Quit Complaining: Steelers and The Draft

Yikes Steelers fans! Some of you are not happy with the front office! But why?

The gamut runs from poor selections at positions or the players selected. Let’s be open-minded for a second and look at this objectively: the Steelers have had some pretty darn good draft picks over a long period of time. Perhaps it’s those draft picks, many who were perennials Pro Bowlers or future Hall of Famers, who have gotten us spoiled.

The names read like a who’s who of black and gold fame over the last decade and a half: Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Santonio Holmes, and Lawrence Timmons. Those are just first round selections, and where much of the criticism comes after the 2007 draft, with Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood, Maurkice Pouncey, Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier. It’s also important to note that 2007 was Mike Tomlin’s first year as head coach, and thus, he gains much of the “Cowher’s players” criticism.

The criticism used to be on both sides of the ball, but the offense appears to have been fixed, mostly by building through the draft. The aforementioned Pouncey is one of the best centers in the league. Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are considered among the best at their position as well, and were not first round choices (Bell was a 2nd rounder, Brown a 6th rounder.) David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert (2nd) and Kelvin Beachum (7th!) have all become good and dependable lineman. Markus Wheaton (3rd) and Martavis Bryant (4th) are receivers with bright futures ahead of them.

Unmentioned above are former Steelers no longer with the team, like Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Keenan Lewis who were all 3rd round picks now plying their trade as major contributors elsewhere. Just because the team was unable to retain them for one reason or another, doesn’t mean the front office isn’t making solid draft picks. Rather, it suggests GM Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are doing something right.

But still, there’s all this fuss? Oh right… the defense is broken.

Let’s consider for a second, that much of the complaining about the defense, is due to both draft selections that haven’t (or have yet) to pan out, and injuries. I bring up injuries, because it’s hurt the Steelers from having Pro Bowl players on the field while hindering the development of their young talent.

In my opinion, the domino effect began with All-Pro Aaron Smith‘s inability to stay healthy, and subsequent retirement from football. Ziggy Hood was drafted as insurance and a potential heir apparent, but didn’t live up to that potential.

Casey Hampton, another All-Pro, stepped away from the game. Another misfire as his possible replacement, 4th round pick Alameda Ta’amu, put Pittsburgh behind the 8-ball.

At the same time, Cameron Heyward was biding his time to see the field, but was playing behind Smith’s shadow and the ageless Brett Keisel. After he was given the opportunity, we have seen Heyward blossom into the team’s sack leader. The remaining pieces may be in place with Steve McLendon (undrafted) Daniel McCullers (6th) and Stephon Tuitt (2nd.)

The linebackers have been in a similar quandry, where former Pro Bowlers Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison were oft-injured, and the team had to move on from them. (Well, at least for one season in Harrison’s case.) Replacements such as Sean Spence (3rd) Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier have all lost significant time due to injury. For what it’s worth, the front 7, much like the offensive line, may be money in the bank and could blossom into a young, formidable threat.

So I’m asking Steelers fans to have a little faith and patience. Players like Alan Faneca or Jerome Bettis weren’t easily replaced overnight. When one pick doesn’t work out, it’s not the end of the world. Injuries and free agency also dramatically affect the composition of an NFL roster.

If I were a betting man, I would place my money on the Steelers. I wouldn’t call for Colbert or Tomlin’s jobs, because there is a pattern of consistency, with many players taken deep in the draft who have become mainstays, if not great players. Building a team is a process and one that appears to have shown the front office has “nailed it” on many draft picks over the years.

It sure beats being a team like the Cleveland Browns, a basement dweller who are afforded multiple, high draft picks who never pan out, and a revolving door that opens their wallet for top free agents. The recipe of changing staff like I change underwear has not proven to be a winning formula, while riding the tide with the Rooneys business plan has spoiled us with .500 or better seasons since 2003.

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