There are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2013 draft.
Jarvis Jones could make opposing quarterbacks fear the Steelers again.
Le’Veon Bell could be the Steelers’ first iconic running back since Jerome Bettis.
Markus Wheaton could be Mike Wallace with a brain.
Shamarko Thomas could fly all over the field and make plays.
That’s a lot of “could”s.
Was this really a good draft for the black and gold, or is it just fool’s gold?
The 2013 season will go a long way toward answering that question.
Grading a draft before any of the players put on pads is like asking a 5-year-old to write a college application essay. However, it should be evident in the first year if a draft will have any impact.
The Steelers’ 2011 and 2012 draft classes are still in wait-and-see mode. David DeCastro and Mike Adams, the first- and second-rounders in 2012, showed some promise but combined to play in just 14 games because of injuries. Fourth-rounder Alameda Ta’amu didn’t dress for a game.
The 2011 class could begin bearing fruit this year. Fourth-rounder Cortez Allen is set to become a starter at cornerback. Second-rounder Marcus Gilbert is expected to regain his starting job at offensive tackle after missing 11 games with injuries last season. First-rounder Cameron Heyward is still stuck behind Brett Keisel at defensive end. Third-rounder Curtis Brown has developed slowly at cornerback.
The Steelers are waiting for more productivity from their 2011 and 2012 drafts. When it comes to evaluating drafts, however, waiting is overrated.
The Steelers didn’t have to wait to see that they made some good picks in their 2010 draft. First-rounder Maurkice Pouncey won the starting job at center in training camp and made the first of his three Pro Bowls as a rookie. Third-rounder Emmanuel Sanders caught 28 passes as a rookie. Sixth-rounder Antonio Brown’s watershed moment came in the playoffs when he pinned a 58-yard pass to his helmet to set up the winning touchdown against the Ravens in the divisional round.
That 2010 draft was a factor in the Steelers’ run to Super Bowl XLV less than a year later.
Third-rounders Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis came to the Steelers in the 2009 draft. Their departures this spring are more about the salary cap than the Steelers’ drafting acumen. It took Lewis four years to become a starter, but Wallace reaped instant dividends. He led the NFL with 19.4 yards per reception in 2009 while catching 39 passes, six of them for touchdowns.
Heath Miller also caught 39 passes, six of them for touchdowns, in his rookie year. The Steelers’ first-round pick in 2005, Miller contributed to the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL title.
It didn’t take the Steelers long to see that they nailed the 2004 draft just by taking Ben Roethlisberger with the 11th pick in the first round. Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a starter that year and led the 15-1 Steelers to the AFC championship game. He earned his first Super Bowl ring the following year.
The Steelers didn’t get immediate help from their 2003 and 2007 drafts, but their impact was as plain as day in Year 2.
Troy Polamalu didn’t start as a rookie, but became a Pro Bowler in 2004 with five interceptions and 14 pass breakups. Fourth-rounder Ike Taylor turned into a shutdown corner in 2005.
The 2007 draft paralleled 2003 with one player blossoming in his second year and another in his third. Second-rounder LaMarr Woodley had 11.5 sacks for the Super Bowl XLIII champs in 2008. Lawrence Timmons became a regular starter in 2009 and had seven sacks.
There were no second-year leaps among the 2011 draftees. Perhaps Allen will burst onto the scene this year like Polamalu did nine years ago.
The Steelers’ 1974 draft is the measuring stick not just for the Steelers, but for all NFL teams. The NFL Network rated it the NFL’s best all-time draft.
That draft produced Hall of Famers Lynn Swann in the first round, Jack Lambert in the second round, John Stallworth in the fourth round and Mike Webster in the fifth round.
The Steelers already were a dynasty in the making. Their five previous drafts all were solid, but the 1974 draft provided another piece for the franchises’ first championship that year. Lambert was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Putting together another draft like 1974 would be like painting another Sistine Chapel. It’s not happening.
However, the Steelers are coming off a .500 season and haven’t won a playoff game in two years. They’re on a downward trajectory and can’t afford a third straight “wait-and-see” draft.