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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Round-by-Round Value in NFL Draft

The 2013 NFL Draft is almost three months away. There will be plenty of time to slice and dice the draft in every way possible.

Before looking at what the Pittsburgh Steelers need to do in the 2013 draft, we’re going to look back at their last 12 drafts.

This series of articles won’t necessarily provide an overall grade for each draft, but rather grade the Steelers’ ability to get value in each round.

The Steelers haven’t drafted an egregious first-round bust since taking offensive tackle Jamain Stephens in 1996. Wide receiver Troy Edwards in 1999 wasn’t a great pick, but at least he caught 61 passes in his rookie season.

Since 2000, every first-rounder has at least been a regular starter for the Steelers. Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro get a pass, obviously, because they’re the Steelers’ most recent first-round picks and still need time to develop.

The draft isn’t all about the first round, however. The key is to find enough significant contributors in the middle and later rounds, and to get proper value in each round.

We’ll examine how well the Steelers have done that.

The grading system is relatively simple.

Each player is assigned a numerical value. That number is compared with the round in which the player was drafted. The player’s draft value is derived from the differential between the numbers.

For example, a player drafted in the first round who gets a value grade of 3 is a Minus-2. A player drafted in the sixth round who gets a value grade of 1 is a Plus-5. A player drafted in the first round who gets a value grade of 1 is a 0. The differentials for each player are added together, and that’s the cumulative score for the entire draft.

The value grades range from 0 to 8. Here are the general guidelines for each number:

0: Hall of Fame candidate upon retirement

1: Pro Bowl-caliber player

2: Consistent and valuable starter

3: Competes for a starting job OR a high-impact backup OR a regular but mediocre starter

4: Role player and occasional starter OR a long career as a backup

5: Short or low-impact career as a backup

6: High-round pick who didn’t work out – a bust

7: Made the team but rarely saw action in his career

8: Didn’t make the team

Busts get a 6 because in most cases these draft picks play a few years before they’re labeled as busts. Usually not much is expected of a sixth-round pick, so for a player to be designated as a bust, he must be drafted much earlier than the sixth round. Therefore, each bust will have a negative differential and reflect appropriately on the Steelers’ value grade for that draft.

A bust who plays for three years might not do much for the team, but he does more than a player who is rarely activated. Those players get a 7.

Draft picks who were cut in training camp get an 8. Pro Football Reference is used as the main resource for this series of articles. If a player’s name doesn’t link to anything on the draft page, it’s presumed he was cut in training camp.

Rarely does every player in a draft make the team, so most of the cumulative differentials for each draft are going to be in the negative. So we’ll apply these letter grades to the scale:

A-plus: Plus-2 and above

A: 0 and Plus-1

A-minus: Minus-1 and Minus-2

B-plus: Minus-3 and Minus-4

B: Minus-5 and Minus-6

B-minus: Minus-7 and Minus-8

C-plus: Minus-9 and Minus-10

C: Minus-11 and Minus-12

C-minus: Minus-13 and Minus-14

D: Minus-15 and Minus-16

F: Minus-17 and below

Tomorrow, while the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers play in the Super Bowl, we’ll dust off the Steelers’ 2001 and 2002 drafts and assess their value. Fun stuff, huh?

That’s what happens when the Steelers don’t make the Super Bowl.

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