The Pittsburgh Steelers love to take defensive ends later in the draft and develop them into starters in their 3-4 defense. The team drafted Aaron Smith in the fourth round of the 1999 draft and then Brett Keisel in the seventh round of the 2002 draft. Both turned into two of the better 3-4 defensive ends in the league with their ability to be dominant against the run and still apply pressure on the quarterback. It seems like every year when the Steelers take a lineman late we all try and make the comparison to Keisel and Smith and predict/hope he is the next guy to develop. Unfortunately, since Keisel in 2002, none of the defensive linemen drafted by the Steelers made any impact with the team.
Since drafting Brett Keisel in the seventh round in 2002, here are every defensive ends selected by the Steelers.
Eric Taylor spent his first year and a half in the NFL bouncing back and forth from being released to the Steelers’ practice squad before being signed by the Minnesota Vikings. Taylor then spent the next three seasons on the practice squads of the Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans before ultimately going to the Canadian Football League.
Shaun Nua made the roster in his rookie season and got a Super Bowl ring when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. In 2006 however, Nua spent the majority of the season being released and re-signed to the Steelers practice squad. The team then released Nua before the start of the 2007 season which led to the Bills picking him up and keeping him on their practice squad for one season.
Orien Harris is probably the biggest disappointment of the group considering how high he was drafted and the fact that he didn’t even make the roster out of camp his rookie year. The Steelers kept him on their practice squad until the Cleveland Browns picked him up until the 2007 season. That year saw Harris go from the Browns, to the Buffalo Bills, and ending the season with the New Orleans Saints. Harris was then signed by the Cincinnati Bengals and stayed until being traded to the St. Louis Rams in the offseason prior to the 2009 season for running back Brian Leonard. Two months later Harris was again traded, this time to the Detroit Lions, for wide receiver Ronald Curry. Early in the 2009 season Harris was released and then ended his career in the NFL by being signed for the rest of that year by the Bengals again.
Ryan McBean spent most of this rookie season on the Steelers’ practice squad before being promoted to the 53 man roster to end the year. McBean then became a starter for the Denver Broncos during the 2009-2010 seasons before being released in 2011 by the team following him being suspended six games for violating the league’s policy on performing enhancing substances. Still facing the suspension, the Baltimore Ravens picked McBean up and he was a part of the Super Bowl champion team this past season.
Ra’Shon Harris didn’t make the final cuts before the 2009 season and was claimed by the Carolina Panthers. After being released by the Panthers a few weeks later the Steelers picked Harris up again and kept him on the roster until the beginning of the 2010 season. Harris was then signed to the Buffalo Bills practice squad before the Steelers again signed him back for the end of 2010. The team was forced to waive/injured Harris before the 2011 season and he bounced from the New York Giants to his current team the Houston Texans. Harris missed the entire 2012 season due to injury and is now fighting for a roster spot with the Texans.
Ziggy Hood is currently the starting defensive end opposite Brett Keisel after taking over for the retired Aaron Smith. The 2013 season could be Hood’s last chance to prove that he deserves a long term contract with the team since he has underperformed to this point according to most fans. Personally, I don’t think Hood has done a terrible job as the starter but obviously everyone can get better. It doesn’t help Hood that the team has another first round pick, Cameron Heyward, that fans want to see the field more. More than likely the Steelers will get a deal done with Hood to be the starter for the foreseeable future.
Doug Worthington did not make the Steelers’ final roster and was released from the practice squad early in the season. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Worthington for the end of the 2010 season and was then claimed by the Washington Redskins before 2011. Worthington then went back and forth from the Redskins practice squad and active roster and currently is dealing with an inury.
Cameron Heyward hasn’t seen the field much in his first two seasons with the Steelers and most fans want him to start over Ziggy Hood. The plan seems to be for Heyward to take over for the veteran Brett Keisel at some point but Keisel seems to be going strong recently. The hardest part is that we haven’t been able to really see how Heyward has developed because of Keisel and Hood being ahead of him. At this point there is nothing we can do but wait and see how much time Heyward gets in 2013.
We finally come to the most recent draftee for the Steelers at defensive end in Nick Williams. Williams has been looked at as a project but someone who has great potential. I believe there is strong chance that Williams could make the final roster in 2013 but there is always a shot the Steelers try and sneak him onto the practice squad. It may take a while, however, Williams could develop into a solid starter for the Steelers. The only problem, as you can see, he is one in a long line of guys who the team saw the same potential in.
I’m not trying to compare the skill set of every player to Williams and act like each situation was exactly the same though. The biggest difference, other than Hood and Heyward, is that Williams has his opportunity in front of him right now. He has as good a shot as any defensive lineman fighting for a spot at making the roster. The test is going to be if Williams can truly make an impact for the Steelers one, two, three years down the road and not just become an afterthought as most before him.
Information compiled from KFFL.com.