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The Compensatory Chain: Turning Kansas City’s 2004 Third Round Pick into a 2018 Pro Bowler

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Through players gained and lost over a decade, the Steelers earned an extra draft pick in 2017.

NFL: Pro Bowl Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As I was doing research to familiarize myself even more with the compensatory process, I also found myself diving into the Steelers history of compensatory draft picks. It’s quite interesting to follow the chain of why the Steelers received a compensatory pick, along with how the Steelers had the player in the first place whom they lost. As I dove further and further down the rabbit hole, quite an interesting story began to take form. Rather than start at the end and work towards the beginning as I did in discovering the path that allowed certain players to be drafted, I will lay the story out to you all from the beginning.

2004 Draft

While the 2004 draft will live in infamy for Steelers fans for years to come due to Ben Roethlisberger being drafted with the 11th overall pick, it was a selection at the end of the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs which will begin our story. With the 93rd pick in the third round, only three pics of head of where compensatory draft picks began, Kansas City chose Keyaron Fox, a linebacker out of Georgia Tech. In four years with Kansas City, Fox appeared in 40 games while starting in four. Fox was drafted to hopefully become a starter, but his role was mainly as a back up and with special teams. He recorded 83 tackles and one sack with his time in Kansas City.

2008 Free Agency

At the conclusion of Fox’s rookie contract after the 2007 season, many of the reporters who covered the Kansas City Chiefs believed he would be retained with a low-level contract. Instead, Fox chose to take a one year veteran minimum salary with the Pittsburgh Steelers. With 17 tackles and two fumble recovery‘s in the 13 games where he appeared, Fox turned his one year deal with Pittsburgh into a new contract for $1.9 million for the next two seasons.

In 2009, Fox started three games for the Steelers. His career highlight came in the Week 7 matchup against the Minnesota Vikings at Heinz Field. With just over a minute remaining and the Vikings just entering the red zone trailing by three points, Fox intercepted a Brett Favre pass and returned it 82 yards for a touchdown to cement the 27-17 victory.

2011 Free Agency

In the 2011 off-season, the Steelers lost three players who each qualified to give them a 7 round compensatory draft pick. Those players were Matt Spaeth, Nick Eason, and Keyaron Fox. It was Fox’s one-year deal with the Washington Redskins for $810k which gave the Steelers their final compensatory draft pick in the seventh round.

2012 Draft

With the 248th pick in the 2012 NFL draft, the Steeler selected tackle Kelvin Beachum from Southern Methodist University with the final of their three compensatory draft picks in the seventh round. Known for his great athleticism as an offense of tackle as well as a high-character presence in the locker room, Beachum made the 53-man roster in 2012 and appeared in seven games while starting five. Following his rookie season, Beachum started 34 of the 37 games in which he appeared for the Steelers.

Entrenched as the starting left tackle for the entire 2014 season, Beachum started all six games in 2015 until suffering a season-ending knee injury. At this point, diamond-in-the-rough Alejandro Villanueva took over the starting position and has started every game for the Steelers at left tackle since, earning two Pro Bowl selections.

2016 Free Agency

Since Alejandro Villanueva seemed to be a more than adequate replacement, the Steelers felt as if they would not be able to match the high contract Kelvin Beachum would be able to command as a starting left tackle. Beachum signed a very intriguing deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars which was based on the fact he was coming off a serious injury. The deal was for one year at $5 million, but there was a team option for an additional four years for another $40 million. Fortunately for the Steelers, the team option was included in the compensatory formula even though the Jaguars chose not to exercise it the following off-season. So instead of a fifth or sixth round designation with a $5 million average (which would have most likely been a fifth due to the playing time factor), Beachum was designated a third round compensatory value since the average salary was just under $9 million.

The signings the Steelers made in the off-season of Ladarius Green and Ryan Harris did not have a high enough designation to cancel the third round from Beachum and instead canceled out the loss of Steve McClendon and Sean Spence. The Steelers were actually in line for three compensatory picks for the 2017 draft, but their final two picks in the seventh round we’re not awarded because all 32 picks had been given out by the NFL before it made it back to the Steelers. Therefore the Steelers were awarded only a third round compensatory pick at the 105th position.

2017 Draft

With the 105th pick in the 2017 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected James Conner out of the University of Pittsburgh. The running back had 3,733 rushing yards with 52 touchdowns in four seasons at Pitt, although his junior year only consisted of one game as Conner battled Hodgskin’s lymphoma.

2018 Season

When Le’Veon Bell chose to not report to the Steelers for the entire 2018 season, James Connor grasped the title of starting running back with full force. Although he missed three games due to injury, Connor rushed for 973 yards and 12 touchdowns on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection.

There were so many little factors which led to the Steelers gaining the third round compensatory pick in 2017 where they drafted James Conner. Already a fan favorite, Conner has the potential to be beloved player for many seasons. Regardless, he will always be an NFL Pro Bowl running back.

And to think it all started with a third round pick by the Chiefs 15 years ago.