a rookie, but he made four sacks in spot regular seasons duty.
When the Steelers reached the playoffs in 2008, Woodley again turned it up registering two sacks in each of the Steelers playoff games, including a strip sack that ended any chance of a Kurt Warner fueled comeback in Super Bowl XLIII.
Worilds played well on special teams as a rookie and flashed in spot duty. In 2011 Worilds got extensive playing time as both Harrison and Woodley were injured for periods. Worilds performance was pedestrian at best, but the linebacking corps as a whole suffered with multiple players playing out of position.
Worilds got more time in 2012, and early in the season was the team’s sack leader. Clearly the kid has some upside, but 2013 will likely prove to be the definitive “make or break” year for Jason Worilds.
Marcus Gilbert wasn’t supposed to see action as a rookie, but an opening day injury to Willie Colon changed all that. Gilbert was forced in the starting line up, and did fairly well considering the circumstances.
Their was talk of Gilbert moving to left tackle in 2011, but that did not happen. Gilbert also had the misfortune to collide with several Steelers, either injuring them badly or ending their seasons. Gilbert struggled in 2012 and then got injured himself in mid 2012 and was lost for the year with an ankle injury.
The jury is still out on Gilbert, assuming he fully recovers from the injury. If the Steelers take a tackle early on in the 2013 NFL Draft, that’s a clear sign that they’re concerned.
Mike Adams holds the distinction of being the only collegiate player to get himself knocked off of the Steelers draft board only to work himself back on.
Adams had been projected as a first round pick, but his positive test for marijuana knocked him into the second round where the Steelers swooped him up, and immediately decided to move Willie Colon from tackle to guard.
Adams, however, did not win the starting left tackle position during training camp, but injuries to Marcus Gilbert did force him into the line up, where he did well for a rookie, until he himself got injured vs. Cleveland.
It is way too early to make a pronouncement on Adams, but clearly the Steelers are counting on him.
Out of his eleven second round picks, Kevin Colbert has drafted four players who developed into solid starters or better in the form of Marvel Smith, Antwaan Randle El, Bryant McFadden and LaMarr Woodley.
Kendrell Bell was a solid contributor for a year, then provided nothing, while Jason Worilds has delivered some value in the opportunities that he’s been given.
Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough and Limas Sweed were busts, there’s no way to sugar coat that, no other available conclusion exists.
It’s too early to reach a conclusion on either Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams.
So to score it, Kevin Colbert has 4 clear wins and 3 clear losses in the 2nd round, with one break even (summing the contributions of Worilds and Bell), with the fate of 2 undetermined picks left to be decided.
There’s a peculiarity in the methodology of those who do “serious” NFL Draft evaluation and it lies in basing a drafting organization’s grade on whether or not the player is still in the NFL as opposed to still with the drafting organization.
By that measure, the Steelers performance in the 2008 NFL Draft could still grade out well – not that anyone in Pittsburgh will benefit
The “Serious” qualification is necessary, because NFL Draft Evaluation is plagued by day after “who won and who lost” draft analysis that generates page views and sparks discussion but is ultimately meaningless.
Not 48 hours had passed since the end of the 2008 draft and the so-called experts were praising the Steelers for claiming Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed, two of the supposed “steals” from the 2008. Beyond that the Steelers had added needed depth at linebacker, offensive line and perhaps had netted themselves a long-term back up quarterback.
Steelers Nation has had painful reminders in just how far target the instant analysis of the 2008 draft fell. The 2013 season promises to offer an equally clarifying less on more serious analysis.
Maturing of a Draft Class
Serious NFL draft evaluation can only begin 3 years after a draft and ultimately should extend further. Yes first round picks should contribute or at least “show something” in their first year. Other draft picks should carve out back up slots and/or contribute on special teams.
But developing talent and working it into your system takes time.
Kevin Colbert’s best NFL draft came in 2002. In the class 2002’s third season the Steelers won 15 games and in their fourth NFL season the Steelers won Super Bowl XL.
