With the Antonio Brown era in Pittsburgh coming to an end, what the Steelers do with the third and fifth round picks they acquired will be highly scrutinized for years. The Steelers have hit on some third-round picks in the past such as Mel Blount, Hines Ward, and Joey Porter. But how have the Steelers done in recent years under Mike Tomlin when it came to their third-round selections?
It is important to note the Steelers have drafted 16 players in the third round since 2007. In 2009 the Steelers had three picks in the third round, while in both 2017 and 2018 the Steelers had two selections. The last year the Steelers did not have a third round selection was in 2003 when they traded their third and their sixth round draft picks to move up to draft Troy Polamalu.
Here is the list of third-round picks by the Steelers since 2007:
2007- TE Matt Spaeth
2008- LB Bruce Davis
2009- WR Mike Wallace
2009- CB Keenan Lewis
2009- OT Kraig Urbik
2010- WR Emmanuel Sanders
2011- CB Curtis Brown
2012- LB Sean Spence
2013- WR Marcus Wheaton
2014- KR Dri Archer
2015- WR Sammie Coats
2016- DT Javon Hargrave
2017- CB Cameron Sutton
2017- RB James Conner
2018- QB Mason Rudolph
2018- OT Chuks Okorafor
The most depressing thing I found from the selections the Steelers have made in the third round since Mike Tomlin took over in 2007 is how not one single one of these Steelers were retained immediately following their fourth season.
That is correct. None of them.
Granted the last five selections should not count because they have yet to reach the end of the rookie deals. But the 11 draft picks in the third round from 2007 to 2015 had zero players still with the Steelers after four seasons. In fact, six of the eleven were either released or traded before finishing their fourth year.
It should be noted that both Matt Spaeth and Shawn Spence returned to the Steelers after playing elsewhere. In all, Spaeth played seven seasons for the Steelers, starting 56 of the 92 games in which he played. He has the most starts for the Steelers of any third rounder under Mike Tomlin.
As for measuring success as a member of the Steelers, only two players from this list made the Pro Bowl while playing with Steelers. Those players are James Conner and Mike Wallace. Emmanuel Sanders has two Pro Bowl selections, but they have been since he joined the Denver Broncos.
One of the most impactful players on this list other than Wallace, Sanders, and Conner has been Javon Hargrave who has been a starter since his rookie year. He has officially started 39 of his 47 games, with the 8 non-starts mainly coming from the Steelers starting in a sub package on defense. As for the four players drafted the past two seasons, including James Conner, it is still too early to tell how their time with the Steelers will play out.
As for the fifth round pick the Steelers received, players selected in this round are very hit or miss. Yes, Mike Webster is enshrined in Canton as a fifth-round selection, but there are 19 players in team history drafted in the same round who never played in an NFL game.
While the Steelers have never had a fifth round selection make the Pro Bowl under Mike Tomlin, they did get many years of production from William Gay who was drafted in 2007. Additionally, Jesse James was selected in the fifth round in 2015, but his future looks to be in Detroit for the foreseeable future. And while Jaylen Samuels flashed last season as a rookie when called upon, his body of work has not been enough to deem him a successful pick as of yet.
As much as I would like to think these two selections could help offset the loss of an all-pro wide receiver, it’s very unlikely the Steelers can pull off drafting players such as Mike Wallace and William Gay with these two picks. In fact, they are just as likely to draft Bruce Davis and Terry Hawthorne. If the Steelers are hoping to gain a player who sticks with the team beyond their rookie deal, they would be better served to use these two draft picks in orders to move up in the first round if there is a player they really want much like they did in 2003.