Mike Tomlin has put his stamp on this Pittsburgh Steelers team early with some real solid draft picks, especially in the traditional “day 1″ status. Those players that were picked in the first 3 rounds are rarely a bust in Pittsburgh and so far in the Tomlin era, that traditional rings true.
While the Steeler Nation might not always agree on the draftees that Kevin Colbert and Tomlin have chosen, it’s hard to to argue with the results. My top 4 in random order…
Mike Wallace: in just his short 2 year career so far, the speedster from Mississippi has 99 receptions for 2,013 yds. 16 touchdowns and an average ypc of 20.3. Wallace is the speed that the Steelers have not seen in their receiving corps in literally forever. Wallace has quickly grown into the big play threat that Bruce Arians offense relies on for quick strikes and big scores. Coach Tomlin referred to Wallace a “one trick pony” in a motivational sense, and Wallace responded in 2010 by greatly improving his route running, separation skills, and his ability to catch the ball in traffic. He is, without a doubt Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite big play target. His ability to get open by his sheer speed is something that you are born with. Wallace has taken his role to heart and learning from one of the best in Hines Ward has paid big dividends early on for both he and the Steelers.
You can also make a case for guys like Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown who have also made great contributions in their rookie campaigns in 2010. Their future is bright indeed and the Steelers WR corp has a lot to look forward too in the coming years.
Lamarr Woodley: From his first draft since arriving in Pittsburgh, Coach Tomlin has made it clear through his actions on draft day that the Steelers linebacking corp is a top priority. From 2007-2010, Lamarr has amassed 140 Tackles, 46 assists, 39 sacks, and 3 Interceptions. Woodley plays opposite of James Harrison in Dick Lebeau’s 34 zone blitz defense; the 2 bookends work very well together and gone are the days when you can just double team Harrison and let Wood one on one. Lamarr has proven to be a big time player in big time games, coming up big in the playoffs in nearly every appearance. His key strip sack in Super Bowl XLIII sealed the win to give the Steelers their unmatched 6 NFL title. The Steelers thought enough of him to make him their Franchise Player this offseason in order to ensure the linebackers of the Steeler defense are intact for the future.
Lawrence Timmons: Even though his rookie year was mired by injuries, Timmons took advantage of that time to learn everything he could from the coaches and players. That payed off when he played all 16 games in 2008 and racked up 65 total tackles, 1 Interception, and 3 passes defensed. In 2009, Timmons took on a more prominent role in the defense and began to assert himself opposite James Farrior and solidify the middle linebacking corp of the defense. He finished with 78 combined tackles even with missing 2 games in 2009. In 2010 Timmons had his real break out year and now is an unquestioned leader on the field. Lebeau put more and more responsibility on Timmons and he responded with 135 Tackles and 2 Interceptions. He is a free agent in 2012 so the Steelers will have to dig deep into their wallets to ensure that a talent like this doesn’t ever leave the team.
Rashard Mendenhall: With the Steeler run game struggling to find it’s groove ever since the great Jerome Bettis retired, Tomlin was fully aware that Willie Parker wasn’t going to be the long term answer. On his own Parker did some good things for the Steelers but could never really handle the full load with any consistency. Rumors were flying about the Steelers taking a running back in the 1st round but nobody ever thought that that Mendenhall would fall to them. Most picked him to be gone in the top 10, let alone drop to #23. Mendenhall’s rookie campaign was cut short due to injury but he, like Timmons, used that time to learn all he could in meetings and by watching practice. Overall Mendy has put up some impressive numbers totaling 2,439 yds. and 20 Touchdowns with a 4.2 average. They say that a back should always strive to average about 4.0 yards per carry and Rashard is right on target. He is the total package, something that every team wants in a back; quick feet, good vision, power, and speed. Each year he takes on a bigger role and this past year he was the feature back and the main workhorse in the Steelers running attack. Even if he did fumble in the Super Bowl, that doesn’t discount how much he means to the Steelers and the fact that they wouldn’t have been in the big game if it weren’t for him.
Maurkice Pouncey: The offensive line has been ignored on draft day for far too long and Tomlin knew it. With a talent like Pouncey available it was a no brainer for Colbert and the Coach to pull the trigger. The tradition of Steeler centers goes back to the iron man himself, the late, great, Mike Webster. Since then Dermotti Dawson and Jeff Hartings have filled that role in typical Steelers style. After Hartings retired though, the Center position was in a state of flux for a couple of years and the Steeler line was badly in need of the anchor that they were used to having. Enter 1st round draft pick Maurkice Pouney from Florida. After he was drafted there was some talk of him possibly playing Guard for awhile to get used to the NFL, but everyone knew it was only a matter of time before he took over at Center. From the time he started taking snaps in training camp it was apparent that this kid was not to be denied his future on the offensive line. When the 2010 season started, Pouncey was in at Center and never looked back. He made all the calls at the line from day 1 and made his presence was felt against some of the best the NFL had to offer. He was rewarded with a Pro Bowl selection although he couldn’t play due to a high ankle injury sustained in the AFC Championship game, which ultimately kept him out of the Super Bowl as well.
My choice though for the top draft pick of the Mike Tomlin era would have to be Maurkice Pouncey. I say that because this year was all the evidence that I need to see what this kid means to the team. Given the ups and downs that the Steelers offensive line has gone through in recent years, and with all the injuries this past year it’s obvious that without Pouncey they would have been in a world of trouble. I know you can’t predict a players career after just 1 season, but if there ever was a player that you could do that for, it would be Pouncey.