The countdown of Kevin Colbert's most 'successful' drat picks continues with my No. 8 selection, Chris Kemoeatu, a project offensive guard taken in the second to last round of the 2005 Draft. Though you certainly couldn't be confused about SB Nation's recent partnership with Bud Light for this next few weeks based on the gigantic beer bottles on the left and right side of your screen, I'll still remind you that you'd be a fool not to at least copy and paste someone else's mock draft into the $10,000,000 contest they're conducting for anyone who predicts the entire first round of the 2011 NFL Draft correctly. Details on how to enter are at the end of this post.
I wish I could assume everyone realizes by now that this countdown excludes first round picks, but I'm smarter than that. New eyeballs will see each post on the list, and without that context, they might think I smoke crack with Charlie Sheen. Wouldn't want that to be folks' first impression of me.
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. I'm pumped about his future. So, perhaps it's worth doing a list of 'best first round picks of all time' some time in the future, but for now looking at just the past 10 years under Colbert's watch, 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.
I had some exciting epiphanies about this list on Wednesday night. I really, really wish I could just blurt them all out now and let you all rip them to shreds (or perhaps agree after hearing me out), but a countdown is a countdown, and I'll have to wait until the time is appropriate.
For now, a few words on Chris Kemoeatu. First of all, any time you find a multi-year starter in the sixth round, you're doing something right. But, after lots of deliberation the last few days, I can not justify putting him any higher than eight -- and that's maybe being a tad generous -- for the simple and most obvious reason that Kemoeatu has been a centerpiece of a not-so-great offensive line since 2008 since taking over the starting duties in the wake of Alan Faneca's free agency departure.
What convinced me that Kemoeatu belongs on the list though is that he still has room to get better over the course of the next few seasons. He's learned on the job in '08, '09, and '10, and he's gotten a bit better each year I'd contend. I'm one day older than Kemoeatu; we're both 28. Even though he whoops ass for a living and I boringly work with youth and in digital media, we're both just now starting to hit our stride. (By hitting our stride, I am not suggesting being unequivocally on the path to greatness; I just mean starting to finally understand how to rise up after getting our feet wet in the exercise. The challenge for both him and me is doing it every day.)
This principal, is applicable to all young people these days, men especially, trying to balance our naturally impulsive and reckless proclivities with the unforgiving realities of the world today. You can't be inconsistent, unwilling or capable to learn new skills, or etc in today's economy; and you can't screw up your assignments as the left guard of the perennially Super Bowl contending Pittsburgh Steelers.
Even though we deify NFL players and the profession itself, it's crazy to think these guys aren't immune to the natural ebbs and flows of growing up and becoming self actualized. A tiny percentage of the world is mature and great at a young age, be it in college or in their young 20s; another percentage is just not really destined to get their act together for a whole number of reasons, some not their fault. And the majority of us really start to figure it out as we approach the age of 30 after getting kicked to the curb a few times in the 'real world', and (too) slowly realizing what it takes to perform at a consistently high level in a relentlessly demanding world.
That's true of NFL talent just like it is true of accountants, people who wait tables, teachers, whoever.
For Kemoeatu, the 'real word' was having to contain insanely explosive and strong athletes try to run around and over him on teams with championship aspirations. He was far too raw to make the squad in 2005. I believe he was a practice squad member that year before earning a helmet but not starting for a number of games in '06. And even after spending a few years getting ready for the real deal, he definitely has still taken his lumps while slowly improving and figuring out the infinite nuances of his position.
I do want to say this though -- I think Russ Grimm probably had a lot to do with why Kemoeatu is in this league and making money and a part of something special in Pittsburgh. Obviously the guy has physical talent, and there must be something about his personality that's endearing. But Grimm must have done some nice work with the dude those first two years. Give Larry Zeirlein a bit of credit too I suppose, but I have a harder time thinking of mid to lower round talent that he personally groomed into reliable, high-performing starters. It's exciting to have another great OL coach again in Sean Kugler, isn't it?
Unfortunately for us fans though, Kemoeatu has still been ridiculously consistent at sprinkling in some dumb penalties and missed assignments in pass protection, habits that overshadow the largely solid work he does in run blocking. He's going to keep getting better though .... at least in pass protection. I think he may just be wired to push the envelope emotionally and in terms of how he has to free himself from over-thinking in order to be the head-banging, never-back-down mauler that he is. Fine, so be it if that's the case. Just keep paving the way for Rashard Mendenhall, and eliminate a few more of the head scratching whiffs in pass protection.
I think the best is yet to come. But even if he's close to maxing out his ability, he's made some important contributions to teams that have posted a combined regular season record of 33-15 since he became a regular start at guard in 2008. It seems like you can pencil Kemoeatu in for a few missed games each year due to injury, but he's really proved to be sufficiently durable. Another bad break with his knee and circumstances change, but if that holds up, there's no reason to think he won't start 40-plus games for the Steelers this next three years.
Keep working Chris K! You've been really good, but we could sure benefit from you being even better this next few seasons. Go Steelers!
Kevin Colbert's Top 10 Draft 'Successes'
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