After laying the foundation in the 2001 and 2002 drafts, the Pittsburgh Steelers put the championship pieces in place in the 2003 and 2004 NFL drafts.
The Steelers chose Troy Polamalu in the first round in 2003 and Ben Roethlisberger in the first round in 2003. The Steelers have won two Super Bowls and been to a third since then, and Polamalu and Roethlisberger have been the face of the franchise on each side of the ball.
However, in these two drafts the Steelers also got into a disturbing habit of drafting second- and third-round busts. That’s going to hurt their value grades.
For an explanation of our grading system, click here.
Troy Polamalu, S: If it weren’t for Troy Polamalu, it might be Joe Flacco’s third Super Bowl ring in the designing process right now rather than his first. The Ravens were two points down and driving late in the 2008 AFC Championship Game before Polamalu’s pick-six clinched the 23-14 win for the Steelers, who went on to beat the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. The Steelers probably wouldn’t have won the AFC North in 2010, and would have had a tougher road to the Super Bowl that year, without Polamalu’s strip-sack of Flacco. That play helped Polamalu earn 2010 AP Defensive Player of the Year Honors. Polamalu was named First Team All-Pro in 2005, 2008, 2010 (helping the Steelers reach the Super Bowl in each of those seasons) and 2011. He’s made the Pro Bowl seven times. The only times he hasn’t been named to the Pro Bowl are his rookie season (2003) and the two years that he missed more than half the season with injuries (2009 and 2012). Polamalu is ninth on the Steelers’ all-time list with 30 career interceptions. The Steelers traded up from 27th to 16th in the first round to draft Polamalu. Good move. Value: 0 Differential: Plus-1
Alonzo Jackson, LB: After trading up to draft Polamalu, the Steelers couldn’t sustain their brilliance in the second round. Jackson appeared in just nine games in 2003 and 2004, making two tackles. He finished up his career with the Eagles and Giants in 2005. Slap the bust sticker on this pick. Value: 6 Differential: Minus-4
Ike Taylor, CB: Taylor isn’t as decorated as Polamalu, but he’s been another championship piece in the Steelers’ secondary. He became a regular starter in 2005, helping the Steelers win Super Bowl XL, and played in 135 straight games before fracturing his ankle at Baltimore in 2012. Taylor has broken up 119 passes in his career, according to Pro Football Reference. It’s no secret that he lacks ball skills. He has only 14 career interceptions, although at one point he picked off one pass in three straight postseason games, including Super Bowl XL. Taylor’s never had more than three interceptions in a season, and that’s kept him out of the Pro Bowl, but he gets a Pro Bowl grade here. Value: 1 Differential: Plus-3
Brian St. Pierre, QB: The Steelers were still a year away from drafting Ben Roethlisberger, so they were still hitching their wagon to Tommy Maddox at this point. St. Pierre was drafted to be a backup, and that’s what he was from 2003 to 2007. The only game he appeared in for the Steelers was a meaningless regular-season finale in 2004. Value: 5 Differential: 0
J.T. Wall, RB: Wall didn’t make the team, but his bio comes with a curious side note. He was born and played high school football in Milledgeville, Ga., and was the last draft pick the Steelers made before picking the guy who infamously put Milledgeville on the map. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-1
Overall Differential: Minus-1
Overall Value Grade: A-minus
Conclusion: This illustrates the difference between grading a draft and grading a draft’s value. This draft would get an A if it were graded straight up. But the second-round bust drags the value grade to an A-minus.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB: The Steelers made the playoffs eight times in Bill Cowher’s first 12 seasons as head coach, but made the Super Bowl only once and lost. Defense and a smash-mouth running game were only going to take the Steelers so far. To finally win One for the Thumb, they needed an elite quarterback. With the Steelers on the clock, the TV cameras showed Roethlisberger answering the phone at Radio City Music Hall. Bill Cowher was on the other end, and the Steelers’ fortunes took a dramatic turn. Roethlisberger has taken to the Steelers to three Super Bowls. They’ve won two of them. He’s been to two Pro Bowls and is the Steelers’ all-time leader in passing yards with 29,844 and game-winning drives with 29. He has 191 career touchdown passes and needs 22 to overtake Terry Bradshaw as the Steelers’ all-time leader in that category. Roethlisberger has thrown 108 career interceptions. Bradshaw threw 210. Roethlisberger’s career quarterback rating is 92.7. Bradshaw’s was 70.9. Roethlisberger needs two more Super Bowl rings, however, to match Bradshaw in the only department that really matters. He’ll be 31 next season. He still has time. Value: 0 Differential: Plus-1
Ricardo Colclough, CB: For some reason the Steelers thought it would be a good idea to draft a Division II player in the second round. Colclough, from Tusculum, was primarily a kick returner for the Steelers. He played four seasons for the Steelers but didn’t start a game at cornerback. He had one career interception. It was the second straight year the Steelers whiffed on their second-round pick. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-6
Max Starks, OT: The cap-strapped Steelers likely can’t afford to keep Starks, an unrestricted free agent, in 2013. That’s too bad, because he’s served the Steelers well in his career. He started every game at right tackle on the Steelers’ 2005 championship team. He was the starter again in 2006. Then in 2008, when left tackle Marvel Smith went down in Week 5, Starks took over and protected Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side the rest of the way, helping the Steelers win their sixth Super Bowl. The Steelers and Starks parted ways before the 2011 season, but after Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times in the first four games, Starks came to the rescue and hasn’t missed a start at left tackle since. Value: 2 Differential: Plus-1
Nathaniel Adibi, DE: Did not make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-3
Bo Lacy, OT: Did not make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-2
Matt Kranchick, TE: Kranchick appeared in six games for the Steelers, with one start and one reception, in 2004 and 2005. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-1
Drew Caylor, C: Did not make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-2
Eric Taylor, DT: Did not make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-1
Overall Differential: Minus-13
Overall Value Grade: C-minus
Conclusion: The Steelers drafted two players who made a significant impact, just like they did in 2003. However, the Steelers had three more picks in 2004. So despite drafting Roethlisberger and Starks, they weren’t very efficient in the late rounds.