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Steelers Trades: Moving down in the first round can have big advantages

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The Steelers moved down to take one of the most important players in team history.

Ronald Martinez

With the annual NFL Draft on the horizon, it brings to mind some maneuvering that paid huge dividends for all involved, while others just didn't pan out for any teams or the players who were traded.

PITTSBURGH -- The 2001 NFL Draft was a big one for the Pittsburgh Steelers with the emphasis on "big.''

The Steelers traded down in the first round, sending their pick -- No. 16 overall -- to the New York Jets to secure the No. 19 spot. The Steelers also received a fourth- and sixth-round pick from the Jets, but those selections paled in comparison to what the Steelers got in the first round.

They selected humongous nose tackle Casey Hampton, "The Big Snack,'' from Texas with the 19th overall pick in the first round. Hampton was born to play nose tackle in the three-four defense, and he was a cornerstone there for the Steelers from his rookie season in 2001 through the 2012 campaign. He was not re-signed after that and did not play in the NFL this past season.

With the other two selections from the Jets in 2001 -- the 111th overall pick in the fourth round and 181st in round six, respectively -- the Steelers drafted offensive lineman Mathias Nkwenti and defensive end Rodney Bailey. Nkwenti lasted just three seasons in the league, all with the Steelers, and played in two games. Bailey was a solid player in the league, a seven-year NFL veteran, but neither made an impact like the powerhouse Hampton.

He was a five-time Pro Bowl selection at a position that does not get many accolades. Hampton played in three Super Bowls with the Steelers with two victories and was a co-MVP for the team in 2005. He was a member of the club's all-time team and generally was a good-natured guy. In his final season, Hampton received the Art Rooney trophy from the Pittsburgh sports writers, an accolade given to the media good-guy, a go-to guy in the locker room. Hampton rarely disappointed when he took the time to do interviews.

Bailey played three seasons with the Steelers after they drafted him (2001-03). He was with the New England Patriots in 2004 and played for the Seattle Seahawks in '05. The Steelers reacquired him for the 2006 season, and he moved on to the Arizona Cardinals for the 2007 campaign before retiring from the league after seven seasons.

Bailey's play only added to the success of the trade for the Steelers, but it was Hampton who was the key. With the 16th overall pick, the Jets selected wideout Santana Moss. He lasted four seasons with the Jets and had one big year, 74 catches for 1,105 yards and 10 touchdowns. Moss moved on to the Washington Redskins in 2005 and has played nine seasons in the nation's capital. He had three terrific seasons (2008-10), but his numbers have fallen off of late.

During those three years, Moss tallied 242 catches for 3,061 yards and 15 touchdowns. In 13 NFL seasons, Moss has played in 187 games and has 722 catches for 10,167 yards and 66 touchdowns.

During his 12-year tenure with the Steelers, Hampton was a force in the middle of the D-line, a lynchpin for the top-rated defense in the NFL. He was the main reason opposing teams found it difficult to run against the Steelers. He plugged several holes in the line with his quickness and girth. And at 6-foot-1 and an estimated 350 pounds, Hampton was tough to move. He usually had 2-3 opposing players trying to block him, generally a guard and center, but occasionally a running back got involved as well.

Hampton didn't have high sack or tackle numbers, but that wasn't his job. He could play off blocks and make plays on occasion, but mostly he took up space and allowed the Steelers linebackers and secondary guys to come up to make the plays. He also was durable.

Other than the 2004 season when he suffered a season-ending knee injury after six games, Hampton missed just nine games, playing 167 of a possible 176 games. He started 11 games as a rookie, but after that he started nearly every game that he played (154 starts in 157 games).

With the NFL gearing more toward the passing game, however, teams primarily play with additional defensive backs. So, players like Hampton are relegated to playing just one down, for the most part. That, the exorbitant salary that he would have commanded and the emergence of backup Steve McLendon are the reasons that Hampton was not re-signed.

The Steelers might have over-estimated McLendon's readiness to be a full-time player, but they still believe he can be a solid NFL nose tackle. One thing is certain, however. He is not and might never be Casey Hampton.