With one deft move, the Steelers made one of the bigger transactions in recent memory.
Big in potential reward and criticism, but low in risk and likelihood of sweeping change.
Former Cardinals offensive tackle Levi Brown was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, making him the highest drafted Steelers player on the roster. Hindsight is, of course, 20/15, but let the record show Brown was taken ahead of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and Buccaneers cornerback Darrelle Revis.
This wasn't all that big of a deal at the time. Brown was a monster at Penn State, after having earned his scholarship at Norfolk (Va.) Granby High School, just down the road from Mike Tomlin's hometown of Hampton, Va.
It really wasn't much of a question whether Brown would be taken in the top 10. He was the consensus second-best tackle available in the draft, behind Wisconsin's Joe Thomas. Also available: Joe Staley and Doug Free, along with never-was's like James Marten and Mario Henderson.
Brown is closer to Henderson than to Thomas, but generally speaking he's always had more success as a run blocker than a pass protector, even dating back to his days when he worked under Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley in Arizona.
Haley was the team's offensive coordinator under head coach Ken Whisenhunt in 2007-08, where Brown had reasonable success playing on the right side. Even for a team that didn't run the ball particularly frequently, Brown had reasonable ability in the running game.
He moved to the left side, and things kind of went downhill for him.
Oddly, Brown had one of the worst graded games for an offensive tackle in Pro Football Focus history when Jared Allen and the Minnesota Vikings shredded him for nine quarterback hurries. Brown allowed 50 hurries on the season, as measured by the evaluation web site, and his -31.2 grade for the season was the lowest in the NFL. It was nearly twice as low as the second-lowest rated tackle (San Francisco's Anthony Davis, -18.4) who played all 16 games that year.
He improved quite a bit in 2011, which is to say he was no longer the worst-graded tackle in the NFL. No one would have confused him for Anthony Munoz, however. Even his new coach, former Steelers and Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, labeled Brown with the lofty, if not vague, "elite" tag this offseason, just one year removed from a triceps injury that cost him the entire 2012 season.
Arians blames the injury, however.
"I credited that just to a year off," Arians told ESPN reporter Josh Weinfuss. "The tackle [we] got back isn’t the same guy."
The Steelers don't need the word "elite" to be added anywhere on their offensive line. Had they had simply a neutral level performance out of soon-to-be-benched starter Mike Adams against Minnesota in Week 4, they very well could have won the game by a score or more. Contrary to common belief, the offensive line, as a group, did not play poorly against Minnesota, and wasn't even top-to-bottom terrible against Chicago in Week 3. The constant let-downs coming from Adams facilitated this move, a rare in-season trade for the Steelers.
There's obviously something the Steelers like in Brown. It's tough to see what that is right now, but it seems like they're aiming more for "pro" and not "Pro Bowl." If Brown can come in and simply hold his own - expectations can't be considerably high, considering he elected to reduce his salary quite a bit to make the trade happen - we'd see a pretty significant improvement in the line play, and with it, the final component needed to make the Steelers offense move in a far more positive direction than it was in Weeks 1 and 2.
If it doesn't work out, consider it payback for the 2010 trade between the Steelers and the Cardinals that sent cornerback Bryant McFadden and the rights to wide receiver Antonio Brown to Pittsburgh in exchange for the rights to quarterback John Skelton.
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