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Re-drafting the Pittsburgh Steelers: The class of 2004

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What if you could go back in time and alter a specific draft class? Not take Alonzo Jackson, but someone else who actually contributes to the team? Today, we do just that with the Steelers draft class of 2004.

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Do you ever wonder how much hardware the Rooney family would be showcasing on the Northside if they chose anybody but Huey Richardson in 1991? Do you still wake up in a cold sweat because Chuck Noll, Art Junior and the boys laughed Dan Rooney out of the room when he passed along John Clayton's suggestion that Dan Marino was a sure thing and not a strung out coke fiend in 1983? Do you even know who Darryl Sims, Aaron Jones and Jamain Stephens are? I do, to all of the above.

So please indulge me as I grab myself a briefcase full of plutonium, fire up the flux capacitor and rev up Doc Brown's (Emmett's not Antonio's) Delorean up to 88 mph and go back in time and redraft various Steeler drafts. Even in hindsight, this exercise can still be argued. And yes, I understand that disrupting the space-time continuum could possibly erase future glories such as Fast Willie's 75-yard run for the thumb, James Harrison's end zone to end zone race against time or Troy Polamalu's luxurious hair. But for fun and arguments sake, let's live in the specific, selected year and analyze the alternatives. I will only consider players chosen 15 spots behind Pittsburgh in each of the first five rounds and undrafted free agents in the remaining rounds. Consider this your own Grey's Sports Almanac and dust off some 1988 Tiffany and sing "Could've been so beautiful, Could've been so right".

For our first trip, let's go to year that "W" defeated John Kerry for his second term in the White House, the debut of Ron Burgandy on the big screen and Janet Jackson's "Wardrobe Malfunction" making halftime at the Super Bowl must-see tv again. Welcome to 2004.

Round 1 (11):

Original Selection: QB Ben Roethlisberger-Miami(Ohio)

Redraft Selection: QB Ben Roethlisberger-Miami(Ohio)

Analysis: This was an epic selection and it almost didn't happen. At the eleventh hour, The Manning family announced Eli's refusal to play for San Diego, who owned the first pick. Because of this tribute to John Elway (see 1983), the Chargers selected Manning but sent him in a trade to the New York Giants. New York picked Philip Rivers at San Diego's request. Originally, the Giants had planned to select Big Ben at #4, but San Diego coveted Rivers instead. This led to a free fall for the Miami of Ohio signal caller, who waited nervously in the Radio City Musical Hall's green room.

The Steelers never expected Roethlisberger to fall to them. In fact, they were resigned to the possibility of Rivers playing at the confluence of the three rivers.

In eleven seasons, #7 has led the Steelers to two Super Bowl titles, three AFC championships and 5 division titles. His 39,057 yards and 251 touchdown passes are two of his many franchise records held. In his inaugural year, Ben shattered the record for most wins by a quarterback to start a career and won the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Roethlisberger, currently 16th on the all-time list for passing yardage and 9th all-time for QB rating, is still considered in his prime and is projected to add many more accolades to his resume, including a bronze bust in Canton.

Round 2 (38):

Original Selection: CB Ricardo Colclough-Tusculum

Redraft Selection: SS Bob Sanders-Iowa

Analysis: This pick was the equivalent to a pile-up in the Squirell Hill Tunnell at rush hour. Not only did GM Kevin Colbert trade a fourth rounder to Indianapolis to move up six spots for a Division II defensive back, the Colts nabbed a two-time All-Pro and the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year at the Steelers original spot. The very same player that is our redraft selection.

Ricardo Colclough (pronounced coke-lee) rose up the draft board late in the draft process, projected as high as a late first rounder to Cincinnati. Due to a dominant senior season, Colclough was named the 2003 Football Gazette Division II National Defensive Player of the Year. In the near 6' Colclough, The Steelers thought that they were getting a dominant shut-down corner to play opposite Ike Taylor. Instead, they just got shut down. In parts of four seasons, Colclough played as a backup d-back and saw time returning punts in 30 games. He was cut in 2007, roamed around the NFL and UFL in relative obscurity and is now a free agent in the CFL.

