As I noted in this post, I decided to assess the Tomlin-era draft picks on what they say about Tomlin and the Front Office's talent evaluation, even if the player doesn't end up producing much, or at all, for the Steelers. My premise is that the team might not be able to wait for a guy to develop, or they might not have the roster space to keep someone they like.
This post looks at the draft picks from Mike Tomlin's third season. I've also listed the UFAs they signed and followed any that came to anything.
To see the 2007 picks, click on the above link. To see the 2008 picks, click here.
Here is the 2009 draft:
1/32 Evander "Ziggy" Hood
no second round pick - traded with the Broncos.
3/79 Kraig Urbik (from Denver trade)
3/84 Mike Wallace (from Chicago, via Denver)
3/96 Keenan Lewis
no 4th round pick - part of the deal with Denver
5/168 Joe Burnett
5/169 Frank Summers (compensatory pick)
6/205 Ra'Shon Harris
7/226 A. Q. Shipley (from Tampa Bay)
7/241 David Johnson
DT Steve McLendon
RB Isaac Redman
OG Ramon Foster
WR Tyler Grisham
LS Mark Estermyer
LB Tom Korte
QB Mike Reilly
SS Derrick Richardson
QB Kevin McCabe
LB Andy Schantz
WR Demiko Goodman
WR Steven Black
DT Jeff Bradley
It's awesome to win a Super Bowl. But there are two major suckage factors to doing so. First of all, your veterans have played an extra month of football compared to the vast majority of the league, and have less time to recuperate, heal, and rest during the off-season. The other problem is that you are picking at the very end of each round. The only position that sucks more, as we know, is picking next-to-last.
It poses quite a challenge to the Front Office to figure out a way to get first-round value out of what is essentially a second-round pick, and so on down the line. Let's evaluate how they did.
This is a really interesting draft. There were some definite hits, and seemingly a lot of misses. Less than half the picks are still on the roster. On the other hand, they picked up an incredible "class" of UFAs. At least I think it is pretty incredible when four of your UFAs are still on the team, and two are starters.
So let's evaluate each round.
Round One pick Ziggy Hood has taken longer than some people seem to think he should have to get to where he is now, but is there anybody who doesn't want him on the team at the moment? With Aaron Smith's injury issues in the past two seasons (and Brett Keisel's, for that matter,) combined with the Ancient Mariner status of the D-line, we're blessed to have him. I feel quite certain that we haven't seen his best play yet.
The second round trade is interesting. The trade with Denver dropped the Steelers 14 spots to pick No. 15 in the third round, giving them three third round picks and an extra seventh round pick. The Steelers used the first third-round pick to take a definite position of need in OG Kraig Urbik, one of the top-rated guards in that draft.
It would have been nice if he had panned out, too. But he was beaten last season for the top backup guard position by another member of the 2009 class, Ramon Foster. The Steelers waived him in 2010, and the Bills picked him up. He is on their starting O line.
So clearly it wasn't a bad draft choice in terms of talent evaluation. I would love to know why he was valued less than Foster. It would also be fascinating to know whether he is just a better fit with the Bills or whether the Steelers staff missed something in evaluating him.
If the Steelers were determined to take an OG with the second round pick, another guard that they could have taken (although they would have needed to use their No. 64 pick) was Louis Vasquez, who was drafted by San Diego and started for them right away, apparently. (He was picked at No. 78, right before the Steelers took Urbik.)
If they would have been happy with an OT instead, there was an option. The Cowboys took a tackle at No. 69 that was cut in 2010 and isn't playing anymore.
However, if the Steelers had gone that route instead, we would not be the proud possessors of Mike Wallace, the Fastest WR in the World. It's an interesting question to consider. Would we be better off with lesser receivers and a better line so that Ben could actually throw to them? Well, I'm greedily hoping that we'll have both—that the coaching staff will get out the duct tape, liquid nails, and aluminum flashing (the only things your really need to fix most anything around my house, apparently) and put together an acceptable line with some admittedly unpromising material. It's definitely a shame that Urbik didn't show enough soon enough to be kept, though, as it would be nice to have had both.
Looking now at the Wallace pick, a WR could have been viewed as unnecessary at the time. After all, Santonio Holmes, Super Bowl MVP, was our No. 1 receiver for the foreseeable future. In retrospect it seems as if the Steelers weren't assuming that, though. They might have had concerns about Holmes' character, or felt that they weren't going to want to pay what he would be asking. At any rate, Wallace was a real gem in the third round.
