After a lackluster 2008 Draft, the Steelers went on to win their sixth Super Bowl championship. With the current team on the verge of dynasty status, the team headed into the 2009 Draft after a very busy offseason. The Steelers gave both OT Max Starks and OG Chris Kemoeatu contract extensions that were in excess of $20 million, signed DB Keiwan Ratliff to a one-year deal, signed veteran WR Shaun McDonald to a one-year deal, and brought return specialist Stefan Logan in from the CFL.
Losses from the previous season included former first-round pick OG Kendall Simmons (released), WR Nate Washington (signed with Tennessee), FS Anthony Smith (signed with Green Bay), CB Bryant McFadden (signed with Arizona), OT Marvel Smith (signed with San Fransisco after 108 games started in Pittsburgh), backup QB Byron Leftwich (signed with Tampa Bay to be the starting QB), and LB Larry Foote (asked for trade, granted to Detroit). The team also lost their only “goal line” type running back in RB Gary Russell, who signed with Oakland. The team would need to start finding replacements for these players, as well as begin the process of finding rookies for eventual replacements for DE Aaron Smith and DT Casey Hampton.
Drafting out of the 32nd slot in the 2009 Draft (Super Bowl winning team drafts last), the Steelers did not anticipate any of their primary targets still on the board at #32. With the offensive line seeming to finally have some stability, the team zeroed in on defensive line players in the first round. They found their man in DE/DT Evander “Ziggy” Hood from Missouri.
Round One – 32nd Overall – Evander “Ziggy” Hood – Defensive End – 6’3″ 300 lbs. – Missouri
With Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Chris Hoke all coming up on the twilight of their careers, the Steelers began the task of rebuilding their defensive line depth by selecting Hood, a player who had played both DE and DT in college and would shift to DE in the Steelers 3-4 defense. Hood had been a solid player on several highly-ranked Missouri teams (2007, 2008) and had big game experience to go along with his incredible athletic ability. With the 2009 Defensive Line already set, Hood would have at least one season to backup Smith and Keisel and learn the intricate Steelers defense of Dick LeBeau. It was the perfect situation for a young player coming into the NFL. He wouldn’t be expected to contribute right away and would have a chance to play on a team that had Super Bowl aspirations every season.
During his rookie season, Hood would play in all 16 games on both special teams and defense. He secured his first NFL sack and gain experience playing at both DT and DE. In 2010, Hood began the season behind Aaron Smith on the depth chart, but an injury to Smith allowed Hood to start the final 9 games of the season. He accumulated 3.0 sack and 15 tackles. In 2011, Hood became the primary backup to both Smith and Keisel, and once again took over after another injury sidelined Smith – it would be Aaron Smiths final season with the team. Hood started 7 games in 2011, accumulating 1.5 sacks and 23 tackles.
At just 25 years old, Hood now joins the starting defense for the retired Smith for 2012. The team expects that after having three seasons under his belt, Hood should immediately become an anchor on the defensive line. The jury is still out on Hood, but all signs point to him being a great draft pick and starting this season, a Pro Bowl caliber defensive end.
NOTE: The Steelers would trade their second round pick and forth round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Denver’s third round pick (#79) and Chicago’s third round pick (#84)
Round Three – 79th Overall – Kraig Urbik – Offensive Guard – 6’5″ 323 lbs. – Wisconsin
The Steelers attempted to build depth on the offensive line with the pick of Urbik, considered one of the top guard prospects in the draft. Coming out of Wisconsin – known for their offensive lineman – Urbik was expected to eventually become a starting RG for the Steelers opposite Kemoeatu. However, that never happened as Urbik did not play and remained inactive all season, losing his slot to undrafted free-agent Ramon Foster. The Steelers cut Urbik before the start of the 2010 season. He was picked up by Buffalo, and is slate to begin 2012 as the starting right guard.
Urbik could be a case of the Steelers giving up on a player too soon. Should he emerge as a decent player in Buffalo, this draft pick could go down as one of the worst in the past five years for the Steelers.
Round Three – 84th Overall – Mike Wallace – Wide Receiver– 6’0″ 180 lbs. –Mississippi
The Mike Wallace saga has been a major storyline during the 2011-2012 offseason, with Wallace possibility unhappy about his one-year tender offer and making waves about holding out of camp. Regardless of how the story ends, the selection of Wallace in the 3rd round of the 2009 Draft may go down as one of the best value selections of the Mike Tomlin era.
