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 (18): Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida
2 (52): Jason Worilds, OLB, Virginia Tech
3 (82): Emmanuel Sanders, WR, SMU
4 (116): Thaddeus Gibson, DE/OLB, Ohio State
5 (151): Chris Scott, OG, Tennessee
5 (164): Crezdon Butler, CB, Clemson
5 (166): Stevenson Sylvester, LB, Utah
6 (188): Jonathan Dwyer, RB, Georgia Tech
6 (195): Antonio Brown, WR, Central Michigan
7 (242): Doug Worthington, DE, Ohio State
The only thing screaming louder than the Steelers' disappointing 9-7 record in 2009 was the issues that came off the field after the season.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault stemming from a night in Milledgeville, Ga., not long before wide receiver Santonio Holmes was accused of throwing a glass at a woman in an Orlando night club. In response to criticism over the event, Holmes told one person to "kill urself." This was after he Tweeted "it's time to wake 'n bake" one morning. Not long after that, the Steelers traded Holmes, with whom they were already said to be struggling to sign to a long-term deal, to the Jets for a fifth round pick in the upcoming draft.
Holmes would later be suspended for four games for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy.
With 2008 third-round pick Mike Wallace appearing poised to take over Holmes' split end position, instead of seeing the big-play offense many envisioned when Wallace and Holmes were on the field together, the Steelers offense was still young, however capable.
So they followed the increasing trend of the NFL, and stocked up on playmaking talent.
It was really only if Florida center Maurkice Pouncey would fall to 18, not if they'd take him. Clearly an outstanding athlete, definitely a position of need. The cards fell right, and the Steelers wasted no time, grabbing onto their center of the future.
The Steelers franchise has been known for having outstanding centers (Mike Webster and Dermontti Dawson are both in the Hall of Fame, and are widely considered the best centers from the 1970s through the 1990s). Pouncey is the next in that line.
For as good as Pouncey has been (and the results are mixed), the key to this draft was the Holmes trade. The Steelers took the pick they got for Holmes, the 155th pick in the draft, and traded it to Arizona for cornerback Bryant McFadden, who had left the Steelers after the 2008 season via free agency, and a sixth round pick - 195th overall.
To boil it down, the Steelers traded Santonio Holmes, who would only play 12 games in the final year of his rookie contract due to a suspension, for starting cornerback Bryant McFadden and WR Antonio Brown.
Holmes suffered a Lisfrac foot injury that cost him 12 games of the 2012 season, and generally has not been the same player he was in Pittsburgh - although he's had some success in an offense that's failed on many levels. Brown made the Pro Bowl in his second year with the Steelers, and became the first player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving and return yards in the same year.
The selection of Pouncey and the high level of value found with Brown net the Steelers a positive grade overall in this draft, but the ceiling is still high. Second round pick Jason Worilds has a make-or-break year in front of him in 2013, as does third-round pick Emmanuel Sanders - whom the Patriots signed but the Steelers matched in restricted free agency.
There's more, too. While Thaddeus Gibson was thought to potentially become a decent player, his career fizzled out after spending time with San Francisco, Chicago and Tennessee. Same with fifth round pick Crezdon Butler, who bounced from Arizona to Buffalo to Washington after being released by the cornerback-heavy Steelers in 2011. LB Stevenson Sylvester stuck with the team but has struggled with injuries. He was released in restricted free agency, but eventually re-signed by the team this offseason.
The Steelers get major points for landing not just Brown in the sixth round, but RB Jonathan Dwyer as well. Heading into the 2013 season, it appears Dwyer will be a main point of the Steelers offense this season after signing his RFA tender. He's shown loads of potential and could turn into the consistent back the Steelers have needed since offense coordinator Todd Haley took over in 2012.
All in all, a very successful draft for the Steelers, who would use that depth - Pouncey, Sanders and Brown in particular, to defeat Holmes' Jets in the AFC Championship game that season, and appear in the team's third Super Bowl in six seasons.