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First Round Draft Picks Aren't Always Worth Their Weight in Gold

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A couple of years ago, during a radio show about the NFL Draft, one of the hosts said that he enjoyed the draft more than the Super Bowl. I found that to be pretty peculiar because isn't the draft just a means to the ultimate goal of winning a championship?

But I know where that person was coming from; some people are just simply enamored with draft talk.

I used to be that way. Heck, when I was a kid, I couldn't get enough of the draft, and I thought every player the Steelers picked was going to make the team and be an All-Pro for 10 straight seasons.

The height of my obsession was probably around 1989, which just so happened to be one of the rare occasions that the Steelers had two first round draft picks. Mike Merriweather, the team's disgruntled Pro Bowl linebacker, sat out the entire '88 season in a contract dispute, and the Steelers eventually shipped him off to the Vikings in exchange for their first round draft choice.

The draft choice that the Steelers "earned" with their poor '88 campaign--the 7th overall-- was used to select running back Tim Worley out of Georgia. Worley was a bust and out of the league within a few years. The pick that the Steelers received from Minnesota--the 24th selection in the first round--was used to select offensive tackle Tom Ricketts out of Pitt. Ricketts was also a bust and off the team after the '91 season.

In all fairness to the Steelers, it was quite obvious that they weren't going to be able to meet Merriweather's demands. An extra first round draft choice seemed like a pretty fair solution. The Steelers were 5-11 in 1988, so they certainly needed to upgrade in many areas. Unfortunately, things just didn't work out.

Sometime in the early 90's, right around the time that free agency started in the NFL, there was speculation that Rod Woodson could leave the Steelers as a restricted free agent. As compensation, the team would receive an extra first round draft choice.

My brother and I had many conversations about who the Steelers would use their potential extra pick on and how it would help the team.

If I had a time machine and could go back to that point and interrupt that conversation, I might say something smart like, "Gee, I don't know who they could get. Do you think they'll pick someone who will go on to have a Hall of Fame career and be named to the NFL's All-Time team?" If my memory serves me right, Woodson never did become a restricted free agent, but he did eventually leave the team as an unrestricted free agent following the '96 season. Did the Steelers make a mistake by letting Woodson go without receiving any compensation? I doubt it. No player they would have selected with a compensatory draft choice could possibly have matched Woodson's talent and accomplishments. When you have a player like that, you hold onto him for as long as possible.

Two seasons ago, Ben Roethlisberger was going through his much publicized offseason problems, and there was much speculation about whether or not the Steelers should just part ways with their Super Bowl winning quarterback. Some of my friends were almost salivating at the thought of getting a top 10 draft choice in a trade for Roethlisberger.

There were rumors that the Raiders were interested in Big Ben, and that they would trade the 8th overall pick in the 2010 draft AND all-world cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha in exchange for the troubled passer. That would certainly have been a pretty decent return if the team was looking to start over, but would any amount of talent be enough to replace an elite quarterback?

Those guys don't come along every day, ya know? Just ask the Dolphins and Broncos--two teams who are still trying to replace franchise quarterbacks that retired over a decade ago.

The Steelers didn't make a deal with Oakland, and the Raiders took linebacker Rolando McClain out of Alabama with the 8th pick. Asomugha played another year in Oakland and then became a part of the "Dream Team" when he signed with the Eagles prior to the 2011 season. I don't know if McClain is going to be the next great linebacker, and who knows if the Steelers would have been able to sign Asomugha, who only had a year left on his contract. But I doubt either would have been as valuable to Pittsburgh as Big Ben was two seasons ago when he led the Steelers to their third Super Bowl appearance since 2005.

There was also speculation leading up to the 2010 draft that the Steelers would ship Roethlisberger off to St. Louis in exchange for their first round pick--the number one pick in the draft--and then draft quarterback Sam Bradford out of Oklahoma.

That would have been logical. If you simply must get rid of a troubled franchise quarterback, what better way to start over than with another potential franchise quarterback?

But it's not easy to find an elite quarterback who has what it takes to lead a championship team; it's rare that an Aaron Rodgers can step in and replace a Brett Favre and immediately lead his team to a Super Bowl title.

For every Peyton Manning, there are at least two Ryan Leafs.

Big Ben has proven to be invaluable to the team's recent Super Bowl era. Sam Bradford is still very much a work in progress.

The Steelers rarely find themselves in these types of discussions because they're not big players on draft day. But this year, with the possibility of restricted free agent Mike Wallace signing an offer sheet that the Steelers may not be able to match, there is a chance that the team might have to part ways with the speedy receiver in exchange for an extra first round pick.

Just the other day, my brother and I had a discussion similar to the one that we had many years ago about Rod Woodson. However, this time, my brother was a little more excited about the possibility of that extra draft choice than I was.

Yes, the Steelers have had success drafting in the first round in recent years. And yes, they might replace Wallace with the next Jerry Rice. Heck, they could go in a completely different direction and find the next Rod Woodson.

But they could also draft the next Troy Edwards or Chad Scott. The point is, it's not going to be easy to replace a guy with Wallace's abilities.

I'm not saying the Steelers should hold on to Wallace at any cost. If the asking price is too high, they should absolutely let him leave and take their chances with an extra first round pick.

The Steelers organization is better than most NFL teams at seeing the big picture. Pittsburgh answered the losses of Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes in recent years with Super Bowl success. If Wallace has to go, who says they won't be able to do it again?

That radio draftnik from a couple of years ago is probably hoping the Steelers find themselves with two first round picks this year; that certainly would make draft day a little more exciting for him and the other draftniks out there.

However, after seeing the Steelers have so much playoff and Super Bowl success in recent years, I'm not as enamored with the draft as I used to be.

It's still exciting and fun to talk about, but I guess I've become more a fan of the finished product than I am of the building blocks.

I'm a rational Steelers fan who realizes that the Steelers are one of the best organizations in all of sports, but it's not always easy seeing Pro Bowl players walk away in their prime.

A first round draft choice might seem like fair compensation for a departing Wallace-- the jury is still out as to whether he's a franchise wide receiver--but that doesn't mean the Steelers won't be a weaker team, at least in the short term.

An extra first round pick might be fun and exciting, but it doesn't mean that things will work out. Sometimes, what's behind door number 2 isn't always a new car.

Just ask the '89 Steelers.