Since I know now what the Steeler front office did not know then....I am going to veto the trade, retain the fourth rounder and select Bob Sanders at #44. The Erie native, though on the smaller side at 5'8", was a dominant hitman that lasted eight seasons in the NFL. His career was cut short due to injuries, but imagine a defensive backfield that included the two-time All-Pro/2007 Defensive POY and Troy Polamalu roaming centerfield at Heinz Field for at least a few years.

Round 3 (75):

Original Selection: OT Max Starks-Florida

Redraft Selection: OT Max Starks-Florida

Analysis: Future Redskin Chris Cooley was an attractive and a much-needed option here, but, back then, he was listed more as an H-Back. A protector for their newly selected franchise quarterback was more pressing of a need and they found it for a number of years in Maximillian Starks IV.

In high school, Starks learned that his father was not the biological son of Maximillian Starks III, but the son of Ross Browner, a 1978 first rounder for the Bengals. At 6'8" and 370 lbs, Starks was among the largest players in the NFL and a solid anchor on both sides of the offensive line. He became the only player to start at both left and right tackles in a Super Bowl. Starks was so well received in Pittsburgh, that Ben Roethlisberger wore his #78 in training camp after his release.

All in all, Max Starks played nine serviceable seasons for the black and gold, meriting his remaining in the redraft.

Round 4 (107):

Original Selection: Pick Traded to Indianapolis

Redraft Selection: CB Nathan Vasher-Texas

Analysis: As mentioned above in Round 2, this pick was added compensation in the ill-fated Colclough trade-up. As a part of the redraft, the trade was vetoed and the pick returned to the Steel City.

There were a few avenues to go here, such as DE Robert Geathers and eventual Steelers Jerricho Cotchery, Will Allen and Mewelde Moore. Jared Allen was selected later in this round, but fell out of the 15 pick buffer zone. But due to the need for a corner, Nathan Vasher is the choice here.

Nathan Vasher, in his second year, led the Bears and the NFC with eight interceptions. He made the Pro Bowl in 2005 and his fumble recovery and pickoff late in the 2006 NFC Championship helped the Bears make the Super Bowl. Injuries hampered him in later years, but the former Longhorn amassed 19 interceptions in 76 NFL games and could have been the solution that Colclough wasn't.

Round 5 (145):

Original Selection: DE Nathaiel Adibi-Virginia Tech

Redraft Selection: RB Michael Turner-Northern Illinois

Analysis: The Steelers were looking to recreate the success that they had converting college defensive ends to outside linebackers like they did with Joey Porter and Clark Haggans. Like Alonzo Jackson in 2002, Nathaniel Adibi could not make that same transition. In fact, the 6'3"/255 lb Adibi never made it out of training camp.

The selection of Turner here ended up to be easy, considering that the other players drafted in the fifth round amounted to very little success on the pro level.

Originally drafted by San Diego, the 5'10"/237 pounder was a hard-pounding runner that ground out 7,338 yards and 66 touchdowns in nine years. Most of his success came with Atlanta over his final 5 seasons.

Turner's inclusion on the team would have probably pushed Verron Haynes out the door earlier, due to a crowded backfield that included Jerome Bettis and Duece Staley.

Here's where the space-time continuum possibly rears an ugly head. Because of the insistence of Dan Rooney, Jr., Willie Parker would still have joined the team as an undrafted free agent out of North Carolina in 2004. But we may have never witnessed how fast Willie was, if Turner made the team. But in the spirit of the experiment, it's the logical pick here.

Round 6 (177):

Original Selection: OT Bo Lacy-Arkansas

Redraft Selection: DE/DT Corey Wiliams-Arkansas State

Analysis: Lacy is another player that never saw an NFL regular season game. Offensive Line Coach Russ Grimm was very excited about the blue collar 300 pounder, who was expected to play both guard and tackle. However, Lacy was pink-slipped in training camp.

