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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Round-by-Round Value in the 2009 NFL Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers started 2009 on a euphoric note, winning their sixth championship with a heart-stopping victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

It was the Steelers’ second title in four years. Ben Roethlisberger, 26 at the time, had two rings and was in the prime of his career. He wouldn’t jeopardize all that by getting into trouble off the field, would he?

The Steelers added nine players in the 2009 NFL Draft. It seemed the rich would only get richer and a dynasty was in the making. What could possibly go wrong?

The world in 2009 got into an “Empire State of Mind” thanks to Jay-Z with some help from Alicia Keys. That anthem became sort of a 21st-century version of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York.”

Celebrity deaths took a heavy toll in 2009. Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett both died June 25. Also dying that summer were 1980s teen filmmaker John Hughes and Patrick Swayze.

Less notable but more foreboding for the Steelers in a parallel-universe kind of way was the death of 97-year-old Millvina Dean, the last Titanic survivor.

The Steelers were about to hit an iceberg in the form of a five-game losing streak that ruined their 2009 season, but who could have known that on draft day?

The more recent the draft, the more fluid the grades become in our analysis of the Steelers’ round-by-round draft value. Players drafted in 2009 and thereafter are still works in progress.

For an explanation of our grading system, click here.

FIRST ROUND

Evander “Ziggy” Hood, DE: It’s hard to gauge Hood’s contribution so far. First-round picks normally are expected to make an eye-popping impact. As a defensive lineman, however, Hood’s job is to occupy blockers while the linebackers and defensive backs fill up the stat sheet. Hood had career highs in 2012 with 25 total tackles and three passes defended. He also matched his career high with three sacks. Perhaps the biggest feather in Hood’s cap has been his durability. He’s made 31 consecutive starts, including the Steelers’ 2011 playoff game at Denver. Hood hasn’t been a bust. He’s never made a Pro Bowl, either, and we have to stick to our grading system even if it isn’t fair to him. He’s held to the same standard as an early first-round pick even though he was the last player chosen in the first round. Hood just turned 26 and has plenty of time to improve this grade. Value: 2 Differential: Minus-1

THIRD ROUND

Kraig Urbik, OL: The Steelers gave up on Urbik too soon. He never got into a game and was waived in 2010. The Buffalo Bills picked him up, and he’s started 26 games at both guard and center over the past two seasons. Pro Football Focus via Rotoworld rated Urbik as one of the NFL’s top 25 guards in 2012. However, we only grade based on what a player accomplished with the Steelers. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-5

Mike Wallace, WR: The book is likely closed on Wallace’s career with the Steelers. He’s an unrestricted free agent and the salary cap-strapped Steelers can’t give him the mega-contract he wants. The speedy Wallace loaded up the highlight reel during his four years in Pittsburgh. He led the NFL with 19.4 yards per reception in his rookie season. In 2010, he caught 60 passes, averaging 21 yards per catch, with 10 touchdowns for the AFC-champion Steelers. In Super Bowl XLV, Wallace caught nine passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort. Wallace made the Pro Bowl in 2011, catching a career-high 72 passes with eight touchdowns. His production declined in the second half of the season as defenses doubled him up, and his yards per reception dipped to 16.1. Wallace caught 64 passes with eight touchdowns in 2012. His yards per catch fell to 13.1, partly because he expanded his route tree a little and caught a few more balls in traffic. Wallace will get his big payday somewhere else, but his productivity will depend on who’s throwing the ball. Losing Wallace certainly won’t help the Steelers, but they have bigger worries heading into 2013. Value: 1 Differential: Plus-2

Keenan Lewis, CB: Lewis’s value grade would be a lot different if this series were done a year ago. He had a breakout season in 2012, breaking up 23 passes according to STATS LLC via the Washington Post. Only the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman, with 24, had more passes defended. Lewis started all 16 games in 2012 opposite Ike Taylor. Despite dealing with knee and hip injuries, Lewis did his best to keep the Steelers’ secondary afloat in December after Taylor was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Lewis has one career interception, so his ball skills leave something to be desired, but then again so do Taylor’s. The Steelers took a wait-and-see approach on re-signing Lewis last year. Now he’s an unrestricted free agent and the Steelers must find a way to keep him. Value: 2 Differential: Plus-1

FIFTH ROUND

Joe Burnett, CB: For Steelers fans, the lasting image of Burnett will be his dropped interception in the final minute of the Steelers’ 27-24 home loss to the Oakland Raiders in 2009. Had Burnett held onto the ball, it would have sealed a win and ended a three-game losing streak. Instead, Bruce Gradkowski threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 15 seconds remaining, and Burnett’s drop became emblematic of the Steelers’ five-game losing streak. They finished 9-7 and needed just one more win to make the playoffs. Burnett played just one season with the Steelers, appearing in 15 games. Burnett gets the grade normally applied to “busts” in our system. A fifth-round pick can’t really be labeled a bust, but it’s the number that best fits. Burnett had more than just a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh, so he’s better than a 7, but the Steelers didn’t think enough of him to keep him for more than a year, so he doesn’t deserve a 5. That dropped ball doesn’t help, either. Value: 6 Differential: Minus-1

Frank “The Tank” Summers, RB: The Steelers hoped the 5’10”, 240-pound Summers could be a bowling ball of a blocker in the backfield. But he played in just two games for the Steelers. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-2

SIXTH ROUND

RaShon “Sonny” Harris, DT: Harris didn’t make the team. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-2

SEVENTH ROUND

A.Q. Shipley, C: Shipley is another offensive lineman from this draft who is still in the NFL, just not with the Steelers. Shipley never dressed for the Steelers, but hung on in the league and started five games for the Indianapolis Colts in 2012. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-1

David Johnson, TE: Johnson is the saving grace of the late rounds in this draft. An injury wiped out his 2012 season, but he’s been a serviceable blocking tight end and has 18 career receptions. He started eight games combined in 2009 and 2010 and started every game in 2011. Value: 3 Differential: Plus-4

Overall Differential: Minus-5

Overall Value Grade: B

Conclusion:  The Steelers’ streak of drafts without a first-round bust won’t be broken here, even if Ziggy Hood remains merely adequate. The Steelers didn’t give Kraig Urbik much of a chance, but they more than made up for it with Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis in the third round.  Their next four picks amounted to virtually nothing, but David Johnson has been a pleasant surprise for a seventh-rounder. If Hood improves and the Steelers can re-sign Lewis, there’s a chance the value grade for this draft will go up.

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