Wallace was a productive receiver at Ole Miss over a three-year career. His career totals ended up at 101 receptions/1910 yards/15 Touchdowns/10-92 Rushing Yards. It wasn’t until the NFL Combine that teams took notice of the impressive speed of the 6’0″ wideout. At the combine, Wallace ran a 4.33 40-yard dash, the fastest time of any player. He also added 14 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press and ran crisp routes during drills. His draft stock rose to a mid-second round pick after the combine.
When the Steelers selected Wallace at 84th overall in round three, he was the eleventh WR taken in the draft. Others taken before Wallace: Darrius Heyward-Bey (Oakland), Michael Crabtree (San Fransisco), Jeremy Maclin (Philadelphia), Percy Harvin (Minnesota), Hakeem Nicks (New York Giants), Kenny Britt (Tennessee), Brian Robiskie (Cleveland), Mohamed Massaquoi (Cleveland), Derrick Williams (Detroit), and Brandon Tate (New England). Overall, the 2009 draft was stacked with wide receivers, making it easy for the Steelers to take Wallace so late. The team signed Wallace to a 3-year deal and he went into training camp as one of the players to watch.
During his rookie season, Wallace emerged as a legitimate deep threat or the Steelers offense. He started four games, but played in all 16, ended up with 39 receptions for 756 yards and 6 touchdowns while leading the NFL with 19.4 YPR. It was a rookie season that established Wallace as the top wideout heading into 2010. Over the past two seasons (2010-2011), Wallace has developed into one of the dominant wide receivers in the league. He has started all 16 games both season (60 receptions/1257 yards/10touchdowns in 2010) (72 receptions/1193 yards/8 touchdowns in 2011) and been the “go-to” guy for QB Ben Roethlisberger during that time. His ability to outrun any coverage makes him a deadly target downfield, and his ability to gain yards after the catch has placed him among the best in football in that statistical category.
Wallace entered the offseason as an restricted free agent and if any team offered him a contact the Steelers couldn’t match, the team signing Wallace would have to give the Steelers their 1st round pick in the 2012 Draft. Wallace did not sign elsewhere and is obligated to sign his $2.94 million tender offer. He is now talking about holding out and the Steelers may be actively accepting trade offers for their top wide receiver, who seems ready to lose his #1 position to WR Antonio Brown regardless.
Wallace was a great pick for the Steelers, and has had a great career here. If he stays, he has the potential to become of the great Steelers wide receivers of all time. If not, the team still received exceptional value for their 84th overall pick in 2009.
Round Three – 96th Overall – Keenan Lewis – Cornerback – 6’1″ 196 lbs. – Oregon State
Looking to give their aging secondary a shot of youth, the Steelers would select cornerbacks with their next two picks.
They started by taking Keenan Lewis in round three. Lewis – a high school friend and teammate of previous third round pick Mike Wallace – was considered one of the more physical corners in the draft. A three-year starter at Oregon State, Lewis had played against all of the top receivers in the PAC-10 from 2005-2008, mostly lining up in man coverage against the top target of the opposing team. Lewis led the Beavers in interceptions as both a junior and senior, totaling 117 total tackles in his career and being chosen three times to the PAC-10 All-Academic First Team.
Lewis played sparingly in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh, working on nickel coverage units and special teams. In 2011, he played in all 16 games as the primary backup to both Ike Taylor and William Gay, supplanting veteran Bryant McFadden in that role early in the season. Lewis is slated to be the top contender for the starting position left by Gay’s departure to Arizona this offseason. He will compete with second-year players Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown. The jury is still out on Keenan Lewis, but odds are he will be called upon to play a major role in the 2012 Steelers secondary.
Round Five – 168th Overall – Joe Burnett – Cornerback – 5’9″ 198 lbs. – Central Florida
By selecting their second corner in the 2009 draft, the Steelers seemed to be trending towards a youth movement in the defensive secondary. Burnett had been something of a Conference USA phenom at Central Florida, helping the Knights to their first two Bowl berths (2005 Hawaii Bowl, 2007 Liberty Bowl) and setting numerous school and conference records in the process. Burnett had also been an excellent punt and kick returner – a spot of need for the Steelers – combining for over 1,000 return yards and two punt return touchdowns in his senior (2008) season. Starting 46 games for UCF in his four-year college career, Burnett amassed 221 tackles and 16 interceptions and was selected as first-team All American by both ESPN ans Sports Illustrated in 2008.
