The Pittsburgh Steelers will need some help from their 2011 NFL Draft class if they want to avoid a second straight season that ends in December.
It will be a few years before the value grade for this draft is set in stone. Six of the seven players chosen are still with the Steelers.
If some of these players tap their upside, this draft could help the Steelers regain their status as perennial Super Bowl contenders.
If these players have reached their plateau, however, this could be the Steelers’ worst draft since 1996, not just in terms of value but overall. That hunk of junk was a factor in the Steelers’ three-year playoff drought from 1998 to 2000.
In terms of round-by-round value, this is the ideal draft to apply our formula (click here). It’s the only one in which the Steelers have had one pick in each of the seven rounds.
Cameron Heyward, DE: Drafting the son of former University of Pittsburgh star Craig “Ironhead” Heyward provided a sentimental consolation for Pittsburgh fans three months after the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLV loss to the Packers. Heyward has dressed for every game in his two-year career, but hasn’t started in one. He can’t be faulted too much for that. He’s behind Brett Keisel and the durable Ziggy Hood on the depth chart. Keisel, who will turn 35 next season, has shown no signs of slowing down. Heyward might just have to make some big strides and overtake Keisel or Hood to win a starting job. In terms of salary, Pro Football Focus said that Heyward was an undervalued player for the Steelers in 2012. Perhaps it’s encouraging that Heyward’s best game statistically is his most recent one. In the 2012 season finale against the Browns, Heyward made four combined tackles and shared a sack. He might have to keep playing the waiting game. It took Keisel four years to earn his first start. Value: 4 Differential: Minus-3
Marcus Gilbert, OT: The Steelers think enough of Gilbert to entrust him with the protection of Ben Roethlisberger’s blind side in 2013. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers plan to move Gilbert from right tackle to left tackle. He started 13 games at right tackle in 2011, and he started five games there in 2012 before going down for the season with an ankle injury. Gilbert’s thin track record might make Steelers fans a little queasy at the prospect of him playing left tackle. However, Pro Football Focus rated Gilbert 13th in pass protection among all NFL offensive tackles in 2011. Value: 3 Differential: Minus-1
Curtis Brown, CB: Brown has led the Steelers in special teams tackles in each of his two seasons, according to Steel City Insider. After not playing any defense in 2011, Brown saw more action at cornerback in 2012 but was exposed in his first extended duty against the San Diego Chargers. Ike Taylor’s injury bumped him up to the nickel back role, and he was burned so badly that Josh Victorian moved ahead of him on the depth chart. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Steelers on Monday brought back cornerback William Gay, who was cut by the Arizona Cardinals. That doesn’t bode well for Brown’s job security. His contributions on special teams prop up his value grade. Value: 4 Differential: Minus-1
Cortez Allen, CB: It’s funny how Allen was the fourth-round pick and Brown was the third-round pick in this draft, because Allen is significantly ahead of Brown in his development as a cornerback. Allen broke up 10 passes in 2012, six of them after Ike Taylor was hurt in Baltimore. The opposing quarterback rating on passes thrown his way in 2012 was 68.5, according to Pro Football Focus via SI.com. Allen started three of the last four games last season. With the Steelers fighting for their playoff life in Week 16 against the Bengals, Allen intercepted two passes, broke up three passes and forced a fumble. In the season finale against Cleveland, Brown forced two more fumbles. The Steelers likely will try to keep unrestricted free agent Keenan Lewis. If they can’t, Allen would start and the Steelers could come up with some of those game-changing takeaways they’ve lacked for the past two seasons. Value: 3 Differential: Plus-1
Chris Carter, OLB: Carter showed flashes of promise as a rookie, had an impressive training camp in 2012 and started the first three games of the season in place of injured James Harrison. Unfortunately, he had just two quarterback pressures and no sacks last season, according to Steel City Insider. His season ended with an abdominal injury in November. If the Steelers don’t keep Harrison, Carter still would be a candidate to start in his place. Carter might be coming along slowly, but he hasn’t been a bad value for a fifth-round pick. Value: 4 Differential: Plus-1
Keith Williams, OT: Williams never made it with the Steelers, but he’s one of four offensive linemen they’ve drafted since 2008 who’s cashing an NFL paycheck with another team. He was with the Bills in 2012. Value: 8 Differential: Minus-2
Baron Batch, RB: A knee injury in training camp wiped out Batch’s rookie season. He appeared in 12 games last season, gaining 49 yards on 25 carries with a touchdown. At least he’s never fumbled. Value: 5 Differential: Plus-2
Overall Differential: Minus-3
Overall Value Grade: B-plus
Conclusion: This draft value grade is in flux and could go either way depending on how these players develop. Heyward, Gilbert and Allen all have shown promise, but more needs to be seen before any of them are really proven. On the back end, the fifth- and seventh-rounders are still with the team after two years. That’s more than can be said for a lot of drafts.