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.
1 (23): Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois
2 (53): Limas Sweed, WR, Texas
3 (88): Bruce Davis, OLB, UCLA
4 (130): Tony Hills, OT, Texas
5 (156): Dennis Dixon, QB, Oregon
6 (188): Mike Humpal, LB, Iowa
6 (194): Ryan Mundy, FS, West Virginia
The 2008 Steelers Draft class is the gift that keeps on leaving. With the 2013 departures of Mendenhall and Mundy, there are no longer any members of the Steelers 2008 Draft class on its roster. Even the ones who were there didn't live up to potential, busted outright or became a legend of sadness.
"Poor Limas" became a catch-phrase in Pittsburgh, as the tall, athletic receiver out of Texas, who fell to the second round amid injury concerns (most notably to his wrist that sidelined him for part of his final season with the Longhorns).
Sweed dropped a sure touchdown pass in the 2008 AFC Championship game, and followed it in 2009 with another drop in the end zone against Cincinnati. Sweed would eventually be placed on the IR that season with an undisclosed ailment (reportedly more of the mental variety). He tore his Achilles in minicamp in 2010, earning another trip to the IR and was eventually released during training camp in 2011.
Meanwhile, Mendenhall battled with some injuries of his own. He broke his collarbone four games into his rookie season. Between that and an ACL tear that ended his 2011 season, Mendenhall produced at a decent level. Not to a top five in the league level, but enough to be considered a main point of the Steelers offense.
With Mendenhall, it really came down to two things; 1. A Tweet sent after the killing of terrorist Osama bin Laden, written in such a way it could be interpreted as sympathetic to his plight, and 2. a fumble at the beginning of the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL, right as the Steelers had taken control of the game and were moving in on the lead.
We won't get into the first one. The second one, however, rings home just as much.
The Steelers, particularly tight end Heath Miller, were running all over Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews. As NFL Films would later immortalized Matthews before the play saying he's seen it before, and he knows what they're going to do, no one on the NFL Films crew seems to want to point out they had run at Matthews on half of their running plays to that point.
The Packers got good penetration on the backside of the play, which bounced Mendenhall out a bit wider than his aimed spot. That hurt the angle at which David Johnson (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger changed the protection of the play before the snap, and ran it away from Miller) could get in front of Matthews.
Matthews bounced underneath the play and hit Mendenhall on the side, causing the fumble.
There are lots of wouldas, couldas and shouldas in that game, but the way the Steelers were running at that point, had they scored on that drive and gone on to win, Mendenhall could have been the MVP.
Mendenhall was thought to be long gone before the Steelers would be on the clock. The man Tomlin called "Delicious" after being drafted wasn't expected at all to be taken by the Steelers, and him, coupled with Sweed in the second and UCLA's raw but athletic pass-rushing outside linebacker Bruce Davis, it looked like a great draft for the kinds of things Tomlin was looking for; youth and athleticism.
Davis would play just five games with the Steelers, and 15 total games in his career, which ended in 2011.
Hills would get every chance possible with the Steelers, playing both tackle and guard before being released in 2011. he caught on with Denver and played in a few games, and was most recently united with Bruce Arians in Indianapolis, where he was used as a tight end.
Humpal never made it on the field.
Dixon, oddly joined an exclusive club this past February as one of the few quarterbacks in the league with two Super Bowl rings. He was on the Ravens' practice squad, before joining the Eagles and former college coach Chip Kelly.
All told, the draft is saved from being a colossal bust with a decent - if not underwhelming - return from Mendenhall, but with yet another second round bust, and failed experiments in the third and fourth round, it will end up being one of the worst drafts in Steelers history; easily the worst under general manager Kevin Colbert.