But the full impact of the Steelers 2002 Draft Class wasn’t felt until those players fully matured with El taking on a starting role, Foote and Chris Hope becoming full time starters, Verron Hayes showing himself to be capable reserve running back, and even Lee Mays showing himself to be a serviceable practice squad/53rd man on the roster who can make a couple of catches when you need them.
Brett Keisel’s case shows why the evaluation window must be extended, as he did not break the starting lineup until 2006 but has been a fixture ever since.
Given that example, the Steelers 2008 Draft Class should be peaking into their primes, to the Black and Gold’s Benefit…
No Player for the 2008 Draft Remains with the Steelers
…Those still playing from the Steelers 2008 Draft Class might in fact be peaking into their primes in 2013, but unfortunately none of them will be doing it for Pittsburgh.
Linebacker Mike Humpal, the Steelers 2008 6th round pick never saw an NFL roster, so “Life’s Work” began for him at a young age.
Limas Sweed of course is famous for dropping sure touchdowns in the playoffs vs. San Diego and Baltimore and then tearing his ACL during the 2010 off season. He’s been out of football since.
Legend holds that during summer 2008 at Latrobe Mike Tomlin matched Bruce Davis one-on-one vs. Tony Hills with the challenge that he was “going to make a player out of one of you.” Davis, the Steelers 3rd round pick from 2008 was a total bust and out of the NFL by then end of ’09.
In 2010 he shocked Steelers Nation by not only pushing for a roster spot but pushing for time under the tutelage of Sean Kugler. He saw spot duty during 2010, and got a shot at guard during the 2011 preseason. Hills couln’t cut it at guard and got cut.
But that was not the end of the line for Hills. He got signed by Denver, and then Bruce Arians brought him to Indianapolis, where he not only played in five games but started in one.
Perhaps Hills is another late bloomer like Brett Keisel. Regardless, it won’t be to the Steelers benefit.
Dennis Dixon was one of the most surprising and intriguing picks of the Steelers 2008 draft class. He only started three games in Pittsburgh and wanted out after being unable to unseat Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich. Dixon is in Philly now, where the word is he’ll get a shot at starting.
Ryan Mundy entered free agency looking like someone the Steelers could and should get back if they wanted back. New York signed him away. Mundy might salvage something from a career that was trending down, but he can’t help salvage the 2008 draft class.
The “Star” of the 2008 draft class was of course to be Rashard Mendenhall. Rashard Mendenhall was no bust, and played as top five back in his best games. Mendenhall wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh East and is now in Pittsburgh West, with another shot at attaining the consistency needed to attain his potential.
“Potential.” “Potential” was the watch word here after the 2008 draft. The Steelers had stockpiled potential. Unlocking that potential at first frustrated and ultimately remained elusive.
Now Arizona, Indianapolis, New York and Philadelphia can see if they can benefit from what Pittsburgh has termed a “mistake” or in other words, their 2008 draft class.
In 2008 Rashard Mendenhall was one of the players that the Steelers decided they would not pass on if he fell to them. Yet fall Mendenhall did, and viola, he was a Steeler.
The same process repeated itself with Limas Sweed. Many had Sweed rated as an otherwise first round pick with the only knock against him an ailing wrist. Sweed fell and the Steelers got him.
While no one was quite calling Dennis Dixon “the steal of the draft,” many said that were it not for injuries suffered during his final year in college, he too had talent worth of a first or second rounder.
Days after the 2008 NFL Draft, many rushed to declare the Steelers a success. Peter Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) went so far as to declare the Steelers 2008 effort as “The Best Steelers Draft in Years.” He explained his view this way:
And this year, unlike several of recent past, our Steelers drafted tremendous football players who didn’t necessarily fit the fans’ ideas concerning pressing needs. Pittsburgh’s brass probably didn’t plan the draft out the way it eventually wound up, but when the draft unfolded as it did, they took advantage.
That’s good drafting, and the Pittsburgh Steelers should be – in my opinion – on any short list of teams which performed best on draft day.
Four years later, any assessment of the Steelers 2008 effort must carry a decidedly different tone.
