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 (31): Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State
2 (63): Marcus Gilbert, OT, Florida
3 (95): Curtis Brown, CB, Texas
4 (128): Cortez Allen, CB, The Citadel
5 (162): Chris Carter, OLB, Fresno State
6 (196): Keith Williams, OL, Nebraska
7 (232): Baron Batch, RB, Texas Tech
Fresh off a Super Bowl appearance, the Steelers were beginning to hear calls of advancing age of its core group of players. It didn't appear the Steelers were going to be in a great spot to get a sure-fire prospect with the 31st pick. They would have to rely on outstanding scouting to help bolster depleting depth reserves in order to keep the team competitive as the core group - players who went to three Super Bowls with the Steelers - were running out of time.
In some ways, it looks like history will show a success in this draft. In others, it was too little, too late.
Cornerback Cortez Allen appears to be the crown jewel of the class. A raw but supremely talented cornerback with barely any seasoning fell to Pittsburgh in the fourth round. When 2009 third round pick Keenan Lewis walked in free agency this offseason, Allen was bumped up in the depth chart, and will be the second starter to emerge from the class of 2011.
Cameron Heyward, on the other hand, will not start, and that is a disappointment. He's shown flashes here and there, but overall, doesn't seem to grasp his assignments. On a team with salary cap issues, and an aging roster, the fact Brett Keisel is still under contract is both a testament to Keisel's value to the organization and Heyward's lack of development.
Florida OT Marcus Gilbert wasn't seen as a likely candidate for the Steelers, but the finesse-blocking left tackle became the second Florida offensive linemen in as many years to find a spot in Pittsburgh. An(other) injury to right tackle Willie Colon in Week 1 of 2011 thrust Gilbert into the starting spot in 2011, and played reasonably well for a rookie. The 2012 season wasn't as kind, and Gilbert is expected to be engaged in a training camp battle for the left tackle spot with second-year OT Mike Adams.
Texas CB Curtis Brown has shown flashes of special teams ability, but was shredded in spot nickel duty in 2012 against San Diego. Brown was beaten so badly in that game, undrafted rookie Josh Victorian played over him the next week against Dallas - one of the best passing teams in the NFL. The Steelers lost both games, and with the loss of Lewis, the Steelers re-signed CB William Gay and will go into 2013 with little to no competition for their top three cornerback positions.
Fifth round pick Chris Carter has battled injuries, but saw the field for a brief time in wake of injuries to James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. His performances were less than stellar, and even without an extensive history of injuries, it doesn't appear as if Carter's career is long for Pittsburgh.
Sixth round pick Keith Williams didn't make the team out of training camp, and is currently with the Buffalo Bills.
Seventh round pick Baron Batch tore his ACL in training camp of 2011, and came back to see the field here and there in 2012. Drawing favorable praise from offensive coordinator Todd Haley, Batch remains with the team and could compete for playing time this season.
It seems to be a draft of one starter and multiple contributors. It's neither great nor terrible, but that opinion could change by the end of the 2013 season.