Since Kevin Colbert became the Pittsburgh Steelers’ director of player personnel in 2000, they have not missed on a first-round draft pick, although it’s too early to tell on Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro.
The 2013 NFL draft is no time for the Steelers to snap that first-round streak.
Coming off an 8-8 season, the 2013 draft is a pivotal one for the franchise. As frustrating as it’s been to see the Steelers miss the playoffs every third year since 2001, these non-playoff interludes have provided them with top-20 draft picks that they have put to good use.
A case can be made for the Steelers to trade out of their No. 17 pick this year for a choice later in the first round and a couple of extra picks later in the draft. The more picks they have, the better their chances of addressing all their needs, which include outside linebacker, running back and wide receiver.
The Steelers might not be so quick to peddle that No. 17 pick, however. As good as their first-round track record has been, it gets better the higher they pick.
The Steelers did well with first-round picks outside the top 20 before Mike Tomlin became the head coach. Santonio Holmes was chosen at No. 25 in 2006. Heath Miller went at No. 30 in 2005. Kendall Simmons, who started 80 games at right guard, was the No. 30 pick in 2002.
In the Tomlin era, however, the Steelers’ late first-round picks have been iffy even if they’re not total busts.
Defensive end Ziggy Hood was taken with the No. 32 pick in the 2009 draft. While he’s been adequate and dependable, he hasn’t had the sort of impact expected from a first-round pick. Defensive end Cameron Heyward, chosen at No. 31 in 2011, has shown flashes but hasn’t had many opportunities with Brett Keisel in front of him.
David DeCastro, the No. 24 pick last year, missed most of his rookie season with an injury. Rashard Mendenhall, the No. 23 selection in 2008, gave the Steelers two 1,000-yard seasons and scored 29 career touchdowns, but at 25 his time in Pittsburgh has passed.
There’s much less debate about the Steelers’ results with top-20 picks Maurkice Pouncey (No. 18 in 2010), Lawrence Timmons (No. 15 in 2007), Ben Roethlisberger (No. 11 in 2004), Troy Polamalu (No. 16 in 2003), Casey Hampton (No. 19 in 2001) and Plaxico Burress (No. 8 in 2000).
Those six players have earned a combined 17 Pro Bowl berths, and that’s without Timmons contributing to that total. He’ll only be 27 next season and figures to add a Pro Bowl or two to his resume as he enters his prime.
So while the Steelers’ draft record has been spotty in recent years, the middle of the first round has been a sweet spot for them.
Outside linebacker, running back and wide receiver are three urgent draft needs for the Steelers, but they can wait to address at least two of those positions.
There are no running backs rated among NFL Draft Scout’s top 32 prospects. The Steelers have proven that they don’t need to use an early-round pick to find productive receivers. Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders both were third-round picks and Antonio Brown was a sixth-rounder.
As far as outside linebacker goes, the Steelers could choose to sink or swim with Jason Worilds. After all, they did use a second-round pick on him in 2010.
Then again, their attitude might change if Georgia’s Jarvis Jones is available at No. 17. They would have to perform their medical due diligence because of Jones’ spinal stenosis, but he led the nation in 2012 with 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles.
Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore also could be available to the Steelers at No. 17. The 6’5”, 250-pound junior had 12.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss, eight quarterback hurries and two blocked kicks last season. He’s also forced eight fumbles in the last three seasons. Moore is listed as a defensive end but could be converted to outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Kenny Vaccaro of Texas would provide some youth at the safety position with Troy Polamalu turning 32 next month and Ryan Clark turning 34 next season.
The Steelers could draft a receiver in the first round for the first time since they took Holmes in 2006 if Tennessee’s Cordarrelle Patterson or West Virginia’s Tavon Austin are available.
Five years after drafting Hood out of Missouri, the Steelers could tap the Tigers for a defensive lineman again. Perhaps Sheldon Richardson could give Hood a run for his money.
The Steelers have a realistic shot at all these players with the No. 17 pick, and since Colbert’s been in charge they’ve always made the right decision when picking that high.