The Steelers career of Joe Burnett lasted one season. Suiting up for 15 games his rookie season, Burnett played in 11 regular season contests, with the most significant of his playing time coming in a spellbinding 37-36 loss to the underdog Oakland Raiders in Week 12. With under two minutes left in regulation, the Steelers took a 24-20 lead on a Hines Ward touchdown pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger. The stage was set for Pittsburgh-native back-up QB Bruce Gradkowski to lead the Raiders in a two-minute drill for the win. On a second down play at the Oakland 41-yard line, starting cornerback William Gay was injured – forcing Burnett into the game as the #2 corner. With :41 left on the clock and Pittsburgh clinging to their 24-20 lead, Gradkowski took a shot downfield to WR Louis Murphy. Burnett had perfect position in between the quarterback and the receiver, and the pass hit him directly between the 2 and 7 on his black Steelers home jersey. The interception would have been a game-winner, as Oakland had utilized all of its timeouts and would not have had another offensive possession. Burnett – amazingly – dropped the interception. The Raiders would go on to complete the drive with :09 left on the clock, an eleven-yard touchdown pass to Murphy behind both Ryan Mundy and Burnett for the game-winner. The loss sent the Steelers to 6-6 on the season and played a major part in the team missing the postseason. Once the game was over, the Steelers fell a full three games back behind AFC North leader Cincinnati – with faint wild card hopes riding on winning out the rest of their games. After a loss to Cleveland the following Thursday, the Steelers no longer controlled their own destiny and missed the playoffs just a year after winning Super Bowl XLIII.
It is very difficult to hinge a players entire career on one play, but the Burnett drop was the last time he would see significant action that season. The following summer in Training Camp, the Steelers cut Joe Burnett and made no effort to re-sign him to the practice squad – ending his time in Pittsburgh. Burnett would go on to sign a futures contract with the New York Giants, but has yet to play another down in the NFL. His career has taken him to the Jacksonville Sharks of the Arena Football League and currently to the Edmonton Eskimos of the CFL.
Round Five – 169th Overall – Frank “The Tank” Summers – Running Back – 5’10” 240 lbs. – Nevada – Las Vegas
The Steelers had back-to-back picks in round five, and after taking going with defensive players on their previous two selections, they went with a running back on their sixth pick in the draft. Frank Summers was considered a “smashmouth” type running back/fullback that the team desired for their short yardage situations. In two seasons with the Runnin’ Rebels, Summers established himself as a brutally powerful back capable of rushing for well over 4.0 YPC. He rushed for 1,668 yards and 14 touchdowns while at UNLV, adding another 402 yards on receptions and catching six touchdown passes.
The Steelers coaching staff raved about the selection, with running backs coach Kirby Wilson telling the Las Vegas media “The other guys I’ve talked to – running back coaches – have all said that he might be one of the more difficult guys to tackle that they’ve seen on film all year”. Summers had a productive preseason and was inserted as the Steelers starting fullback for Weeks 1-2 of the 2009 season. An injury kept him out of Week 3 and he was subsequently placed on Injured Reserve, ending his season. The following year, Summers played both halfback and fullback in preseason games, but did not show enough to make the roster and was cut prior to the regular season.
After spending the 2010 season on the Steelers practice squad, Summers signed with San Diego for 2011. He did not play in any games for the Chargers, but remains on their roster for 2012. “The Tank” was lauded by Steeler Nation as the possible heir apparent to “The Bus”, a prophecy that obviously did not come true. The Steelers received little value from this draft pick.
Round Six – 205th Overall – RaShon Harris – Defensive Tackle – 6’5″ 300 lbs. – Oregon
The Steelers chose defensive lineman RaShon Harris from Oregon with their sixth-round pick. Harris was a fifth-year senior at Oregon, but did not start until his senior year. While his statistics were not overly impressive, his workouts were off the charts. He led all Oregon players in both bench press (415 lbs) and power clean (341 lbs.) and had fantastic workouts at both the NFL Combine and Oregon Pro Day. The Steelers took a shot on him based on his intangibles, and he was unable to grasp the NFL playbook, possibly due to a lack of playing experience in college. He was cut before the regular season, and made two more passes through the Steelers practice squad in 2009 and 2010. He is currently with the practice squad of the Houston Texans. In his NFL career, he has played in two games (Carolina, 2009) and been active for several games with the Texans last season.
Round Seven – 226th Overall – A.Q. Shipley – Center – 6’1″ 315 lbs. – Penn State
Using their token “local boy” pick in the 2009 draft, the Steelers selected center A.Q. Shipley from Penn State in round seven. Shipley grew up and played high school ball at Moon Township, located 20 minutes from Pittsburgh. He was a standout player on both sides of the ball and was ranked as a four-star recruit by Rivals.com prior to choosing Penn State. At PSU, Shipley was a major success. He was an All-American in 2008, and won the Rimington Trophy as the top college center the same year. He was the main blocker credited for the record-setting season of RB Tony Hunt in 2006. Shipley was voted as a team captain at Penn State in 2008, a fabulous honor for an offensive lineman.
