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Takeaways from Round-by-Round Value Grades of Pittsburgh Steelers Drafts

To the casual fan, it might not seem like a big deal that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been awarded a compensatory sixth-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, as Pro Football Talk reports.

However, in analyzing the round-by-round value of the last 12 Steelers drafts, we were reminded that Antonio Brown and Chris Kemoeatu were sixth-round picks.

So, really, how can you not be excited about an extra sixth-round draft pick?

So what did we learn in this 12-part series in which the Steelers’ grades ranged from A-plus to F?

The purpose of this analysis wasn’t necessarily to grade the Steelers drafts straight up but to grade the Steelers’ ability to find the appropriate value in each round.

All eyes are on the Steelers’ first-round pick, No. 17 overall, in the 2013 draft. It will be a crucial pick for the Steelers if they choose to keep it. It’s their highest first-round pick since they had the No. 15 selection in 2007.

But winning teams aren’t built on first-round picks alone. The Steelers have reaped benefits from picks in each round of the draft since 2001.

When the Steelers find productive players in later rounds, it often leads to a high-yield draft. On the other side of the coin, wasted picks in the middle and late rounds often are the recipe for a lackluster draft.

The Steelers’ 2004 draft (click on the year for the article on each draft) was the exception. They drafted Ben Roethlisberger in the first round, but their value grade for that draft was C-minus.

Roethlisberger alone earns the Steelers a gold star for the 2004 draft. They also picked Max Starks in the third round. But they took second-round bust Ricardo Colclough and had five picks in the last three rounds that yielded very little. Even though those choices dragged down the value grade, the Steelers have no explaining to do for the 2004 draft.

The Steelers’ three previous drafts were solid from top to bottom.  We gave them a B-plus for the 2001 draft, an A-plus for the 2002 draft and an A-minus for the 2003 draft.

In 2001, the Steelers drafted Casey Hampton in the first round and Kendrell Bell in the second round and picked up role players in the fifth and sixth rounds.

That draft unearths another key takeaway from this series. The Steelers don’t necessarily have to wait a year for defensive rookies to make an impact.

The Steelers have grown accustomed to a learning curve for defensive rookies, but Hampton and Bell made a difference right away on a team that improved from 9-7 to 13-3 and reached the AFC championship game.

Hampton started 11 games and Bell had nine sacks as a rookie. To be fair, they didn’t have to learn Dick LeBeau’s defense. He became the Steelers’ defensive coordinator in 2004. Still, if there’s a time when the Steelers need a defensive draft pick to make an immediate impact, it’s now.

Of all 12 drafts analyzed, the 2002 draft received the only A-plus and is still bearing fruit for the Steelers. Fourth-rounder Larry Foote and seventh-rounder Brett Keisel are still around. Keisel has been their best individual value pick in the past 12 years. Third-rounder Chris Hope was a key contributor on the 2005 championship team, and the Steelers didn’t miss with first-rounder Kendall Simmons and second-rounder Antwaan Randle El.

The 2003 draft is right up there with the 2004 draft. The Steelers had just five picks in that draft but made the most of them, taking Troy Polamalu in the first round and Ike Taylor in the fourth round. Those picks turned out so well that second-round bust Alonzo Jackson did little damage to their value grade.

The Steelers added the final pieces to their Super Bowl XL championship team in the 2005 draft. They earned a B-plus value grade by taking Heath Miller in the first round, Bryant McFadden in the second round and versatile backup offensive lineman Trai Essex in the third round. In the sixth round, they found a hidden gem in Chris Kemoeatu, who was a solid guard until his time with the Steelers came to a penalty-strewn end.

The 2006 draft was the Steelers’ worst of the 21st century in terms of round-by-round value. We gave that draft an F, but it wasn’t exactly a failure overall. It yielded a Super Bowl MVP in Santonio Holmes, but he was only with the Steelers for four years. The only other player from that nine-player draft who amounted to anything was fourth-rounder Willie Colon, who’s now a Jet. That leaves the Steelers with no one left from that draft class. Since those players are all right around 29 and 30, that’s a knock on the value of the Steelers’ picks that year.

With Rashard Mendenhall going to the Cardinals and Ryan Mundy going to the Giants, the Steelers also have no one left from their 2008 draft. Mendenhall was no bust, but his time in Pittsburgh came to a disappointing end. The Steelers struck out in the second round with Limas Sweed and in the third round with Bruce Davis. The fact that Mundy is the second-best player from this group is an indictment on this draft class, which received a C-minus value grade.

The 2007 draft is comparable to 2003 and 2004 with the selections of Lawrence Timmons in the first round and LaMarr Woodley in the second round. The value grade would be higher than B-minus were it not for injury-plagued punter Daniel Sepulveda and Ryan McBean in the fourth round and Cameron Stephenson in the fifth round. The value grade could get a boost with third-rounder Matt Spaeth and fifth-rounder William Gay back for a second act with the Steelers.

The bookends of the 2009 draft are left shouldering the load for that class with the departures of Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis. First-rounder Ziggy Hood has been steady if not spectacular, and the contribution of seventh-rounder David Johnson has raised this draft’s value grade to a B.

The Steelers’ 2010 draft gets an A-minus for value, and that corresponds to the overall impact of this draft. Maurkice Pouncey has been the Steelers’ best first-round pick since Timmons. Third-rounder Emmanuel Sanders and sixth-rounder Antonio Brown have provided strong value. If second-rounder Jason Worilds can pick up the pace in his development, this draft could be a memorable one.

The 2011 (B-plus) and 2012 (B-minus) drafts are full of wait-and-see players. There’s plenty of potential, but those value grades could go in either direction. It’s too early to assess those drafts.

The Steelers’ average value grade for all 12 drafts is a B. Part of the reason for that is the fact that they haven’t drafted a first-round bust in this century.

Coming off an 8-8 season, this is no time to break that streak, or to waste picks in the later rounds.

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