It's been a while since my last two parts of this series, chaotic summer here. The first two parts are linked below:
Part one: Defensive backs, Basically we like good sized, less polished athletes we can groom for outside starters; and smaller more polished ones for nickel/dime backs.
Part two: Linebackers, where I discussed some interesting correlations between our picks weight and forty time and their future contribution to the team.The defensive line is a trickier position to analyze. That's largely because of the small number of players that have played those positions for us the last 11 seasons.
Here is a list of games started by all Steelers designated as D-Line. If you add up the total numbers of games started you get 522, (11 seasons is 176 games, which means 528 DL starts, I don't know where the other 6 went) Here's how those 522 starts get divided up.
Aaron Smith 148
Casey Hampton 136
Brett Keisel 68
That's 446 out of 522 starts accounted for by four men. The remaining 76 are back-up's getting starts and Kevin Henry's 15 starts his last year with the team in 2000.
The main four include a 1st round pick in Casey Hampton, a 4th rounder in Aaron Smith, a 7th round pick in Brett Keisel, and a free agent in Kimo (he was a 6th round pick by Cincinatti).
Casey Hampton was the second best DT at Texas, but he was viewed as having a better work ethic and better leadership than Shaun Rogers, who would slip to the late second round. 2001 overall was a fantastic draft for DT, six were taken in the first two rounds, and only one of them would start less than 6 years. The Steelers picked a great year to need a NT, and landed one of the best of the class (Kris Jenkins has had better years, but Casey has the most starts of any of his class).
Aaron Smith was an athletic pass rusher at 279 lbs. for Northern Colorado (div II), but he missed the Senior Bowl and didn't get to show his ability against bigger school talent. He dropped to the fourth because there were questions whether he could play with the big boys, and many felt he needed to be outside to rush successfully (he set school records for sacks). Many viewed Aaron as a pass rusher only, with potential to be a good ST player. Fortunately for us he turned out to be one of the best 3-4 DE's ever.
Brett Keisel was expected to go undrafted by many, and he nearly made it. His scouting reports labelled him a hard worker who needed to fill out to play in the NFL, his flaws were everything else. That hard work has led to a solid career, even though his filling out has him listed only 6 lbs. heavier than his draft weight.
Kimo we stole from the Bengals, he was an alright NT/DT that turned into a very good DE for us. A similar story to Farrior coming to the Steelers, he just fit our system better.
After these guys that have had success there are a lot of back ups, Hoke was a UDFA, Kirschke and Eason were Free Agent signings and Evander Hood is hopefully our next long term starter.
I can't pick apart the sizes, or stats and say "X" is what we want in a D-Lineman, and although our line is great, our draft report reads badly.
Since Aaron was drafted up through 2008 we picked 11 DL players (not counting DE-LB guys like Woodley) the nine not named Keisel or Hampton have started 5 games combined for the Steelers. Some have started for other teams, but usually only one year and they started because the line was that bad, not because they were so good.
In 2009 we drafted Ziggy in the first round and Sonny in the 6th, 2010 we drafted Worthington in the 7th round and this year went back to the first round for Heyward.
The Steelers have taken many late round DL men, and with the exception of Keisel none have done anything for us. The only ones we have taken before the fourth round are Hampton, Hood and Heyward. All of them first round picks.
The Steelers strategy for assembling their D-Line is to take plenty of late round fliers to see if they can get lucky, while looking for low cost veterans from other teams that might fit our system better. In the case that we have a pressing need and a player we like comes along, a first round pick can be used as well. No matter how the Steelers do it, they have had great success, and the low turnover on the line is testament to just how few players need to develop.
This years group, even the UDFA's look competitive, and I wouldn't be surprised if we end up keeping one around that might turn into the next Keisel. Then again they could just as well be the next Sonny Harris.