The Steelers have a stellar track record for first-round picks. Under Kevin Colbert's leadership, every single first-round pick has gone on to be a starter (the jury is still out on Bud Dupree, but it's looking good after one year) and a significant contributor for at least a few years.
Because of that success, sometimes it's easy to forget that Colbert has been outstanding in the rest of the draft, and also with free agents and trades. That got me thinking: what is the best team I could put together, for a single win-it-all game, with guys Colbert brought into the organization -- via the draft, free agency or trade -- who were not first-round picks?
Today, we will talk offense.
Quarterback: Charlie Batch
There actually weren't a lot of choices here. I was tempted to go with Tommy Maddox, considering he was actually a starting quarterback, but his time and success were short-lived. Batch was less flashy, but was the consummate Steeler. He was as solid as any backup in the league, and even managed to beat the Ravens in a game that truly, truly mattered.
Also considered: Maddox
Fullback: Roosevelt Nix
Again, there weren't a lot of guys to choose from. Will Johnson was the other logical choice here, but his blocking lacked the punch that Nix has shown in his one year with the team. Nix's contributions on special teams pushed him over the top.
Also considered: Johnson
Halfback: Le'Veon Bell
This is as easy as it gets. Bell has yet to play a complete season, yet he already owns the team single-season record for the most yards from scrimmage. The Eddie-Lacy-versus-Bell argument seems like decades ago, now.
Also considered: Willie Parker
Wide Receiver: Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant
Antonio Brown is the best player in football. Period. It's hard to argue with that, when there is a distinct possibility that he will be the first wide receiver to break the 2,000-yard ceiling in 2016. He and Roethlisberger just keep getting better, and he had more than 1,800 yards in 2015 despite his star quarterback missing all or part of seven regular-season games.
As for Bryant, let me put it this way: when he's on the field, he's one of the scariest deep threats in the game today. Let's take his bad decisions off the field out of the equation for a minute, and just look at his skills. Is there anyone else you would choose from Colbert's acquisitions?
Didn't think so.
So, why not Hines Ward? Because his role was the same as Brown's. He's the possession receiver, the go-to guy. This isn't about getting the two most dependable receivers on the field, or Ward would have it due to his years with the team and proven play. This is about putting together the best team for one game. That gives Bryant a clear edge.
Also considered: Ward, Emmanuel Sanders
Offensive Tackle: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert
Gilbert is a no-brainer. He's easily the best right tackle this team has had since the 1990s. The fact that he just keeps getting better is scary. I am already on record as saying he should end up being selected to the Pro Bowl this year. Heck, he should have been last year.
Beachum took a little time to get going but eventually turned into a stud at left tackle, which would be perfectly acceptable for, say, a third-round pick. It's absolutely phenomenal for a seventh-round pick, which is what Beachum was. While Roethlisberger's blind side was a heart attack in the making for virtually every play from 2009 to 2013, once Beachum made the position his own, it became nothing more than an afterthought.
Honorable Mention: Marvell Smith, Kendall Simmons
Gaurd: Willie Colon, Ramon Foster
If Willie Colon had started his career at guard, he could have gone down as one of the best in Steelers history -- assuming he kept his attitude in check on the field. He wasn't spectacular as a right tackle, where he started off, but after a move to guard near the end of his time in Pittsburgh, he proved fans right about where he belonged. It's hard to know who shoulders move of the blame for waiting on that move, Colbert or Tomlin.
Foster has been a mainstay on the Steelers' offensive line long enough to have signed his second contract, despite being an undrafted free agent. He took over the starting spot for the final seven games of his second season, and hasn't looked back since. Despite not having ideal build or athleticism for line coach Mike Munchak's zone-blocking schemes, he has been irreplaceable due to an outstanding work ethic.
Honorable Mention: Chris Kemoeatu, and that's about it
Center: Doug Legursky
When you have four primary starters at a position over a forty-year period, all you're going to get here is a long list of backups. Legursky was one of the few to actually get on the field thanks to an injury to Maurkice Pouncey, including for Super Bowl XLV -- which was, unfortunately, not one of his better games. But the only other guys who COlbert brought in who saw any action were Chukky Okobi and Cody Wallace. Wallace started all of the 2015 season, but if I could have either of these guys in their prime, I would take Legursky -- if for no reason other than Wallace's propensity for getting flagged.
Honorable Mention: Wallace
Tight End: Ladarius Green
Heath Miller was a stud in Pittsburgh. The only other tight end to get any significant amount of playing time was Matt Spaeth, but he was only ever brought to Pittsburgh for his blocking. We have yet to see Green play in a Steelers uniform, so this is based solely on his long-term potential. He has more playing time than any other Steelers tight end not named Miller or Spaeth, even if it did come with another team. I actually never even considered Spaeth here; instead, I considered 2015 rookie Jesse James, who at least has shown far more dual-threat potential than other recent tight ends the Steelers have drafted.
Honorable Mention: James