Steelers Top 10 NFL Draft Successes In Kevin Colbert Era: No. 10 - Antonio Brown, 6th Round 2010

SB Nation and Bud Light are teaming up to promote a draft prediction contest. Information about where to find details can be found at the end of the post. But in case you hadn't caught wind of it, Bud Light is ponying up $10 million bucks for anyone who has 20/20 vision about the upcoming 2011 NFL Draft. Obviously your odds are worse than Ricardo Colcloguh's NFL ability, but still, $10 million bones is no joke. You've got to throw your name in the hat for that kind of loot. 

I can't say with a straight face that I've been enamored by every last sponsorship deal this past year, but I'm actually pleased and excited to be partnering for a short campaign with Bud Light. Even though I may have stopped drinking their beer with any sort of regularity back in, oh, 11th or 12th grade, I respect their marketing and advertising efforts. They've always stayed true to the 'silly is always better' motif. Or maybe said differently, I like that they'd rather try to make me laugh than try to make me yearn for some totally ridiculous imaginary lifestyle associated with a product that's all about unwinding and being yourself around close friends and family. At least that's how I've perceived the majority of their campaigns over the years.

It's fairly rare that I don't want to sew my head to the carpet or kick in my walls after watching most commercials. It's seriously hard to comprehend how executives of certain companies are pitched ideas by their hack creative teams and say 'YEP! That's the one!'. How about Coke Zero for example? Are you kidding me? "Da da da da da da?" Criminal. The entire group responsible for that garbage should be fired, and the management who gave the green light to run it not only for one or two cycles, but for multiple years should also be thrown out with the trash. 

Rest assured you won't be subjected to my rambling about marketing in the forthcoming series of posts  I just like to write though, so it's hard to stay on point sometimes!

Where was I?

Ah yes, the new campaign will run for the next 20 days, with one post per day during the business week starting on Monday, and continuing through the second day of the 2011 NFL Draft. Over that time span, we'll be running down the Top 10 Draft Busts and Top 10 Draft Successes by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What time frame you might ask? Good question. I wish I was well versed enough in Steelers history to take this back 40 years or so when the Steelers started to get serious about investing in college scouting. But the fact of the matter is that I'm not. Furthermore, if you go back that long, it's hard to really differentiate between the multitude of candidates for 'worst' and 'best' picks. Throw in the fact that there was no free agency back then, seemingly 39 rounds in the Draft, and a whole host of other apples-to-oranges factors, and suddenly things get messy. Anyway, knowing you all, the conversation will be extended by y'all anyway over all sorts of different time periods. I look forward to reading and learning from that work, in fact :)

But I'm going to stick to what I know and keep things more simple and limit it to the past 10 years since Kevin Colbert took over the reigns from Tom Donahue as the team's director of football operations back in 2000. I reserve the right to change my mind on Tuesday, but let's start with the 'successes' first before turning our attention to the 'busts'. Something tells me though that it might be more fun to alternate. We'll see.

For the time being though, let's get to it beginning with the No. 10 'success since 2000. Before somebody on a message board that doesn't bother to actually contribute anything to the broad digital conversation and instead likes to just try to tear down others work before even taking the time to digest it all, let me be real clear about one thing: I'm excluding first round picks from my list of 'successes'. I could make that clear in the title, but it looks a bit clunky that way. If you're reading this in its entirety, then you'll surely see this note in each of the posts. Something tells me though I'll find a thread out there this next few weeks where somebody blasts me for not including Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, or Maurkice Pouncey on this list. But really it's obvious why I would exclude the first rounders. Quite simply, if you don't hit a homerun with your first round picks in this league, you're in trouble. Those top picks have to pan out if you want to compete consistently. Of course, there's different levels of 'panning out.' Ziggy Hood looks like a keeper and solid pick, but he ain't Troy Polamalu or even Lawrence Timmons. No knock on the Zigster, but just saying that it's worth doing a list of 'best first round picks of all time' perhaps, but for this narrow time frame, let's exclude what are expected to be great picks, and turn our attention to the later rounds to see where Colbert and his army of scouts struck gold with their talent evaluation.

