In 2011, when the Steelers selected defensive lineman Cameron Heyward with the 31st pick in the NFL Draft, it took me by surprise a little, but not because Heyward was a bad player or anything; it was just hard to pinpoint exactly what direction Pittsburgh would go with such a low choice in Round 1.
A year later, when Pittsburgh nabbed guard David DeCastro with the 24th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft, again, I was surprised (if pleasantly), because DeCastro's draft projection was a lot higher by many, going in. Fortunately, as is often the case, some head-scratching choices were made earlier in Round 1 (like the Browns selecting 28 year old quarterback Brandon Weeden), and DeCastro fell to the Steelers.
The Steelers had an average draft position of 27.5 during those two years. Since the back end of the first round of most mock drafts is generally littered with names that eventually get taken anywhere from the middle part of Round 1 to the latter part of Round 2, it's no wonder those years were so hard for many to predict.
However, dating back to the 2004 NFL Draft, anytime the Steelers have drafted around where they will this year (anywhere from 11th to 18th), it's been a lot easier to predict what player they will choose. Actually, if memory serves me right, the name most closely associated with Pittsburgh in the days, weeks (and sometimes even months) leading up to the draft, has been the one selected by the team every single time.
2004: Who's this Ben Rothlusburger that everyone says Pittsburgh will take?
Way back during the 2003 NFL season, when the Steelers were on their way to having their worst campaign in recent memory (6-10), the draft prospect that kept popping up in discussions was some quarterback from Miami of Ohio named Roethlishagen, or whatever. In fact, it was mentioned so much (even during some national radio show I was listening to in the middle of the night in the fall of '03, Rostaberberger's name was linked to Pittsburgh), I actually learned how to spell and say Ben Roethlisberger, well before he was selected by the Steelers with the 11th pick of the 2004 NFL Draft.
It may have taken the meteoric rise of Philip River's draft stock, and it may have angered Roethlisberger's dad (he was reportedly visibly upset when Rivers went fourth to the Giants instead of his son), but it was no surprise to me when the future "Big Ben" landed in Pittsburgh.
2007: Oh no, not another Alonzo Jackson
Fast-forward to the 2007 NFL Draft. The Steelers had just defended their Super Bowl XL crown by going 8-8 in 2006 and missing the playoffs. In addition to that, Bill Cowher resigned as head coach, and Mike Tomlin now faced the pressure of making his first draft choice at number 15 in Round 1.
While many Steelers fans--including Yours truly--entertained the fantasy of landing on Revis Island, it was the name Lawrence Timmons that kept popping up in the days leading up to the draft. Many fans and media members scoffed at the idea of taking a linebacker from Florida St., since, you know, that's where Alonzo Jackson came from (very scientific, these draftniks), and I remember it not being a very popular possibility.
2010: A center in the first round? That's boring
Three years later, after the Steelers yet again defended a Super Bowl championship by missing the playoffs, they had the 18th pick in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft.
A lot of people were wondering if this would finally be the year Pittsburgh would address the talent-challenged offensive line, and the name most often-linked to the team (at least in the final weeks) was Maurkice Pouncey, a center from Florida.
While I wanted an offensive lineman, I wasn't necessarily thrilled with the possibility of Pouncey. But when Mike Iupati, a menacing offensive lineman from Idaho (my own personal choice), went one pick before to the 49ers, I knew Pouncey would be Pittsburgh's man.
2013: Don't pick Jarvis Jones, he's slow, and his neck is all messed up
Jarvis Jones was a very productive player in college who was initially projected to go in the top five of the 2013 NFL Draft, before underwhelming pre-draft workouts and a scary medical history caused his stock to plummet to the middle part of the first round. And it wasn't long before Jones became closely linked to the team that just cut James Harrison, still employed Jason Worilds (before his eight sacks) and was in desperate need of a splash-play making linebacker.
Therefore, it wasn't much of a surprise when Jones was the Steelers selection with the 17th pick of Round 1.
2014: Don't pick Darqueze Dennard, he's not as good as Justin Gilbert/Bradley Roby and a very long reach
It's with all of this recent draft knowledge in mind that I have no doubt at all that cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the man who was the overwhelming choice in the BTSC Community Mock Draft, will be the Steelers top choice on May 8. And I don't just say that because of the community mock draft, either. Apparently, much like Roethlisberger, Timmons, Pouncey, and Jones, it appears that the Dennard to the Steelers choice is growing legs (hopefully, legs that can get Dennard's body into position to intercept passes).
Some of you may love it; some of you may loathe it, but if recent history is any sort of indication, it seems easy to predict who the Steelers top pick will be in the 2014 NFL Draft.