Rating the Steelers 2008 Draft
1st Round, Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Mendenhall has been generally been a good running back who has flashed greatness. Were better players on the board passed over? Perhaps, but Mendenhall was a good pick.
Dixon had his shot at the big time in 2010. He did “OK” but Charlie Batch earned credit for carrying the Steelers in Ben’s absence. If its true that the Steelers did get decent value from Dixon, its also true that they didn’t get a groomable backup.
Mundy made the practice squad and has since developed into a serviceable back up.
That’s one quality starter at a crucial skill position, a solid back up, and a spot role player rounded out by four busts.
Steelers 2008 Draft vs. Steelers 2012 Draft….
There are important differences between the two drafts. Neither running back nor wide receiver were urgent needs in 2008, yet when players fell to them, the Steelers took them. That’s called sticking to your board.
The same thing happened in 2012, but this time the falling players also coincided with the Steelers needs.
And while any objective analysis must render Limas Sweed as a total bust, many forget that what made those drops so spectacular was the fact that he had totally burned the secondaries covering him. In other words, Steelers scouts correctly evaluated Sweed in terms of talent. But that’s why Sweed remains such a cautionary tale.
The NFL Draft is as much an art as it is a science.
The Steelers held a goal line drill in at St. Vincent’s today, and by all accounts it was a costly one.
Jim Wexell is reporting on Twitter that Jonathan Scott was carted off of the field and has injured his ankle. Ramon Foster was injured and joined Scott on the cart, although that injury appears to be minor, according to Mike Tomlin.
Wexell also reports that Limas Sweed separated his shoulder….
Vaughn Charlton, a tight end/H-back from Temple; John Clay, a running back from Wisconsin; Armand Robinson, a wide receiver from Miami; Adam Mims, a wide receiver from Furman; Colin Miller, a center from Central Michigan; Trevis Turner, an offensive tackle from Abilene Christian; Brent Greenwood, a safety from Iowa; Niles Brinkley, a cornerback from Wisconsin; Eric Clanton, an outside linebacker from The Citadel; Mario Harvey, an inside linebacker from Marshall; Eric Greenwood, a wide receiver from Idaho.
The high number of wide receivers is attention catching, given that the Steelers have five quality wide outs returning, with Limas Sweed and Tyler Grisham expect to push Antwaan Randle El for a roster spot.
Conversely, the low number of defensive backs also catches the attention, given that both Ike Taylor and William Gay are unrestricted free agents.
Hines Ward continued to deliver in 2010, but finally appeared to show signs of age. Still his value to the unit cannot be underestimated. Ward’s numbers may have been down, but he made is catches count.
If Ward is facing a little downside, then Mike Wallace should be looking at upside. While is playoff production drop off shows he still has more to learn, Wallace is on the way to being an elite receiver.
Randal El made contributions in 2010, but appears to be on his way out or at the very least slated to fight for a roster spot. Arnaz Battle didn’t catch many balls, but played well on special teams.
The NFL is a passing league now, like it or not, and Ward’s age dictates that the Steelers cannot afford to ignore wide receiver in the 2011 draft.
Draft priority of wide receiver for the Steelers in 2011: Moderate.
Steelers Situation at Running Back
Rashard Mendenhall failed to have the breakout year in 2010 that many hoped and/or expected. At times he ran with authority and power, such as in the AFC Championship game against the Jets, at other times he appeared hesitant at the line of scrimmage (not that he always had good holes.) And Mike Tomlin’s protests to the contrary, two of Mendenhall’s 3 or 4 fumbles came in post season.
Mendenhall still has plenty of potential but perhaps he’s also shown some of his limits. Regarding limits, the Steelers show no intention of limiting his carries, which will shorten his career.
Isaac Redman impressed mightily actually making good on the cult-hero status he did nothing to cultivate. At the very least, Redman shows he deserves a shot at being a number 2 back in the NFL.
Mewelde Moore is a free agent and his numbers dipped in 2010 and his role dropped off. Still, he’s a versatile player who can continue to contribute.