In 2003, the Steelers knew what they wanted and whom they needed to propel to transform their struggling defense. That player was a safety and the specific person was USC's Troy Polamalu.
In 2002 the Steelers defense was a unit in decline, allowing a steadily increasing number of points culminating in 2001 with 376 points allowed, nearly as many as the Steelers defense allowed during their dismal 2014 season.
April 2003 would mark the first time in Steelers history that they traded up in the first round and that they used a first-round pick to acquire a safety. At the time, Kevin Colbert, then director of football operations said, "This kid is going to bring a lot of energy to a need position. He's special. He's going to create a lot of excitement and he's going to help our defense immediately." Head coach at the time Bill Cowher knew he had drafted a difference-maker, saying, "We feel we have a very solid safety situation right now."
This ended up being a brilliant move on the part of Cowher and Colbert. Their intuition did not fail them as Polamalu went on to become a two-time Super Bowl Champion, eight-time Pro Bowler, and an NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Interestingly, this move would not have happened had the Steelers original plan panned out. They had tried, but failed, to sign safety Dexter Jackson in the offseason.
As the Steelers struggle tremendously at safety, it seemed appropriate to look back at one of the draft picks that helped solidify the Steelers secondary and become a dominant defensive force in the league.