The Steelers are largely considered to be one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, but every team overlooks talent from time to time. Looking back, there are always players we wish the team had drafted rather than the guys they actually wound up selecting. It's an interesting idea to entertain.
So I did. This is the result.
It's not as simple as finding the best player they didn't draft, though. There's a situational aspect to it. It didn't make sense for the team to select a quarterback in the first two rounds in any of the last five drafts, for example.
The rules were simple: for each pick in each of the last five years, I determined the two best players chosen between that pick and the team's next pick. Then I reviewed the picks by round and determined the best alternate selections based on the team's situation at the time of the pick. What you see below are the 14 picks the Steelers didn't make in the last five years that would have made the most sense.
Eric Reid, FS (San Francisco, 2013, #18)
Jarvis Jones was expected to be the Steelers' 2013 first-round pick for weeks leading up to the draft, according to most pundits. It played out exactly that way, but the team left free safety Reid on the board to make that selection. In retrospect, they would have had good reason to go either way. Ryan Clark was in the twilight of his career, but they were also struggling to come to terms with James Harrison on a pay cut -- which, ultimately, would not happen. It was also, across the board, a dreadful first round, which made Reid stand out even more in retrospect.
Runner-Up: Ronald Darby, CB (Buffalo, 2015, #50)
Two words: defensive back.
Justin Houston, OLB (Kansas City, 2011, #70)
This was a tough pick and a no-brainer at the same time. Tough, because the Steelers had James Harrison and a healthy LaMarr Woodley at the time. It would have been the end-all, be-all pass-rush rotation for a year or two, though. Houston's output throughout his career has him considered as the best pass-rushing outside linebacker in the game today.
Runner-Up: Lavonte David, OLB (Tampa Bay, 2012, #58)
A year after missing on Houston, they could have had a mulligan. While not nearly as strong as Houston as a pass rusher, he's been excellent in coverage, pulling down nine interceptions in four seasons, returning one for a touchdown. He's also forced eight fumbles.
Kirk Cousins, QB (Washington, 2012, #102)
Russell Wilson went one round earlier, but the second round of the 2013 draft would have been way too soon to spend a pick on a player who was destined to be a backup. You could make that argument about round three, too, but the Steelers wound up taking Landry Jones one year, and one round, later. Cousins would have been the far better value of the two, and at the very least could have been worth some value in trade down the road.
Runner-Up: Logan Ryan, CB (New England, 2013, #83)
The Steelers were beginning to feel the pinch at cornerback in 2013. Ike Taylor's career was winding down, and William Gay was the only other experienced corner on the roster. They still didn't fully know what they had in Cortez Allen, but adding Ryan would have been a big help.
Richard Sherman, CB (Seattle, 2011, #154)
Like with Logan Ryan, the team could have started to backfill their slowly dwindling secondary with young, high-upside talent sooner than they did. What really stings here is that the player they chose instead of Sherman was none other than Allen. Ouch.
Runner-Up: Josh Norman, CB (Carolina, 2012, #143)
The team can be somewhat forgiven for this one, considering they had chosen Allen the year prior and were just beginning to get him incorporated into the defense. But given how Norman has turned out, it just makes the fourth round hurt that much more.
George Iloka, FS (Cincinnati, 2012, #167)
Eric Reid in the first round in 2013 would have given the Steelers a borderline superstar at free safety, but had they taken Iloka in the fifth round the year before, they would have ended up with one of the biggest bargains in all of football. Iloka has his shortcomings, but he did well enough during his first contract to grab a huge raise from the team as a free agent this year (five years, $30 million). If a fifth-round pick ends up a full-time starter after his rookie season, he is doing something very, very right.
Runner-Up: AJ McCarron, QB (Cincinnati, 2014, #164)
Making this pick would have been an explicit admission that the Landry Jones pick in 2013 should never have been made. After the 2015 season, the Jones pick certainly looks a lot better, but had the team taken McCarron over Shaquille Richardson in 2014, there's a good chance the Mike Vick signing would have never happened, and the Steelers may have hosted the Broncos in the playoffs instead of going to Denver.
Matt Paradis, C (Denver, 2014, #207)
Cody Wallace has done an admirable job of filling in for Maurkice Pouncey when called upon, including the entire 2015 season. But there is something to be said about a guy who goes from practice squad to starting center in just one off-season for the eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos.
Runner-Up: Luke Bowanko, C (Jacksonville, 2014, #205)
The Steelers passed on both Paradis and Bowanko to select Jordan Zumwalt, a linebacker who has shown some upside, but who can't stay healthy. Both centers could have contributed in 2015.
Seantrel Henderson, T (Buffalo, 2014, #237)
Henderson fell to the seventh round due to character concerns after admitting his three suspensions during college were due to marijuana. He had a few other skeletons in his closet, too. Outside of that, though, he was viewed as one of the best tackles in the draft. A seventh-round flyer on someone to replace Mike Adams would have been prudent, especially considering two things: 1) the team used the pick to select tight end Rob Blanchflower instead, and 2) Henderson has been a standout player and full-time starter since being drafted.
Runner-Up: David Bass, OLB (Chicago, 2013, #233)
Bass has never been spectacular, but in three years has been solid -- which is above and beyond the call of duty for a seventh-round pick. In limited playing time, the 6'-4". 256-pound linebacker has 5.5 sacks and two interceptions, one of which he returned 24 yards for a touchdown.