Steelers Draft Countdown: revisiting the class of 2003

US PRESSWIRE

The smallest Steelers draft class in history is also among the best per player while still holding one of the bigger busts ever.

A feature series highlighting the last 10 Steelers drafts 10 days before the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Behind the Steel Curtain managing editor Neal Coolong will evaluate the impact of each of the last 10 Steelers draft classes.

Selections

1 (16): Troy Polamalu, SS USC
2 (59): Alonzo Jackson, OLB, Florida State
4 (125): Ike Taylor, CB Louisiana Lafayette
5 (163): Brian St. Pierre, QB, Boston College
7 (242): J.T. Wall, RB, Georgia

Background

The Steelers were mired in the Tommy Maddox Replacement Era, and a decent team combined with a mediocre division led to its second consective AFC North championship under coach Bill Cowher. Lee Flowers, the team's starting strong safety, was seen as a liability in pass coverage, but drafting 27th in the first round, the team wasn't expected to address the position with its first pick.

Penn State's Larry Johnson was one possibility, as the team was thought to be looking to replace an aging Jerome Bettis and upgrade from Amos Zereoue. Despite his Comeback Player of the Year award in 2002, neither the team nor the fans were sold on Maddox as a long-term option, and the idea was floating around it might be the year to take a quarterback.

A report linked Texas QB Chris Simms to Pittsburgh, something that would never materialize.

Left tackle Wayne Gandy had sinced with the New Orleans Saints, leaving the Steelers with a thin group of offensive linemen. History proved the consensus thought at the time, it wasn't a great draft for offensive tackles. The team would eventually move left guard Alan Faneca to left tackle, and started second-year man Kendall Simmons at left guard, Jeff Hartings at center, Keydrick Vincent at right guard and Oliver Ross at right tackle.

Draft Day

The Steelers traded up in the first round for the first time in team history, giving its 27th, 92nd (third round) and 200th (sixth round) picks to Kansas City in exchange for the 16th pick in the draft.

They used it to select Polamalu - one of the best players in team history and a sure-fire first ballot Hall of Fame inductee five years after his career ends. The Chiefs took Johnson with the 27th pick, and had a strong, if not rocky, career in the league.

Polamalu alone makes the draft a huge success, even if Jackson, the team's second round pick, was a colossal bust. In fact, between Jackson, St. Pierre and Wall, 3/5s of the team's draft that year, they only played 21 total games in their careers. Add in raw cornerback Ike Taylor, and the Steelers came away with two players who would have, at the end of the 2012 season, 15 combined years of starting experience in the Steelers' secondary; thus becoming the team's ultimate "quality not quantity" draft.

Overall Grade

A

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