The Steelers – in need of a backup center – figured Shipley might be able to transfer his talent to the pro field. He had great workout numbers at the NFL Combine and scored a 40 on the Wonderlic test, easily the highest score that year. Unfortunately, the “hometown boy does good” story did not happen for Shipley. He was cut before the season, and was placed on the practice squad. He spent time in the Philadelphia Eagles organization and is currently on the active roster for the Indianapolis Colts, a rebuilding team that just lost its franchise center in free agency. Shipley could end up on the roster in 2012 if he is invited to camp and performs well. I speak for many local fans when I say that we all are pulling for Shipley to do well. The Steelers may have not hit the jackpot on this draft pick, but they once again showed that they will always give local products a chance to make it in the pros, further proof of how connected the franchise is to the city and region they call home.
Round Seven – 241st Overall – David Johnson – Tight End/Fullback – 6’2″ 260 lbs. – Arkansas State
The final pick for the Steelers in the 2009 Draft was hybrid-type Tight End/Fullback/Halfback David Johnson from Arkansas State. Johnson may have been the least likely player in this draft to carve out a solid NFL career, but he has done just that in Pittsburgh. Playing in 15 games his rookie season, Johnson lined up all over the field. He started three games and caught two passes for nine yards. In 2010, he again played in 15 games and started five – being used as a 3rd tight end, fullback, lead blocker, extra offensive lineman, and occasionally a decoy for screen passes. His Steelers career took a major boost in 2011 as he became a weekly starter and played in all 16 games. He caught 12 passes for 91 yards including his first NFL touchdown. Johnson took over the backup tight end role opened when Matt Spaeth left for the Chicago Bears prior to last season and excelled enough that the Steelers signed him to a one-year tender of $1.25 million in his restricted free agency year.
With second-year tight end Weslye Sunders serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL banned substances policy, the team went out and signed veteran TE Leonard Pope – a player drafted by current Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Johnson will head into camp in competition for the backup role to TE Heath Miller and could be used more as the Steelers revert back to a lead-blocked on running plays. It is safe to say that the Steelers got great value out of their seventh round pick in 2009.
2009 Draft Summary
After a miserable return on their 2008 class, the Steelers potentially hit it big with the 2009 rookies.
DE Ziggy Hood will be competing with 2011 1st round pick Cameron Heyward for the starting role left behind by the retirement of Aaron Smith, while the non-starter will settle into the also-significant role opened by the departure of veteran DL Chris Hoke. Hood has looked much better over the past year and should develop into a steady force for the Steelers on the defensive line, continuing the great tradition there.
WR Mike Wallace has become one of the top playmakers in all of football, but is currently in a dispute with the team over signing his one-year tender and could end up holding out. Wallace has been the top receiver for the team since his rookie season and needless to say, he was GOLD as a third round pick, no matter what happens moving forward.
CB Keenan Lewis will be competing for a starting job in camp in his forth season. He has had some bright moments but has yet to really be thrown into the fire. We will see where he is in August.
TE David Johnson has been a valuable role player for the team, and was re-signed this offseason – showing that the coaching staff views him as a piece to the 2012 puzzle. Johnson has been a great seventh round value pick.
The selection of OG Kraig Urbik was a dismal failure. No other way to word it. A complete and utter failure of a pick so high in the draft.
CB Joe Burnett and RB Frank Summers did not pan out as mid-round selections, as tends to happen more often than not.
DE RaShon Harris was not able to make the team and has become a nomad on NFL practice squads ever since. Failed pick.
C A.Q. Shipley was a “local” pick and did not make the team. Failed pick.
Out of nine draft slots, the Steelers selected one Pro Bowl WR, a potential stud DE, a potential starting CB, and a role-player at TE/FB.
While hitting on four of nine may seem to be a failure, the pure upside of Hood and Wallace have driven this draft to the SUCCESS level. If Keenan Lewis ends up being a decent starting corner and David Johnson keeps doing what he has been for three seasons, this draft could end up a MAJOR SUCCESS. The status of Mike Wallace is a major player in this draft class. If he ends up traded, the Steelers would need to extract no less than a 1st round pick, a 3rd round pick, and possibly a 2nd-3rd round pick the following year to match the value.
Tuesday night, we will review the Steelers 2010 draft. This class gave the team a Pro Bowl center, two potentially game-breaking wide receivers, a running back with great upside, and two future star linebackers to carry on the best position tradition in professional football.
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