Where there was so much hubris a year earlier, a dark cloud hung over the Pittsburgh Steelers as they prepared for the 2010 NFL Draft.
Just like they did three years earlier, the Steelers flopped as defending champions, missing the playoffs in 2009. The organization was disgraced further when Ben Roethlisberger’s transgressions in Milledgeville, Ga., came to light.
Roethlisberger never was charged with a crime, but still faced a suspension at the beginning of the 2010 season. That surely wouldn’t help a team trying to bounce back from a disappointing 9-7 season. Disaster seemed imminent.
It turned out things weren’t as bad as they seemed for the Steelers.
Football as it’s known to the rest of the world took sport’s grandest stage in 2010. The word “vuvuzela” was added to the vocabulary of anyone who watched the World Cup in South Africa. Those horns that collectively sounded like a swarm of bees provided the soundtrack of the summer.
Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa created a buzz in the fall with his hit single “Black and Yellow.” It wasn’t exactly a Pittsburgh version of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” but it found a place with the “Steelers Polka,” “Here We Go Steelers” and “Renegade” in the anthology of Steelers anthems.
The timing couldn’t have been better. “Black and Yellow” blasted in Steelers bars all over the country as the black and gold went all the way to the Super Bowl. Just days after “Black and Yellow” became the No.1 song in the land, the Steelers settled for No. 2 in the NFL with their loss to the Packers.
Despite their Super Bowl disappointment, 2010 became a memorable year for the Steelers, and that year’s draft had a lot to do with it.
For an explanation of our value grading system, click here.
Maurkice Pouncey, C: Pouncey revived the Steelers’ proud tradition at the center position. Thanks to Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson and Jeff Hartings, center never was a worry for the Steelers between 1964 and 2006. When Hartings retired, that lineage was interrupted. The mediocre play of Sean Mahan and Justin Hartwig prompted the Steelers to use the No. 18 pick in the 2010 draft on Pouncey, and he’s made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons. Pouncey was named first-team all-pro in 2011. Pro Football Focus, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, graded Pouncey as the NFL’s 12th-best center in 2012. The Steelers have tried to build their offensive line of the future in the last three drafts. If that comes to fruition, Pouncey will have been the first piece. Value: 1 Differential: 0
Jason Worilds, OLB: Worilds probably has accomplished enough to avoid joining Limas Sweed, Ricardo Colclough and Alonzo Jackson in the Steelers’ hall of second-round shame. He still has a lot to prove, however. His sacks have increased every year. He went from two in his rookie season to three in 2011 to five in 2012. He’s had 10 career starts, and could see more starts if the Steelers don’t keep James Harrison. Perhaps it’s too much to expect Worilds to be the next Harrison or LaMarr Woodley. The reason he’s not a regular starter is because he has them in front of him, and that was taken into consideration when assessing his value grade. Nonetheless, Worilds is facing a make-or-break year and could find himself competing for a job with an outside linebacker taken high in the 2013 draft. Value: 3 Differential: Minus-1
Emmanuel Sanders, WR: Sanders appears ready to move into a starting role if Mike Wallace signs somewhere else. He started seven games in 2012 and had career highs with 44 receptions and 14.2 yards per reception. Sanders led the Steelers with his yards-per-catch average. He’s been prone to injuries. A foot injury knocked him out of Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, and it was a big blow to the Steelers’ offense. He missed five games in 2011 with injuries to both feet and a knee, but played in all 16 games in 2012. Sanders’ trajectory seems to be pointing upward. Value: 3 Differential: 0
Thaddeus Gibson, LB: The Steelers reluctantly waived Gibson during the 2010 season to leave a roster spot open for defensive tackle Aaron Smith, who was injured in Week 7. Even though Smith never came back in 2010, the Steelers probably regret the move a little less considering Gibson has appeared in just four games, two with the San Francisco 49ers and two with the Chicago Bears. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-3
Chris Scott, OG: Scott suited up for two games with the Steelers in 2011. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-2
Crezdon Butler, CB: Butler has a lot of stickers on his suitcase. He played four games for the Steelers as a rookie, then went to the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. He played for the Washington Redskins, Cardinals and Buffalo Bills in 2012. Value: 7 Differential: Minus-2
Stevenson Sylvester, ILB: Sylvester has one career start and primarily has been a special-teams contributor. He’s a restricted free agent. If the Steelers retain him, he’ll need to make a lot of progress to see more time on defense. His slow development is one of the reasons the Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, are trying to re-sign 33-year-old inside linebacker Larry Foote. Value: 5 Differential: 0
Jonathan Dwyer, RB: Dwyer started six games in 2012 and led a rushing attack ranked 26th in the NFL. He averaged four yards a carry in gaining 623 yards and caught 18 passes for 106 yards. He had back-to-back 100-yard games in the middle of the season when the Steelers’ offensive line was healthy. The Steelers still are likely to hedge their bets on Dwyer and draft a running back if Rashard Mendenhall leaves as a free agent. Even if the Steelers lose Dwyer, who is a restricted free agent, he has been well worth a sixth-round pick. Value: 4 Differential: Plus-2
Antonio Brown, WR: Brown alone makes this the Steelers’ best sixth round in any Mike Tomlin draft. He was the team’s Most Valuable Player and went to the Pro Bowl in 2011 after catching 69 passes for 1,108 yards (16.1 yards per reception) and two touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown and was second in the NFL with 2,211 all-purpose yards. Brown caught just 16 passes in the 2010 regular season. Fellow rookie Sanders was ahead of him on the depth chart with his 28 catches. Brown turned heads in the playoffs, however, when he pinned a 58-yard pass to his helmet on third-and-19, setting up the Steelers’ winning touchdown in their 31-24 AFC divisional playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens. The following week, Brown’s only reception was a 14-yard catch on third down that secured the Steelers’ 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC championship game. Brown had a disappointing 2012 season. His two lost fumbles might have cost the Steelers a playoff berth, but he still caught 66 passes with five touchdowns. The Steelers need Brown to bounce back in 2013. Value: 1 Differential: Plus-5
Doug Worthington, DT: Worthington dressed in six games for the Washington Redskins in 2012, but never made it past the Steelers’ practice squad. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-1
Overall Differential: Minus-2
Overall Value Grade: A-minus
Conclusion: This draft paid immediate dividends. Pouncey, Sanders and Brown helped the Steelers get to the Super Bowl. The only flaw is their inability to get much in the fourth round or the fifth round, where they had three picks. Worilds and Sanders might be able to eventually take the minus off the A.