(And finally, before I get started , a quick thanks to NYSteelersFan4 for unintentionally helping out with this series, as he just so happened to write a single, comprehensive post about a similar topic recently, I asked him to hold off on publishing it with this series on the horizon, but his research has already come in handy for the first of 20 posts, and will assuredly continue to be a nice resource this next two weeks. Send him a piece of any credit you want to give to the series; I'll bear the brunt of the blame though.)

No. 10 Draft Success in the Kevin Colbert Era -- WR Antonio Brown, 6th Round Pick, 2010

 

I imagine that this initial selection might be somewhat controversial. To begin, let's all make sure we're on the same page about this: it's really too early to assess the Steelers 2010 NFL Draft. I mean, it seems plainly obvious that we struck gold with Maurkice Pouncey, who was named to the All Pro Team and the Pro Bowl as a rookie from his center position. After that though, we just don't know. We don't know if Jason Worilds will develop into a solid every-down starter at OLB; we don't know if Emanuel Sanders will materialize into something more than say a Cedrick Wilson type contributor (we do know that Sanders is a great young man and will never have the same type of off-field issues); we don't know if the trio of fifth round picks (Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, Chris Scott) will amount to much more than serviceable backups and/or special teams contributors; we don't know if Jonathan Dwyer will ever get an opportunity to prove himself in Pittsburgh, and if he does, whether he'll establish himself as a productive 'back.

Of the entire lot not named Pouncey, only Sanders (third round) and Antonio Brown (sixth round) really saw the field outside of special teams. Give me another year or two before I can assess the guys who have not yet taken many snaps on either offense or defense.

As for Sanders and Brown -- well, one is a third rounder and one an almost afterthought in the sixth. Even though you're going to have some misses with your third round picks, you still need to have a relatively solid track record of finding contributing talent in the third round. And that's exactly what I think Sanders will prove to be -- a nice, complimentary option at WR. I personally don't think Sanders will ever be a No. 2 WR option though. If he is, I imagine it might be somewhere other than in Pittsburgh. Think Nate Washington being lured away by big free agent bucks perhaps. I don't say that as a knock on Sanders really. I like him as a player. But he's not going to explode onto the scene like Mike Wallace did in 2010 during his sophomore campaign. He just doesn't have the rare athletic gifts that Wallace does. That said, in today's pass-happy NFL, Sanders is a great piece to have in your WR corps, particularly when you have a QB like Ben Roethlisberger who can extend plays and scan the field beyond just his first or second progression before getting rid of the ball. Sanders is a safe bet to be a 35-50 catch type of guy this next few years. Seems about right for what a third round WR should produce with two guys ahead of him on the depth chart plus a top flight tight end getting the lion's share of the pass catching opportunities.

To find a dynamic playmaker in the sixth round though is more impressive. And Antonio Brown was exactly that for the Steelers as a rookie in '10. The young man scored a touchdown the very first time he touched the ball in an NFL game, a 89-yard return on the opening kickoff in a Week 2 win against the Tennessee Titans.

As a point of reference, here's the list of sixth rounders taken by the Steelers since 2000:

  • 2000: Chris Combs (173rd Overall) Jason Gavadza (204th Overall),
  • 2001: Rodney Bailey (181st Overall), Roger Knight (182nd Overall)
  • 2002: Lee Mays (202nd Overall),
  • 2003: No Players Taken 
  • 2004: Bo Lacy (177th Overall), Matt Kranchik (194th Overall), Drew Caylor (197th Overall)
  • 2005: Chris Kemoeatu (204th Overall)
  • 2006: Marvin Philip (201st Overall)
  • 2007: No Player Taken
  • 2008: Mike Humpal (188th Overall),
  • 2009: Ryan Mundy (194th Overall), Rashon Harris (205th Overall)
  • 2010: Jonathan Dwyer (188th Overall), Antonio Brown (195th Overall)

Brown and Sanders competed for a helmet for much of the early part of the season, with Sanders emerging victorious most weeks. Brown would be inactive for Weeks 6-10 before returning to the lineup for the Steelers eleventh game of the season, a home affair against the Oakland Raiders. Brown caught one pass for 21 yards in Pittsburgh's 35-3 thrasing of Oakland, then was inactive the following week. He would return to the lineup for the final five games of the regular season beginning with the team's thrilling 13-10 last-minute win over rival Baltimore. In those final six games that he appeared in, Brown caught at least one pass in every game. In fact, after that Oakland game, Brown caught two or more balls in the final five contests.

