Steelers Draft Countdown: revisiting the class of 2004

Larry French

The Steelers selected 11th in 2004. They haven't selected that high since then, largely because of the player they selected with that 11th overall pick. While they added one other long-term player and nothing else, the Steelers aced their second draft in a row on the strength of their first round pick.

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 (11): Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami University

2 (38): Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum

3 (75): Max Starks, OT, Florida

5 (145): Nathaniel Adibi, DE, Virginia Tech

6 (177): Bo Lacy, OT, Arkansas

6 (194): Matt Kranchick, TE, Penn State

6 (197): Drew Caylor, C, Stanford

7 (212) Eric Taylor, DT, Memphis

*Running back Willie Parker was an undrafted free agent

Background

The Steelers were coming off a miserable 2003 campaign in which they matched the franchise's worst record since 1988 (6-10). They struggled in every aspect of the game, and with it, would select 11th overall, the highest spot they had since 2000.

All was bleak in Pittsburgh, but that was about to change.

There were a few morons who dared suggest the Steelers take the quarterback considered by many to be the third best option of the three talented passers available, Miami's Ben Roethlisberger. Ignore the parts where Roethlisberger's intelligence is praised and the signing of Duce Staley was considered positive.

Even if Roethlisberger was supposed to have been off the board by the 11th pick, seeing him fall there made sense. It was thought to be an especially loaded top 10, and an outstanding first round.

It couldn't have been a better year for the Steelers to have the 11th pick, and for the depth that was available (an amazing 15 of the first 32 players in that draft would go on to play in at least one Pro Bowl, and many are still in the league). They needed a quarterback, and after decades having passed since the retirement of Terry Bradshaw, they finally got one.

They also got their future feature running back. Undrafted out of North Carolina, Willie Parker would rush for over 5,000 yards in his career, and earn back-to-back Pro Bowl trips in 2006 and 2007.

Draft Day

Roethlisberger couldn't have looked more sullen than he did when his name was finally announced. Snubbed by his hometown Browns at No. 6 in favor of tight end Kellen Winslow, he wasn't a part of the draft day deal between the Giants and the Chargers that swapped Eli Manning (originally drafted by San Diego) and Phillip Rivers (even though later reports suggested Roethlisberger was the Giants' pick if San Diego didn't agree to the trade).

It wasn't so much he was upset to come to Pittsburgh, it was the competitive fire burning after being forced to sit in the Green Room for as long as he did.

Turns out, the situation couldn't have been any better for him.

The Steelers lost back-up Charlie Batch to a knee injury during training camp, bumping Roethlisberger ahead to the back-up spot behind Tommy Maddox. They lost Maddox during a Week 2 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Roethlisberger stepped in for him, and the Steelers didn't lose again until the AFC Championship game.

And it's a matter of debate over whether certain actions taken by the Patriots during that game make their win valid.

The Steelers also picked up Florida offensive tackle Max Starks, a player who would go on to become the only man in NFL history to start at left and right tackle on two Super Bowl champion teams. he played with Pittsburgh all the way through to 2012. He's now a free agent, but isn't expected back.

Just like 2003, though, the Steelers only got two contributors out of the draft. Going undrafted was Parker, who would eventually ascend several franchise rushing marks, while being an instrumental piece to a Steelers Super Bowl championship just one year later. Parker would become the first of several undrafted players the Steelers brought in over the next several years, showing the team's ability to scout and develop players wasn't held to just the ones they would draft.

While high-ceiling prospect Ricardo Colclough played two seasons in Pittsburgh, he became the second consecutive second-round bust (Alonzo Jackson was the first). The other five Steelers picks amounted to nothing in their careers - needless to say, they were all out-played by the undrafted running back they found in Chapel Hill, N.C.

It means nothing, though. Adding one of the best quarterbacks of his generation is worth any amount of picks, and that's what the Steelers got, acing their first round pick for the second year in a row.

Overall Grade

A


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