On Monday, we took a look at the best possible 22-man lineup that could be put together from former Steelers coach Bill Cowher's draft picks and undrafted free-agent acquisitions. It was a fun exercise that revealed a good deal about the way his drafting changed over the course of his career.
Today, we are going to take a deeper dive to pick his five best draft picks of all time.
First, the ten finalists among the draft picks, in the order they were drafted:
Levon Kirkland (1992, 2:38)
A strong inside defender who could drop into coverage as well as he could rush the quarterback and stop the run. A complete linebacker.
Alan Faneca (1998, 1:26)
The best on a series of strong offensive lines for years and the best Steelers guard in recent memory.
Hines Ward (1998, 3:92)
Helped redefine both the wide receiver position and the NFL rules.
Joey Porter (1999, 3:73)
One of the best pass rushers the Steelers have had in the last 25 years, if not ever.
Aaron Smith (1999, 4:109)
The hands-down best 3-4 defensive end when he was in his prime. The rare end who regularly drew double-teams.
Casey Hampton (2001, 1:19)
You couldn't run against him. You just couldn't. And a lot of teams just stopped trying.
Brett Keisel (2002, 7:242)
Far and away, the best late-round pick in Cowher's era. Would have been an excellent first-round pick, in retrospect.
Troy Polamalu (2003, 1:16)
As I said yesterday: future Hall-of-Fame player. Period.
Ike Taylor (2003, 4:125)
Cowher benched him in 2006. He went on to be regarded around the league as a shutdown corner.
Ben Roethlisberger (2004, 1:11)
The missing piece during most of Cowher's coaching career.
And, since I can't cut to a commercial break, let's just go right to the results. The envelope, please.
Oh, yeah. It's just me here.
5. Alan Faneca
Faneca played the guard position to near perfection, and the Pro Bowl voters agreed from 2001 to 2009. He was an All-Pro selection eight of those seasons. On a team with a history of pretty doggone good linemen, he stood out for all the right reasons.
4. Joey Porter
I didn't adequately describe Porter for Cowher's All-Time, All-Drafted team. I was even called out for that error, and rightly so. Four Pro Bowls and All-Pro teams, a team MVP award, and a member of both the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and the Steelers' All-Time Team. He didn't just carry on the tradition of outstanding outside linebackers in Pittsburgh; he amplified it.
3. Casey Hampton
Hampton manned the middle of some of the best defenses in team, and NFL, history. He regularly took on multiple blockers, allowing the team to play in its base 3-4 alignment even in passing situations, freeing up the linebackers to make plays. We wont talk about opposing offenses running against him -- because they couldn't.
Hampton was a five-time Pro Bowler, a 2005 team co-MVP and a member of the Steelers' All-Time Team.
2. Troy Polamalu
It was a difficult thing to not make Polamalu number one on this list. Accounting for him was no small task, because he had a knack for disappearing from view, only to reappear where the ball was headed. He played a mix of strong safety, inside linebacker and roving assassin. Then there are the awards: eight-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, 2010 AP and NFL Alumni Defensive Player of the Year, NFL 2000s All-Decade Team and the Steelers' All-Time Team.
1. Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger is number one because he was the missing piece in Cowher's offense. As a rookie, he went 13-0 as a starter. In 2005 he led late-season surge and a playoff run that saw the team win seven straight games to get to Super Bowl XL, which they won. He did it again in 2008, only better. Now, under Todd Haley, he has been spectacular, and keeps getting better. He led the in yards in 2014, and only twice in his career has his season rating been below 90. His 93.9 career rating is eighth, all-time..
Roethlisberger is a three-time Pro Bowler, two-time Super Bowl champion, the 2009 Team MVP and the 2004 Offensive Player of the Year. In 2014, he broke team and league records.
The deciding factor, though, was this: the team has stood a much greater chance of winning when any other player has missed time injured than when Roethlisberger has been out of the lineup. When he does not play, the Steelers are a .500 team at best.
It is that level of critical importance that makes him Bill Cowher's single greatest draft pick.