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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Round-by-Round Value in the 2007 and 2008 NFL Drafts

The world changed rapidly in 2007 and 2008.

Facebook and Twitter were becoming household words, the U.S. economy went into the dumper and the Pittsburgh Steelers had their first new coach in 15 years.

The Steelers also won their sixth Super Bowl during this time. Mike Tomlin won the Super Bowl in his second season as coach, faster than both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that Tomlin hit the ground running with his first two draft picks as Steelers coach, taking Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley as headliners for a solid 2007 class.

The 2008 draft wasn’t so good.

For an explanation of our system that grades the Steelers’ round-by-round value in each draft, click here.

2007 DRAFT

First Round

Lawrence Timmons, LB: Timmons has been a full-time starter at inside linebacker since 2009. In 2012, he led the Steelers with three interceptions and returned one for a touchdown. He also was the Steelers’ co-leader with six sacks and second on the team with 106 combined tackles, according to NFL.com. In 2011, injuries forced Timmons to be versatile. He played inside and outside linebacker and was second on the team with 93 combined tackles. Timmons led the AFC-champion Steelers in 2010 with 135 combined tackles and 96 total tackles. In 2009, he had a career-high seven sacks. He’s 16th on the Steelers’ all-time list with 23 sacks, and he’ll only be 27 next season. In this grading system, Timmons normally would get a value grade of 2 because he’s never been to a Pro Bowl. However, Pro Football Focus voted him All-Pro in 2010. That works. Value: 1 Differential: 0

Second Round

LaMarr Woodley, LB: This one’s tricky. Woodley’s production has declined since he hurt his hamstring in the middle of the 2011 season. If he doesn’t bounce back next season, let’s just say he probably will no longer be the Steelers’ second-highest paid player next to Ben Roethlisberger. Woodley had nine sacks in 2011 and was well on his way to his fourth straight season with double-digit sacks before his injury. Woodley contributed to the Steelers’ 2008 title with 11.5 sacks. In 2009, Woodley’s 13.5 sacks earned him a Pro Bowl berth. He helped the Steelers get to the Super Bowl with 10 sacks in 2010. Woodley, who will turn 29 next season, is sixth on the Steelers’ all-time list with 52 career sacks, just 1.5 behind Greg Lloyd. Woodley also has a knack for recovering fumbles at key times. He was third in the NFL with four fumbles recovered in 2008. He returned one of those for a touchdown in a 23-20, overtime win over the Ravens at Pittsburgh. In 2009, Woodley returned a fumble 77 yards for a touchdown in a 27-17 win over Brett Favre’s Vikings at Pittsburgh. Everyone remembers Troy Polamalu’s strip sack of Joe Flacco at Baltimore in 2010, but how many remember that it was Woodley who scooped up the ball and ran it 19 yards to the Ravens’ 9-yard line, setting up the winning touchdown in a 13-10 victory? Woodley also had a pick-six the following week in a 23-7 home win over the Bengals. The Steelers need those kinds of game-changing plays from Woodley to again become Super Bowl contenders. Value: 1 Differential: Plus-1

Third Round

Matt Spaeth, TE: Spaeth saved his best for first in Pittsburgh. Three of his five career touchdowns with the Steelers came in the first six games of his rookie season. He had a career-high 17 receptions in 2008, his only season with double-digit catches. Spaeth was never going to usurp Heath Miller as the Steelers’ starting tight end. He was used mostly as a blocker. He’s spent the last two seasons with the Bears. Value: 4 Differential: Minus-1

Fourth Round

Daniel Sepulveda, P: We all do foolish things when we’re young. Mike Tomlin was a wet-behind-the-ears 35-year-old NFL head coach when the Steelers not only used a fourth-round pick on a punter, but traded away their sixth-round pick to move up in the fourth round to get him. The last time the Steelers had drafted a kicker or punter was Kris Brown in 1999, and that was in the seventh round. The last time the Steelers drafted a kicker or punter before the seventh round was 1979, when they took Matt Bahr in the sixth round. Bahr won a ring with the Steelers and had a 16-year career (though only two in Pittsburgh). Sepulveda was with the Steelers when they won the Super Bowl in 2008, but he didn’t contribute because he missed the entire season with an injury. He also went down after 12 games in 2010 and after eight games in 2011. Had Bahr played more years for the Steelers, he’d have been worth a sixth-round investment in 1979. Normally, however, kickers and punters shouldn’t be drafted before the seventh round. Sepulveda’s value grade reflects his inability to stay on the field as well as the fact that he’s just a punter. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-3

Ryan McBean, DT: McBean appeared in just one game for the Steelers. Then he played three years in Denver, with four sacks in 2011. The Baltimore Ravens signed him in 2012, but he did not play after breaking his ankle in the preseason. Value grades reflect only what draft picks did with the Steelers. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-3

Fifth Round

Cameron Stephenson, OG: Stephenson never made the team. Players without a link on Pro Football Reference’s draft page might have been on the practice squad at one time or another, but if they’re never activated for a game, they don’t count in this analysis. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-3