What about the playoffs? Surely you don't need any reminders of how Brown was an instrumental part of the Steelers advancing to Super Bowl XLVIII. In case you do though, here's a picture to refresh your memory: 

Canon_10_wk_19_05_medium

Sick. Easily a top-five catch in Steelers history. From a rookie under the most intense of pressure.

A week later against the New York Jets, Brown would help seal the deal again with his clutch catch on a 3rd down late in the game with the Steelers trying to stave off a furious second half rally by the Jets. Facing a 3rd and 6 from their own 40 right after the two-minute warning, Brown hauled in the game-clinching first down catch to send the Steelers on to Dallas for SB XLVIII.

Antoniobrown_medium

Look, as I mentioned at the outset, it's far too early to say with any certainty whether Brown is likely to merit inclusion on this list a few years from now. In case you were wondering, I bumped Clark Haggans from a similar list I had compiled in the past. Haggans may eventually go down in history as a more 'successful' pick than Brown. He certainly has a more complete body of work at this point in time.

But the bottom line in my mind is that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin did a phenomenal job of identifying this kid as a steal in the sixth round. Here's what I like about Brown -- he's a fighter, never been handed anything, totally unafraid of challenges, and very much accustomed to overcoming long odds.  Brown was a star quarterback in high school in the Miami area. Not exactly the easiest of places to shine as a high school football player. But he struggled to get the grades necessary to play D-1 football from the get-go and had to instead enroll in junior college. He didn't fall off the face of the earth after that setback, and instead enrolled at North Carolina Tech for a year before walking on at Central Michigan. I'm curious to know why he chose CMU, particularly since he had to walk on, but that's a story for another day. Anyway, all he did at CMU was haul in 98, 93, and 110 passes in his three seasons there before foregoing his senior year to enter the Draft. Maybe the fact that he could catch close to a 100 balls per year is why he enrolled? Seems like a good guess to me.

Anyway, Brown's a gamer, plain and simple. I've thought as much since seeing him play some in college and then reading more about him after he was drafted by our beloved Steelers. And his rookie season only cemented in my mind the idea that Brown is never going to get plagued by Sweed-itis and be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the moment. Sounds like a cliche perhaps, but it's reall not. And Limas Sweed is a perfect example of how there is very much a difference between certain athletes in the NFL when it comes to their competitive streak and overall mental makeup.

To conclude, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that I thought Mike Tomlin did a masterful job coaching Brown this past year. I am only speculating here, but I believe wholeheartedly that Tomlin wisely held Brown back for awhile last season not because Manny Sanders was beating him out in practice each week. Seems like more of a psychological move on Tomlin's part, even after Brown had made an early impression with his KO return against the Titans. My gut is that Tomlin felt Brown could benefit from a slice of humble pie on the sidelines before getting a chance to play regularly. A reminder that 'yes, we know you're a baller, but settle down, you're a tiny piece of this puzzle right now; get your mind right.'  When Brown was reinserted into the lineup in the final third of the season, he didn't disappoint, that's for sure.

Finally, one last thing that I've yet to share here I don't believe. Remember when Tomlin was pissed off that an ESPN reporter (Bob Holtzman I believe) leaked news to the Ravens about a potential trick play being in the works for the Divisional Round matchup between Pittsburgh and Baltimore? Well, we never really learned the details about what that trick play was. And we didn't see a trick play in the Steelers final two games of the playoffs that was perhaps what was going to be used against the Ravens. But I truly would bet huge sums that the trick play did not involve the likely candidate for a gadget play -- Antwaan Randle El. Instead, I'd go all in that it was Antonio Brown, the former HS quarterback whose unafraid of big moments, that was dialed up to execute the trick play. I can't confirm this, but I nevertheless feel confident in that assessment. And if so, it sure speaks volumes about the kind of confidence Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff have in their second sixth round draft pick in 2010.

Go Steelers!

***********

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