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Former Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Classes Revisited: 2001

Onward we go with our trip down memory lane. You can find write-ups about our draft selections in 1998, 1999 and 2000 if you missed them. 2001 wasn't all that spectacular, but it's not every year that you acquire a potential Hall of Famer and a dynamite defensive player that appeared to be on track to add his name to the long list of Steelers greats at his position. It wasn't mean to be so at the end of the day, that year's draft turned out to be only so-so rather than quite good. - Blitz-

Round 1, Pick # 19

Casey Hampton, NT Texas

About this time last year, I wrote about Hampton and how good he has been for the Steelers since being drafted in 2001. A year later, not much has changed in my assessment of his value in the present and his contributions in the past. The bottom line is he's truly an All-World nose tackle. Irreplaceable in Dick LeBeau's 3-4 considering the other talent around him? No, not necessarily, as evidenced by Chris Hoke's find play in his absence over the past several years. Last training camp Hampton showed up out of shape, and was publicly humiliated a touch by Coach Tomlin. Being that it's getting ever closer to the time when Casey Hampton's final contract (most likely at least) will be negotiated, my guess is you won't see the same happen in Latrobe this coming summer.

The Steelers actually held the #16 pick in the 2001 draft, but traded down with the New York Jets, who were interested in moving up to snag Santana Moss. The Steelers got a 4th and 6th round pick out of the deal. Hampton has, and will remain, a big part of the Steelers' success on the defensive side of the ball in 2009. It should be interesting to see what kind of year he has heading into the final year of his contract in '10, i.e. the year before the Rooneys usually decide to re-up their players or not so subtly let them know they'll no longer be a part of the team's future plans. At the time, the Steelers were in desperate need of some interior help on defense. His arrival allowed Kimo von Oelhoffen to slide back to his natural DE position, a big upgrade in strength at the NT position. Hampton's been to 4 Pro Bowls, and if Aaron Smith returns healthy next year, there's no reason to think that the two of them shouldn't anchor one of the league's best rush defenses once again in 2008. A phenomenal pick by Colbert here in the 1st Round. Grade: A+

Still available: Reggie Wayne (WR), Drew Brees (QB), Chad Johnson (WR), Kyle Vandebosch (DE)


Front and center on a perennially stout defense

Round 2, Pick #39

Kendrell Bell, LB Georgia

More wheeling and dealing by Pittsburgh in Round 2. This time it was the Steelers who traded up to grab what they wanted while he was still available. The player was Kendrell Bell, a ferocious LB from Georgia that Pittsburgh traded with New England to get. Bell did his best to prove he was worth it, garnering 2001 Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. His play his rookie year left me thinking we were witnessing the emergence of the next great Steelers LB - he was fast, hit hard, and was relentless in his wild pursuit of the football. It didn't quite work out that way though for Bell, who suffered some debilitating injuries during year four of his career in Pittsburgh, and afterwards, left for Kansas City via free agency. Injuries are part of the game unfortunately, and you can't blame Colbert for eyeing Bell's raw ability and doing what he did to move up to draft him. Had injuries not stood in the way, there's no telling how good Bell might have been. Grade: B

Still available:Kris Jenkins (DT), Aaron Schobel (DE), Matt Light (OL), Shaun Rogers (DT), Steve Smith (WR)

Round 4, Pick # 111

Mathias Nkwenti, T Temple

The Temple product had a short three year career in the NFL that included just two games played. He was inactive most of his first two seasons including all of 2002. His third season was cut short by an injury that would effectively end his career. In October of that year he developed a disc problem in his back and following the season, he was cut because the Steelers had concerns about his ability to pass a physical. Nkwenti was later signed by the Giants but didn't make it through camp. Grade: D

Still available: Correll Buckhalter (RB), Jesse Palmer!! (helluva Bachelor and commentator/QB), Ryan Diem (OT)

Round 5, Pick #146

Chukky Okobi, C Purdue

Okobi is still a name that most Steelers fans remember because for a while he was thought of as the future at center. Instead though, he lost out a 2007 training camp battle with Sean Mahan and was cut before the season started. Okobi would sign with the Cardinals but was again cut in early October after appearing in just one game. During his six seasons with the Steelers he appeared in 77 games while starting seven, including the final five of 2006 when incumbent center Jeff Hartings got injured. Chukky hasn't caught on anywhere since then and is more than likely done in the National Football League. One thing I didn't know about Okobi is that he also fancies himself as a singer. Okobi should also be lauded for even still being out there giving it a go at playing football at all. He suffered a neck injury in training camp several years ago that at first appeared to have ended his playing career. Grade: C+

Still available: A.J. Feeley (WB), Russ Hochstein (G), Cedrick Wilson (WR)

Round 6, Pick # 181

Rodney Bailey, DE Ohio State

Bailey's had a decent backup career up until 2008 when he didn't appear in any ball games in the league. Through 2007 however, he played in 84 games while staring one his rookie season. The Steelers let Bailey walk in free agency after the 2003 season when they signed another free agent defensive end, Travis Kirschke. Bailey played a season with the Patriots and Seahawks before returning to the Steelers for the 2006 season and he spent 2007 season with the Cardinals. His first three seasons with the Steelers were his most productive, as he totaled 9.5 sacks over the course of that span (including a 5.5 sack campaign in 2002) and averaged 11 tackles a season. The 29 year old is currently a free agent presumably done lacing them up in the NFL. Grade: B-

Still available: David Martin (TE), Renaldo HIll (CB), T.J. Houshmanzadeh (WR)

Round 6, Pick #182

Roger Knight, LB Wisconsin

Knight never made it out of camp with the Steelers but he did go on to play four years with the Saints. He was mainly a backup and special teams player, but he did end up starting two games during the 2003 season when the Saints had some serious injury problems. In all Knight appeared in 48 games and ended up with 62 tackles. Grade: D+

Still available: Same (consecutive picks)

Round 7, Pick # 218

Chris Taylor, WR Texas A&M

Taylor never made it out of camp and didn't catch on with another team. He never made it onto a roster but I would assume he hung around for a year or two on the practice squad. Taylor had great speed (~ 4.3 40), but was very undersized and unpolished as a WR. Grade: D-

Still available: Ken-yon Rambo! (WR), Dennis Norman (C), Marlon McCree (S),


Overall: Not the most eventful of drafts for the Steelers. One thing I noticed is our proclivity for drafting Big 10 talent. Outside of linemen however, I generally think there is more speed and athleticism outside of the Big 10. Perhaps this wasn't as much the case even just 7 years ago, but in today's NFL, the plodding methodical nature of Big 10 football is not the best practice grounds for the race track that is the NFL.

The draft did bring us Hampton, a mainstay on our defense since being drafted, and a dynamite LB in Kendrell Bell that could have paid huge dividends had he not gotten injured. I was always a bit perplexed by the Okobi situation, and Rodney Bailey contributed for a 6th round pick in the three years he was here. Grade: B/B-