As someone who follows the NFL Draft on a casual-to-serious level, I always find it funny how quickly I can become enamored with a certain player based on just reading a review of his measurements and skill-set, even if I didn't know that player existed all throughout his college career. I soon become convinced that this is the player that the Steelers MUST take with their first round selection. If they don't, I know I'll be severely disappointed.
It's sort of like how a little kid acts when he's at a department store with his parents and he spots a new toy out of the corner of his eye. This kid wasn't even thinking about that toy when he got up that morning, but now, that toy is the only thing that will bring him happiness. When Mom grabs him by the arm and whisks him away so she can finish the rest of her shopping, the kid loses it and causes a scene right in the middle of the store.
The 2012 draft season was no exception as I quickly became enamored with Memphis nose tackle Dontari Poe after his more than impressive showing at the NFL Combine. I didn't know who Poe was during his college career, but I was certain that the 340plus pound specimen would be the Steelers answer to the next Casey Hampton. Poe became that new toy that I hoped and prayed would fall to the Steelers had 24. Unfortunately, he was picked by the Chiefs at 11.
Thankfully, Stanford guard David DeCastro was an even shinier new toy that caught my eye as the draft progressed, and when he fell all the way to the Steelers, I soon forgot about Poe.
My brother, on the other hand, wasn't so happy about the Steelers, maybe, finding the next Alan Faneca. Alabama linebacker Dont'a Hightower was his shiny new toy, and when the Steelers passed on him, my brother called me up to complain about it. "I can't believe they passed on Hightower. He's going to be the next James Farrior. The Steelers will be sorry!"
Talk about a temper tantrum.
It's obviously too soon to know whether or not the Steelers will be sorry that they passed on Hightower, or if Poe will be the next great 3/4 nose tackle, or if DeCastro will be the next Alan Faneca.
One thing I do know is that every draft is a crap-shoot, and there will always be "what ifs" and "why didn't theys" when player A is picked instead of player B.
After the jump, I'll give you a brief review of some of my favorite "why didn't they" moments in Steelers drafts gone by, and how things turned out for all parties involved.
1986 NFL Draft
As a 13 year old, this was the year that I became aware of the draft process, and I couldn't wait to get home from school (the draft was on Tuesdays back then) because I was fairly certain that the Steelers were going to use their rare top 10 pick (9th overall) to select running back Keith Byars out of Ohio State. Franco Harris was two years into retirement, and the team certainly needed a featured back. Walter Abercrombie? I mean, come on!. This would be the perfect time to pick their franchise back of the future.
Sadly, however, when I discovered that the Steelers, instead, selected Temple guard John Rienstra, well, I was more than disappointed.
Byars was selected one pick after the Steelers at 10, and he went on to have a fairly productive NFL career that included over 600 receptions as both a running back and a tight end.
As for Rienstra's career, let's just say it was less than stellar. I think this quote from wikipedia sums up the choice rather bluntly: "In 1986, the Steelers had their highest draft pick since the early 70's (9th overall). They used it on a guard from Temple named John Rienstra."
Nothing much to add to that.
1988 NFL Draft
This is the draft that still gives me nightmares to this very day. It was the day that the Steelers passed on my college crush--Michigian St. running back Lorenzo White--and instead selected defensive end Aaron Jones out of Eastern Kentucky.
White didn't have a great career by any stretch, but he was certainly more productive than Jones, who only finished with 18 sacks during his nine year career after boasting that he would get at least that many during his rookie campaign.
1992 NFL Draft
This was Bill Cowher's first draft as head coach after taking over for the legendary Chuck Noll. Cowher was going to need to make his first pick count if he was going to change the Steelers' mediocre-to-bad fortunes around pretty quickly. For some reason, I thought the best way to change the team's fortunes would be to draft Eugene Chung, a tackle from Virginia Tech. Why? I don't remember really, but I knew he was going to be the man.
The Steelers did select an offensive tackle, but instead of Chung, they took Leon Searcy out of Miami with the 11th pick in the first round . Unlike in the drafts of '86 and '88, however, this turned out to be the right selection. Searcy became a productive player and started in Super Bowl XXX. Unfortunately, he was so good that he left for Jacksonville as a free agent after just four seasons in Pittsburgh.
As for Chung, he was selected two picks after Searcy and really didn't do much of note during his six-year career.
See? Those "what ifs" work out both ways.
2000 NFL Draft
In the months leading up to the 2000 NFL Draft, there was a bit of a love-affair brewing in certain segments of Steeler Nation with quarterback Chad Pennington of Marshall University. Steelers fans were so sick of the team's constant struggles at the quarterback position that they were openly begging for the team to draft Pennington. I was even out to dinner one night and spotted a fan wearing a road white Pennington Steelers jersey. Where did he get it? Who knows.
However, after reaching and failing on wide receiver Troy Edwards in the '99 draft, the Steelers were forced to pick our old friend Plaxico Burress out of Michigan St. with the 8th overall selection in the 2000 draft. I say "forced" because it certainly wasn't a bad pick, and Burress was considered a legit wide receiver prospect--albeit one with a bit of an attitude--but the team had just missed the playoffs two years in a row, and some people were concerned with the thought of using two straight first round picks on the same position.
I'm going to go ahead and call this one a draw. Plaxico certainly was a productive receiver during his time in Pittsburgh, but he only lasted five years with the Steelers before he left via free agency following the 2004 season. He signed with the New York Giants, and, well, you know what happened after that.
Pennington, who went 17th to the New York Jets, played for a decade with both the Jets and Miami Dolphins, but he didn't have the arm to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, and he officially retired following the 2011 season.
2010 NFL Draft
Let's round it out with a draft that's still way up in the air in terms of evaluation.
2010 was going to be the year that the Steelers finally picked their Alan Faneca of the future. It had been three years and several Big Ben injuries since Faneca departed following the '07 season, and the Steelers were in desperate need for an upgrade upfront.
In the weeks before the draft, Idaho guard Mike Iupati's name surfaced as a potential candidate for the Steelers, who were drafting 18th after missing the playoffs in '09. Just like Poe, I didn't even know Iupati existed during his time at Idaho, but the second I saw his massive frame, I knew he was the guy I wanted the Steelers to take. What wasn't to like about him? He was big, he was tough, and he was Samoan.
In addition to Iupati, center Maurkice Pouncey out of Florida was another potential pick for the Steelers. In fact, as the draft drew closer, Pouncey's name was coming up more and more, and he was the projected pick in many mock drafts.
I wasn't too excited about this possibility. I wanted the massive Iupati; I wanted the angry Samoan guard leading the way on running plays and keeping the pocket clean for the franchise quarterback. A center out of Florida? Boring!
Unfortunately, for my draft hopes, the San Francisco 49ers swooped up Iupati a pick before, and the Steelers were forced to "settle" for Pouncey.
Well, I'm glad I didn't get my wish, because as it turned out, Pouncey quickly became one of the best young linemen in the NFL and continued the Steelers great tradition at center by being named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons.
As for Iupati, he still might be the the next Alan Faneca, but in Pouncey, Pittsburgh may have found their next Dirt Dawson. That's pretty good, too. .
Well, there you have it. I'm sure I could continue this article indefinitely, but you get the idea. You just never know what you're going to wind up with in the draft, and sometimes that shiny toy might not work once you get it home and take it out of the box.