William Gay, CB: Gay played five years for the Steelers before signing with the Arizona Cardinals in 2012. He was a regular starter in 2009 and 2011. He was one of the few Steelers defenders who could hang onto the football in 2011. His interception on the Bengals’ final drive secured a 24-17 win in Cincinnati. His end-zone interception against the Browns protected a 7-3 lead in the final minutes and set up a game-clinching touchdown in a 14-3 victory at Heinz Field. His only interception before 2011 sewed up the Steelers’ crucial 13-9 win at Baltimore in 2008. He picked off Joe Flacco in the end zone with eight seconds left. Gay’s biggest highlight with the Steelers is his touchdown on a fumble return in the 2010 AFC Championship Game against the Jets. Value: 3 Differential: Plus-2

Seventh Round

Dallas Baker, WR: Baker appeared in eight games with one reception in 2008. Value: 7 Differential: 0

Overall Differential: Minus-7

Overall Value Grade: B-minus

Conclusion: The selection of Timmons and Woodley made this a successful draft regardless of what the Steelers did after the second round. It might seem like a little bit of a letdown following up those picks with a backup tight end and a punter, but this draft yielded contributors in the first five rounds. The Steelers would have received a higher value grade were it not for the tomfoolery of drafting a punter in the fourth round. They also had extra fourth- and fifth-round picks that didn’t amount to much.

2008 DRAFT

First Round

Rashard Mendenhall, RB: It’s probably safe to evaluate Mendenhall’s career in Pittsburgh in the past tense. He’s likely to leave as a free agent after five enigmatic years both on and off the field. Mendenhall’s best year was 2010, when he ran for 1,273 yards and was third in the NFL with 13 touchdowns. In the 2010 AFC Championship Game, he ran for 121 yards and a touchdown in the Steelers’ 24-19 win over the Jets. Then he had 63 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLV before his fourth-quarter fumble killed the Steelers’ comeback momentum against the Packers. Mendenhall rushed for 928 yards in 2011 and might have had his third straight 1,000-yard season, but he tore his ACL in Week 17 at Cleveland, and played in only six games with four starts in 2012. Unfortunately, Mendenhall’s lasting legacy might be his suspension for not showing up at Heinz Field when he wasn’t activated for a game against the Chargers in December. He played a vital role for the Steelers from 2009 to 2011, but he never quite had the impact expected from a first-round pick and if he leaves as a free agent, his time in Pittsburgh will have been too short. Value: 2 Differential: Minus-1

Second Round

Limas Sweed, WR: Not only could the Steelers have had Ray Rice instead of Rashard Mendenhall in the first round, but Rice was still on the board when they chose Sweed at No. 53 in the second round. Rice went two picks later to the Ravens and has run for at least 1,100 yards in four straight seasons and been to three Pro Bowls. Sweed, meanwhile, appeared in 20 games for the Steelers in 2008 and 2009 with seven receptions. He did catch two passes for 20 yards in the Steelers’ AFC Championship Game win over the Ravens in 2008, but he also dropped a touchdown pass. Sweed is the poster boy for the Steelers’ spotty second-round draft record over the past decade. In other words, he was a bust. Value: 6 Differential: Minus-4

Third Round

Bruce Davis, LB: It’s quite sobering to look at the 2008 draft and see who was still on the board when the Steelers made their picks. The Steelers could have had Cliff Avril, Mario Manningham or Thomas DeCoud in the third round. Instead, they chose Davis, who appeared in just five games for them in 2008 before bouncing around the league until 2011. He really didn’t play enough for the Steelers to get a bust grade. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-4

Fourth Round

Tony Hills, OT: Instead of Brandon Carr, who went early in the fourth round, the Steelers selected Hills, who persevered enough to finally make the Steelers roster in 2010. He appeared in just three games for the Steelers, however, then went to Denver in 2011 and Indianapolis (with one start) in 2012. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-3

Fifth Round

Dennis Dixon, QB: The Steelers could have had Carl Nicks, but at least Dixon contributed more as a backup quarterback than 2003 fifth-rounder Brian St. Pierre. Dixon made three starts for the Steelers. Two of them came during Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension at the start of the 2010 season, helping the Steelers go 3-1 in his absence. Dixon was gone after the 2011 season and in 2012 spent time on the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad. Value: 5 Differential: 0

Sixth Round

Mike Humpal, LB: Humpal did not make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-2

Ryan Mundy, S: The Steelers have a lot of tough decisions to make on free agents this offseason. Mundy is not one of them. The Steelers probably won’t mind losing this unrestricted free agent. Mundy has five career starts with one interception. He was a liability as Troy Polamalu’s backup until Will Allen beat him out for the job in 2012. He has stuck around and played special teams for four years, however. Not a bad value for a sixth-round pick. Value: 5 Differential: Plus-1

Overall Differential: Minus-13

Overall Value Grade: C-minus

Conclusion: Mendenhall was expected to be off the board earlier in the first round and Sweed was expected to go late in the first round or early in the second round. When both of those players fell to the Steelers, they put aside their pressing need on the offensive line. By the time they finally addressed the offensive line in the fourth round, they picked the wrong guy. This draft is probably the Steelers’ worst since the turn of the century, but its value grade is better than the “F” that was plastered on the 2006 draft. The difference is there were extra picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds in 2006 that amounted to nothing. That dragged down the value grade for 2006. At least in 2008 the Steelers got a little something out of a fifth- and sixth-round pick.

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