Tribune-Review writer Mark Kaboly spoke with NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently for a piece he penned Sunday. Jeremiah, a long-time NFL scout, spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and general manager Ozzie Newsome, and shared some insight behind the simplicity of their big picture goals.
When I was in Baltimore with Ozzie Newsome, we always tried to come out of every draft, if we could, with three starters," said Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Ravens, Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles and current NFL Network analyst. "If three years down the line three of the players we picked in that draft were solid starters we weren't looking to replace, we viewed that as a successful draft.
If that's a solid standard from which to measure success, the Steelers achieved it in 2013, having walked away with multiple starters not just for the future, but in the present. Running back Le'Veon Bell, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and inside linebacker Vince Williams all started more than half the Steelers' games last season. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton is penciled in as the team's starting split end in 2014, and Shamarko Thomas is likely the team's starting strong safety when the Steelers and Troy Polamalu part ways. Thomas will also be in the mix for the top reserve in their secondary.
The 2012 draft produced mixed results, depending on your perspective. Right guard David DeCastro is unquestionably their best player from that draft. Nabbing Kelvin Beachum with a compensatory seventh round pick is also a big positive. That positive is detracted somewhat by the fact Beachum replaced the second round pick from that draft, Mike Adams. Moving past the disastrous selections of Alameda Ta'amu and Chris Rainey (neither lasted more than one season with the team), the team may reach that third starter baseline if third round pick Sean Spence is able to return after a devastating knee injury that casts a shadow over his career potential.
The 2011 draft suggests hope is still there as well. Cameron Heyward is a legitimate star on the rise in the NFL, and Cortez Allen will likely be one of the team's long-term starting cornerbacks. Marcus Gilbert has started for the vast majority of his career to date, and should be viewed as a draft success, if for no reason more than he can't be considered a failure.
There are five players from the 2010 draft that can be considered starters - Maurkice Pouncey, Jason Worilds, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer and Antonio Brown. Pouncey, Worilds and Brown are still with the Steelers and Dwyer and Sanders both left via free agency this offseason. All contributed in positive ways while in Pittsburgh.
Herein lies the challenge to this philosophy, and a piece of what Jeremiah said, comes to the forefront.
Players in three years, the team is not looking to replace can be spun a different way. Maybe it's more accurate to propose "players in three years the team isn't locked into a contract dispute," or "gambled they may not receive the kind of offer on the open market that would make them leave."
This question will mark the 2010 decade of Steelers football: would the Steelers have maintained success had they sacrificed veterans they knew to be successful for the sake of keeping money free for the future? That money may not have made it any more possible to keep Mike Wallace, but Keenan Lewis likely could have been kept.
It could go on and on, but it seems, based on Jeremiah's philosophy, the Steelers have achieved the goal of having three starting level players from each of the past few drafts. Other factors may make the bigger picture more convoluted, but it really comes down to viewing either the sum of the individual parts of those drafts, or viewing them sum of the whole of those drafts.
Or, from another perspective, did those classes make them fall to 8-8, or did those classes save them from being worse than 8-8? It's kind of a half full vs. half empty kind of issue. Maybe the 2013 class that got so much starting experience only did so because there wasn't anyone left. Or maybe a player like Adams puts everything together in 2014 - his third year with the team - and becomes the team's starter for the future.
There's so much fluidity with it, all a team's fanbase can hope for is the team can bring in players who can make an impact early, maintain a high level of quality over the long run and the right decision on their post rookie contract can be made.