The final third round pick, at our appointed slot, was Keenan Lewis. Lewis and Wallace, curiously, were best friends and teammates in high school. They are also a good illustration of why you can't reasonably evaluate a draft right after it has occurred.
One of the graders of the 2009 draft felt that while Lewis was underrated and a great choice in the third round, Mike Wallace was picked a couple of rounds too high. But Lewis' back injury in 2009 didn't give anyone a chance to see what he could do, and when he got a chance to play in 2010 he immediately collected some bone-headed Personal Foul and Unsportsmanlike Conduct penalties that got him benched for most of the rest of the season. I was certainly beginning to hear the "B" word (bust) in relation to Lewis last year.
Time will tell, but it looks as if he's showing some of what the Steelers saw when they picked him. I suspect that they were confident enough about him, despite his struggles last season, that they didn't feel the need for a high pick at CB. It's beginning to look that way.
The next four picks have generated a lot of words on Behind the Steel Curtain. Joe Burnett looked like he was going to pass up Keenan Lewis while he was out with the back injury, but he was cut in training camp last year. It's a pity, too, because he was on my Best-Looking Steelers Top Ten List. The Giants picked him up in 2010, but cut him at the end of training camp this year, and he is currently a free agent.
Frank "the Tank" Summers was a bit of a fan favorite. He was the starting fullback for the first two weeks of his rookie season, (who knew we had a starting fullback?) but was injured and spent the rest of the season on IR. He spent 2010 on the practice squad and was signed by the Chargers after the Super Bowl. He's now on their practice squad. So, despite the fact that he's supposedly got good hands and is a beast to bring down, he hasn't yet (and may never) taken that final step to make a roster. But he was certainly worth a flyer in the fifth round.
In Ra'Shon "Sunny" Harris' two years in the league he was cut by the Steelers, saw time on the Panthers roster, (for a few games in 2009,) was waived and put back on their practice squad, picked up again by the Steelers when Aaron Smith went on IR, and was cut at the end of the 2010 preseason. The Bills picked him up and put him on their practice squad, and now he is another free agent.
A. Q. Shipley was a Pittsburgh boy and a Nittany Lion. Many people were excited that we picked him up. But after spending the 2009 season on the practice squad he was cut after the 2010 preseason. The Eagles picked him up for their practice squad, and he was cut at the end of the 2011 preseason. He is also currently a free agent.
Our final pick was TE David Johnson. He gets a lot of abuse from some people on this board, but I think he has progressed a good deal, and obviously the Steelers' coaching staff does too, as he is the No. 2 tight end. He has made some great plays for us in both receiving and blocking, although he has some misses too. But who hasn't, this season?
The UFA class of 2008 seemed pretty impressive, with four of the guys they picked up getting game time, but only one of them remains on the roster.
The 2009 class blows it out of the water. When one of them is Isaac Redman, The Most Interesting Running Back in the World, how can you view it as anything but spectacular? And joking aside, we may well find in the next few weeks that the fever that the doldrums in the running game has thrown us into can only be cured by "More Redman!"
Redman would have been more than enough to make this a banner year. But wait—there's more! We also got a promising-looking DT and the perennial scrappy WR that I am always cheering for during training camp to make the roster. Maybe next season—and it will have to be next season, because if I'm correct this is the last year he's eligible for the practice squad.
Furthermore, we got an OG who may be part of what's wrong with the Offensive Line, but right now at least he's a body. And honestly, he was part of the starting O line in the Super Bowl. As much as we've all dissected that game, the O line wasn't the problem.
So how do we evaluate this draft? Well, the final tale on this draft is still to be told, but to me it looks quite good indeed, both for the Steelers and from the talent evaluation standpoint. There are only three of the picks that aren't playing football with some team, a fifth, sixth, and seventh round pick. Four of the picks are currently starters.
The highest-round "miss," an early third-round selection, is a starter for another team. Our second third-round selection is breaking team records, and would have broken an NFL record if our O line was just a little bit better. Which makes it all the more of a shame that Urbik didn't pan out for us.
It looks even better if you just skip over Urbik in your mind and think of Wallace as the pick at No. 64 and Lewis as the late third-round pick.
But all in all, I think this will grade out in the final analysis as quite a strong draft for Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert. It is already significantly stronger than the 2008 draft, despite picking nine slots lower.
And because of the difficulties in evaluating a draft too soon after it has occurred, I think that is the end of this series, at least until next season, when we can more reasonably evaluate the 2010 class.