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Drafting late in Round 1 has been successful for the Steelers

General manager Kevin Colbert has found some of his best draft gems in the final picks of the first round.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

When it comes to the preparation for the 2022 NFL draft, there are a wide variety of thoughts among fans as to how the Steeler should proceed. Not even getting into specific players the Steelers should target, there are people in the camp that the Steelers should trade up, some think they should hold firm at pick number 20, and others believe the best strategy would be to attempt to trade down to the bottom of the first round.

Whether or not the Steelers have had success with moving in the first round is not the issue being addressed here, rather the Steelers ability to draft quality players in the final picks of Round 1. Under departing general manager Kevin Colbert, the Steelers have made five selections in the range of pick 30–32 since he joined the Steelers front office in 2000.

To get a better idea of what would happen if the Steelers did trade back to the end of the first round in 2022, let’s take a look at the five selections the Steelers have made under Colbert when having one of the final three picks in the first round. For my enjoyment, I ranked these players in order of their success with Steelers.

5. Ziggy Hood (2009, Pick 32)

After winning Super Bowl XLIII, the Steelers had the last pick in the first round of the 2009 draft. Selecting Evander “Ziggy” Hood out of Missouri, there seemed to be some possible scheme of fit issues with Hood playing a 3–4 defense, at least according to him. In five seasons with Pittsburgh, Hood had 11.5 sacks, 140 tackles, seven passes defensed, and 18 tackles for loss. Hood went on to play another five seasons in the NFL with a total of five different franchises.

4. Kendall Simmons (2002, Pick 30)

It was a close call between Ziggy Hood and Kendall Simmons on who would be number five or number four, but starting 80 games over six seasons in Pittsburgh at right guard sealed the deal for Simmons, at least for me. Simmons was the 30th overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft out of Auburn. Only appearing in four games in 2008 after injuring his Achilles, Simmons did technically earn two Super Bowl victories in his time in Pittsburgh. Simmons was released the following offseason but did appear in four games in 2009 for two different teams.

3. Heath Miller (2005, Pick 30)

Seeing Heath Miller as only third on this list goes to show how well the Steelers have drafted at the very end of the first round over the last 22 years. The 30th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft out of Virginia, Heath Miller set the standard for tight end play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Winning the Super Bowl in his rookie season and again in 2008, Miller is a two-time Pro Bowler who retired after 11 seasons as a beloved Steelers player. In all, Miller finished his career with 45 regular season touchdowns, over 6,500 yards, and still holds the single-season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in Pittsburgh with eight.

2. Cam Heyward (2011, Pick 31)

Still the Steelers defensive captain, Heyward is ready to enter his 12th NFL season since he was the 31st overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft out of Ohio State. Selected to the last five Pro Bowls, Heyward has also been First Team All-Pro in three out of the last five seasons. For his career, Heyward has 68.0 sacks and counting with over 500 tackles, 42 passes defensed, seven forced fumbles, and 101 tackles for loss.

1. T.J. Watt (2017, Pick 30)

I’ve asked myself this question on many occasions— how did the Steelers get to draft T.J. Watt with the 30th overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft? The 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, T.J. Watt continues to tear up the NFL and wreak havoc on quarterbacks. Tying the NFL single-season sack record of 22.5 in 2021, Watt has 72 career sacks and counting along with 150 quarterback hits, 80 tackles for loss, 32 passes defensed, and 22 forced fumbles. Watt has been to four-straight Pro Bowls and three straight First Team All-Pro selections. It would be difficult to find a better 30th overall pick anywhere in the NFL, let alone in Steelers history.

While one can’t expect a team to completely hit every draft pick at the very end of the first round, the fact that the Steelers got decent production from every player and “Hall of Honor” or greater output from more than half the list, I would say the Steelers have done quite well with their first-round picks made in the 30s over the last 22 drafts. Although it is fun looking at these things, this, by no means, is any guarantee that if the Steelers traded to the end of the draft they would end up in a similar situation in 2022. But it is the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the final draft of general manager Kevin Colbert. Ultimately, it will be years until we know how the 2022 draft panned out for the Steelers.