After an ultimately disappointing 2011 that ended with a demoralizing playoff defeat, the Pittsburgh Steelers set about restructuring contracts, and when that didn’t work, just flat out started cutting veterans.
That’s not without its risks, and it will place a greater burden of responsibility on some young players who have already established themselves, as well as others who are about to get their opportunity. That seems like a relevant enough link into us giving the Steelers the Draft Grader treatment, where every pick gets a grade between +2.0 and -2.0 (in 0.5 increments) that depends upon:
• Where they were drafted
• Their performance
• Their contribution (how many snaps their team got out of them)
• Other factors such as unforeseen injuries and conditions that could not have been accounted for
Let’s take a look at how the Steelers drafted.
+2.0: You’ve just found Tom Brady in the 6th round
With the monstrous Big Ben on the roster, they didn’t need to.
+1.5: Getting much more than you bargained for!
Mike Wallace, WR (84th overall pick in 2009): The saving grace of an extremely disappointing 2009 draft. Wallace isn’t the most versatile of receivers, but what he does, he does very well. The league’s premier deep threat, Wallace has picked up a +23.8 grade for his receiving over the past three years, while averaging 18.7 yards per reception.
Antonio Brown, WR (195th overall pick in 2010): As close as you can get to the top grade, Brown may go down as one of the best sixth round picks of all time if (a big if) he can maintain the form he showed as a sophomore. A great returner, he’s already a more versatile receiver than the excellent Mike Wallace, capable of making plays all over the field. Brown was seventh in our receiver rankings in 2011 and was third in the league when it came to Yards Per Route Run.
+1.0: The scouts nailed it!
Not so much…
+0.5: Never hurts to find a solid contributor
Rashard Mendenhall, RB (23rd overall pick in 2008): Injuries hurt Mendenhall’s rookie year and could have a big say in his future with the Steelers after an ACL tear late in the 2011 season. That said, he had become the workhorse back the Steelers needed, and was playing exceptionally well last year, finishing ninth overall in our running back rankings.
Ryan Mundy, S (194th overall pick in 2008): Mundy has proven himself a valuable player to have, contributing as a backup safety while picking up 30 special teams tackles over the past three years. Just don’t design a gameplan that leaves him as exposed as he was against Denver in the playoffs, okay?
David Johnson, TE/ FB (241st overall pick in 2009): The former seventh-rounder has turned out to be a versatile asset for the Steelers’ offense, splitting his time between tight end and fullback. A decent enough blocker, Johnson has demonstrated some good value.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR (82nd overall pick in 2010): Looked particularly good in his rookie year, before an injury severely limited him in 2011. Along with Brown and Wallace, they could form the league’s deadliest trio of receivers.
0.0: It could have been worse
Dennis Dixon, QB (156th overall pick in 2008): Dixon was never cut out to be an NFL starter, and looked pretty horrible for the most part when the Steelers were forced to play him. He did do enough with his 156 snaps to not overly cost his team, so it could have been much worse. He is currently unsigned and Pittsburgh hasn’t shown much interest in bringing him back.
Mike Humpal, LB (188th overall pick in 2008): The former sixth round pick missed his rookie year with a neck injury and was then waived.
Frank Summers, FB (169th overall pick in 2009): Missed his rookie year on injured reserve and was then waived a year later.
RaShon Harris, DT (205th overall pick in 2009): Was released by the Steelers and claimed off waivers by the Panthers. Harris did manage to make it back onto the Steelers roster eventually, but never managed to stick.
Maurkice Pouncey, C (18th overall pick in 2010): Before we are called Maurkice haters, let it be said that Pouncey isn’t a bad player. It’s just he doesn’t do an awful lot (wrong or right), spending most of his time helping on a double team on those occasions when the Steelers run to either side of him (where the Steelers have the third lowest yards per carry and only ran it 60 times). We need to see him do more to justify having been a first round pick.
Jason Worilds, LB (52nd overall pick in 2010): Too early to tell how Worilds will turn out, though he stepped in as a starter throughout 2011 and had some bright spots. Not enough to convince us he’ll be worth a second round pick, but encouraging.
Chris Scott, T (151st overall pick in 2010): Didn’t get on the field and was cut after a year with the club. Later signed to practice squad and on a futures contract.
Crezdon Butler, CB (164th overall pick in 2010): The former fifth-rounder was claimed off waivers when the Steelers released him after a year.
Stevenson Sylvester, LB (166th overall pick in 2010): Got on the field for 74 career snaps, and is scheduled to compete for a starting spot in 2012.
Jonathan Dwyer, RB (188th overall pick in 2010): Got a chance to carry the ball in 2011 and produced a 100-yard game in Week 5. He then dropped down the depth chart when others were healthy. He remains with the club and is recovering from injuries.
-0.5: That pick was not put to good use
Tony Hills, T (130th overall pick in 2008): 43 pretty horrible snaps are all the Steelers have to show for the former fourth round pick. Given his performance in that action, it’s amazing he lasted as long as he did with the team.
Keenan Lewis, CB (96th overall pick in 2009): For all the promise of a third round pick, Lewis has managed just 447 snaps on defense for the Steelers as he’s struggled to break into the starting lineup in three years with the team. Worse still, he hasn’t actually played well when he’s gotten on the field.
Joe Burnett, CB (168th overall pick in 2009): Just 44 defensive snaps and not a whole lot of special teams value here.
A.Q. Shipley, C (226th overall pick in 2009): Cut before the start of the 2009 season.
Thaddeus Gibson, LB (116th overall pick in 2010): Never good when a fourth round pick is cut in the October of his rookie year as Gibson was.
Doug Worthington, DT (242nd overall pick in 2010): Initially made the practice squad, but was then cut a few days later before the 2010 season began.
-1.0: What a waste!
Bruce Davis, OLB (88th overall pick in 2008): A third round pick cut a year after being drafted without ever seeing the field. Need I say more?
Ziggy Hood, DE (32nd overall pick in 2009): The Steelers haven’t gotten the best use out of Hood by having him see so much time in their sub-package defense. You can’t blame the team for Hood’s lack of an impact. Our lowest-ranked 3-4 defensive end, Hood doesn’t eat double teams as some would have you believe. He also doesn’t do all that well when matched up one-on-one. To this point, he’s been a real passenger on the Steelers’ defense.
Kraig Urbik, G (79th overall pick in 2009): Is this one on the coaches? Urbik, a former third round pick, never got on the field for the Steelers and was cut a year after being drafted. Since going to Buffalo, though, he’s looked like a capable NFL starter.
-1.5: The scouts/ coaches failed, big time!
Limas Sweed, WR (53rd overall pick in 2008): Expected to help the Steelers’ receiving group get younger, Sweed was a major disappointment. He managed just 162 snaps, while earning a awful -9.0 grade. He ended up catching just nine balls for the Steelers, while dropping three. Only one word describes the selection of Sweed … terrible.
-2.0: You just drafted the love child of JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf!
No Russell/ Leaf hybrids in this draft.
If this offseason has been a case of “out with the old” in Pittsburgh, maybe it’s time fans start worrying about who is replacing them? The truth is, outside of a couple of receivers, the Steelers haven’t really scored on the drafts between 2008 and 2010, and they’ll be left desperately hoping that the 2010 class can take a collective step forward. That’s not all that improbable if Pouncey can start justifying the hype, Worilds can continue to develop as an outside linebacker, and players like Sanders and Sylvester carve out roles for themselves. For a team that isn’t known for being big in free agency, it’s worrying to be getting so little out of their drafts. This could leave them relying even more heavily on veterans who would ideally be getting more help.