Perrennial Pro Bowler Andy Lee was my original selection at this spot. He would have remained, if it wasn't for the team just signing Chris Gardocki. Gardocki spent three years on the team and was a very solid punter for the team. Realistically, Lee would have been an unfortunate cut at the end of camp and a gift to whomever plucked him off of waivers. Ironically, the Steelers attempted to sign away Lee from the 49ers when Gardocki's tenure ended in 2007, but the Niners matched the offer.

Instead, Insert Corey Williams here. The DT from Arkansas State had 27.5 sacks in nine seasons with Green Bay, Detroit and Cleveland. Williams would have been a nice rotational player and eventual starter on the d-line.

Round 6 (194):

Original Selection: TE Matt Kranchick-Penn State

Redraft Selection: OT/TE Jason Peters-Arkansas

Analysis: I almost considered keeping Kranchick here, but then I realized that he only caght one ball in two years on the team. The wish here was to have the 6'7" Nittany Lion eventually replace the expected-to-depart Plaxico Burress as the tall receiver. But even though he displayed great hands and speed at PSU, it never translated to the pros. Jay Riemersma, Matt Cushing and Jerame Tuman were the incumbents at the position, so a better option was needed here and the team would have to address it the following year.

Jason Peters was a tight end, but he made a major impact at left tackle in the NFL. The undrafted Peters is a seven-time Pro Bowler and a six-time All-Pro, who started his career with Buffalo and now, is a mainstay in Philadelphia. A Starks/Peters bookend would have prevented the O-line problems that plagued the team later in the decade.

Round 6 (197):

Original Selection: C Drew Caylor-Stanford

Redraft Selection: WR/KR/PR-Texas Tech

Analysis: Drew Carey may have been a better selection here. But seriously, this was a head-scratcher for the fact that Caylor was drafted for his long-snapping ability and Mike Schneck was entrenched in that position. Despite his size and the hope that he wouldn't get run over on place-kicks, Caylor never made it out of Latrobe and was out of football in two years, never appearing in an NFL contest.

There were a couple of marginal options here. However, if the Men of Steel really wanted a long snapper, Don Muhlbach would have fit the bill. Muhlbach is still the snapper in Detroit.

But here, I want Wes Welker. You know, Welker, the 5'8" slot demon who gained just shy of 10,000 yards and caught nearly 50 balls for scores for San Diego, Miami, New England and Denver in 11 seasons in the league. Welker would have apprenticed well under fellow receivers Hines Ward and would have spelled Antwaan Randle-El on return duties, where he also excelled. With guys like Chris Doerring, Zamir Cobb, Freddie Millons and Lee Mays to compete with, Welker would have found a roster spot and become a sure fan-favorite.

Round 7 (212):

Original Selection: DE Eric Taylor-Memphis

Redraft Selection: WR Malcolm Floyd-Wyoming

Analysis: I think Coach Eric Taylor from Friday Night Lights had more tv time than his NFL namesake. Taylor had a reputation as an athletic talent and a hard worker, but he only lasted a little over a year with the Steelers. Taylor played in one NFL game while occupying spots with Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Seattle and Tennessee for 5 seasons. He bounced around the CFL since 2008 and continues to play north of the border with the Calgary Stampeders.

Another receiver yes, but this one is completely different.

Because of Kranchick's exclusion from the redraft and due to the Plaxico problem, Malcolm Floyd gets the nod. We all know that sometimes size does matter and at 6'5", so you can't avoid Floyd. The Steelers knew Burress had no intentions of returning after his deal ran out that season and a suitable replacement proved hard to find for nearly 10 years. The big-bodied Floyd has nabbed balls for nearly 5,000 yards and 31 for scores the past 11 years in San Diego. Picture Floyd on the fade from Big Ben. The team's red zone percentage would have improved and Floyd's career numbers would have increased.

Well, my work is done. The re-draft is up for debate. The only thing left for me to do is...save the clock tower.