A draft is more about adding talent for the future than it is adding it to the present. The result of the Steelers' drafts since 2008 have been more negative than positive, but each round appears to have a different reason based on the decisions the team has made. We explore each round and get to the root problem of each one.
Round 4: Peaks and Valleys
If you look at the first three rounds of any draft, the two commonalities they possess is the selection of blue chip players or ones with freakish abilities in one area. The fourth round is where you start looking at players with good potential but perhaps raw skills.
That's certainly true for the Steelers. The fourth round also happens to be one of heavy trade volume for the franchise. Since 2007, the Steelers have made some kind of transaction with a fourth round pick - the 2009 pick was dealt as part of a package to secure a second third round pick that year. They swapped fourths and added a sixth round pick for Ta'amu in 2012 and dealt a third-round pick to Cleveland to get a second fourth-round pick in 2013.
The results in this round are hit-and-miss, but probably isn't all that much different than league average.
Texas offensive tackle Tony Hills was a project, and there was little doubt about his athletic ability. The Steelers can justify the pick by noting he stuck with the team from 2008-11, and then signed with Indianapolis, Denver and Buffalo over the next three seasons. Plenty of teams gave him a chance.
Even more teams gave Thad Gibson a chance. He signed with seven other teams since the Steelers cut him in 2010 (the second straight year the Steelers released a mid-round draft pick, Kraig Urbik, a 2009 third-round pick having been released the prior season). He was with Dallas last season, and is currently a free agent.
Cortez Allen, the gem of this round for the Steelers, earned a starting position before the 2013 season, and despite rocky results, the future is still bright for him. He was another project player, but unlike his predecessors, he panned out to this point, and could be even better.
If Allen is the star of the round, the most infamous is easily Ta'amu. The Steelers used two picks on him, one in the fourth round to get him, and one in the sixth round to entice the Redskins to give the Steelers the opportunity to draft one of the most memorable picks of the Kevin Colbert Era.
Ta'amu went on a booze-fueled rampage through downtown Pittsburgh in 2012, his rookie year, where, upon his arrest for multiple alcohol-related crimes (including DUI, resisting arrest and destruction of property), he served a one-game suspension and was released from his rookie contract. The Steelers re-signed him to their practice squad, and he was cut in training camp last year.
The salt in the wound is he's now with the Arizona Cardinals, and is performing relatively well. One of the players the Steelers kept over Ta'amu, Al Woods, has since signed with the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers only have undrafted free agent signing Loni Fangupo backing up Steve McLendon at the nose tackle position.
Ta'amu is easily the most painful pick the team has made in the last six years, considering multiple picks were used to acquire him, the black eye he gave the franchise and the fact he never played a down for the team.
Jones, the choirboy to Ta'amu's criminality, won't play unless something goes terribly wrong. He looked shaky at best in the Steelers' 2013 preseason, and there are fair questions whether he would develop to a point he could be the Steelers' back-up quarterback. Right now, Bruce Gradkowski's job is safe, but signs of improvement from Jones could lead to the more expensive Gradkowski being shown the door.
Thomas is another multiple picks selection, having dealt a 2014 third-round pick to Cleveland in 2013 to move up for him. The Steelers took Thomas six spots before using their own fourth-round pick on Jones, and the results were decent enough for one year. It's a big season for Thomas, though, who struggled in coverage last year and eventually, injury cost him his spot in sub-package defense. Veteran Will Allen entered the line-up and the defense was markedly improved. Lots of eyes will be on Thomas this year, and to be fair, a large part of that is due to the fact such a high pick was traded in a deep draft for the sake of acquiring him. For a team without great depth, using two picks for one middle-round player is a bit of a risk.