In Part I, we discussed the Cowher-ites, those citizen of Steeler Nation who, for whatever reason, long for the days of Cowher quality drafted players. While it is understandable to a degree, given that Cowher’s defenses epitomized what we all hold in our hearts as what Steeler Defenses should be, they are sadly mistaken in their presumption that, at least in Cowher’s first 5 years, his draft picks performed better than the draft picks Mike Tomlin has used to forge his version of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Part II: The Villagers
In this Part II, we examine the claims of "The Villagers", so named from a snippet in Billy52’s FanPost currently receiving well deserved attention. These Villagers are PostRoaches, creatures who are never heard from until there’s a crumb of discontent, then they all come scurrying out to feed, posting all sorts of filth and spreading acrimony, only to disappear again in the bright lights of a subsequent victory.
As Billy52 describes them, " villagers [who] become an unruly mob screaming for the heads of every player, coach and water boy in Rooneyville. "This shall not stand," we bray in unison as we light our torches, bidding to hasten a swift return to our previous state of beer- and glory-sated bliss" . But they got me to thinking, in between posting virtual equivalents of rolled up newspaper swats to send them scurrying, about their claims.
With the delayed ascension of players such as Jason Worilds, Ziggy Hood, Emmanual Sanders; the unfortunate busts of Limas Sweed, Thaddeus Gibson, Joe Burnett; the disappointing failure to fulfill expectations of William Gay, Matt Spaeth, Bruce Davis, these Villagers have begun denouncing Tomlin’s draft picks, despite such obvious successes as LaMarr Woodley, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncy.
And the data shows, they may be right.
If you look at Tomlin’s draft picks, and consider who he could have taken instead of the players he selected, you will find a rather disturbing fact: The Steelers, under Mike Tomlin, rank near the bottom of the NFL in terms of performance of their players, as measured by PFR’s CarAV rating system.
I have downloaded every draft pick by every team from 2007 (Tomlin’s first year as HC) through 2011. I sorted out Tomlin’s picks, then re-sorted those players still available at the time the Steelers picked, and sorted by the top 10 players in terms of CarAV. The results are not pretty.
Assuming for arguments sake that all teams drafted on the basis of (from their perspective) Best Player Available ("BPA") and not for a specific need, then Tomlin’s Steelers may be re-loading with blanks as compared to the rest of the League with a CarAV ranking of 29 (except for Seattle, Denver and Washington, who ranked 30 thru 32 respectively over all).
Let’s look at Tomlin’s 2011 First Round Pick, Cam Heyward. Selected with the 31st pick, as befitting a Super Bowl runner-up. Cam was a bit of a "legacy pick", given his father, Craig "Ironhead" Heyward has such strong ties to the Pittsburgh community, being the 3rd all-time rusher at Pitt.
As part of the (perceived) "re-loading" of the defense, Heyward was drafted to eventually replace Brett Keisel on the Steelers Defensive line. In 2011 he played in 16 games (starting none), had one sack, 13 tackles, and 2 assists. His PFR CarAV (inclusive of the 2012 season to date) is 2.
Other Defensive Linemen available at the time the Steelers selected Heyward include: Jurrell Casey, selected by Tennessee Titans and Jabaal Sheard selected by the Cleveland Browns. In the spirit of BPA, the top non- defensive line players available include: Akeem Ayers, LB, Tennesse Titans, Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore, and DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas.
Granted, different positions are given CarAV ratings based on differing criteria. But on the basis of BPA, look at how the names I just referenced compare:
Sheard and Casey, as fellow Defensive Linemen, have earned much higher scores in the same amount of time. While obviously the Steelers would have no interest in Andy Dalton, nonetheless, there are 9 other players who have scored higher than Heyward.
Out of the 41 draft picks Tomlin has made since becoming Head Coach, only 4 have a CarAV score equal to or higher than the highest of the top 10 BPA available at the time of each pick; only 4 have a score that is greater than the minimum, but not the top score.
This means that 33 draft picks in the Tomlin era, or 80% of the supposed Best Players Available, actually have scored less than the top 10 Alternative Picks Tomlin could have chosen.
Fifteen draft picks have failed to even score above a 0 on the PFR CarAV ratings; that’s 37% of the 41 pick who have not contributed enough to even rate a score. Granted, the Steelers are full of veteran players, and it’s difficult for young players to gain playing time. But the lack of quality depth shown by the backups given the high incidence of injuries these past few years indicates that the Villagers "wailing and gnashing of teeth" may not be so out of line after all.
You might be thinking, as I explained above" "But its not a fair comparison of CarAV scores, if different positions are graded differently; how can you compare a RB or WR score to Cam’s DT score; apples n oranges, you dufus!"
To a degree you are right, and if there is suitable interest shown in the comments section warranting a more detailed post showing specific players and the alternative choices Tomlin had for that same position, I’ll publish one.
Instead, let me continue by showing how the Steelers have fared under Mike Tomlin in terms of "re-loading" the entire roster over his career, as compared to the rest of the league, and two nemesis of the Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots:
Counting all picks, without segregation, the Steelers rank 29th in terms of the CarAV rating of their draft picks from 2007 through 2012 (not counting 2012 draft picks). On Offense, despite Wallace, Brown, and Mendenhall, the Steelers rank…29th. On Defense, the area which is causing the most consternation amongst the Villagers, the Steelers rank 24th. Compare the Steelers rankings, with Baltimore’s: The Ravens rank 2nd over all, 6th on Offense, 7th on Defense. The Patriots, while not nearly as impressive as the Ravens, rank 18th, 11th and 26th respectively.
Given that we face the Ravens in our own Division, and the Patriots (nauseatingly) are a likely opponent in the playoffs year, after year, after year, it really should be a concern to Steeler Nation how well our draft picks stack up against these two perennial roadblocks to our (what many nowadays consider a birthright) next Lombardi trophy.
In summary, there are in fact grounds for concern over the future of our Steelers. Success breeds success, but it also breeds feelings of entitlement in the fans, over time, and a tendency for some to disregard the signs that troubles are ahead. And this counts double for Coaches. One main complaint of the Villagers is the lack of playing time the recently drafted have been allowed. This lack is certainly a contributor to the low scores of Tomlin's picks, but as I suggested above, the plethora of injuries these past few years has negated that, and in fact appears to have exposed some unsettling aspects of our drafting under Mike Tomlin.
Not that that excuses the level of vitriol expressed by a certain few poasters (who shall remain nameless, but you know who you are); they fail to understand that, at least on BTSC, the expectations for the quality level of communication is far higher than Yahoo Sports ESPN, or most any other sports blogs.
You Villagers, you have valid points; just put down the pitchforks and torches, and come sit with us here at BTSC and let’s discuss this rationally. Calling for immediate be-heading of Coaches, or absurd trade scenarios that might work in your Mock Draft Basement League, clouds your message; a message that warrants honest discussion and analysis.
<!--[if !supportFootnotes]-->[i]<!--[endif]--> Joe Burnett, DB, 5th Round, Pick #168 in 2009 with a CarAV of 1; everyone else scored a 0.