Steelers haven’t had great success with first-round picks since 2013

Artie Burns #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Artie Burns #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a talent deficiency on their current roster. Here’s why it stems from the inadequate play of their former first-round picks.

Pittsburgh has had some tremendous success building teams through the NFL Draft early in Kevin Colbert’s tenure. In one stretch, the Steelers general manager selected Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, and Heath Miller in the first round in three consecutive years. During another stretch, he beefed up the trenches with Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, and David Decastro.

However, much of the past decade hasn’t been as favorable for the Steelers. Though Colbert was able to strike gold on T.J. Watt and was a clear winner in the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, the rest of the first-round picks in recent years have offered this team just a few good seasons combined.

Doing a little research and using my own grading scale, I decided to break this down a bit further to really determine how many ‘good’ seasons the Steelers have gotten out of their first-round picks. For this model, I assessed each season for every Pittsburgh first-round pick from 2013 to 2019. Here’s what I came up with:

What probably jumps right out in this graphic is how dismal Jarvis Jones was — as the former 17th overall pick back in 2013 didn’t even offer this team one average season. What’s almost more concerning to me is that T.J. Watt and Ryan Shazier account for 8 of the 11 good seasons out of a total of 30 combined seasons.

The only other players I deemed worthy of a good season (based on game film, production, and approximate value) where Bud Dupree (2 good seasons) and Terrell Edmunds (1 good season). Jarvis Jones, Artie Burns, and Devin Bush had 0 good seasons of 11.

Steelers fans have reason to be concerned

Obviously, Ryan Shazier would have given us more good seasons as he was entering the prime of his NFL career prior to his spinal injury. However, if you remove T.J. Watt from the equation, the Steelers suddenly look like one of the worst drafting teams in the NFL during this stretch (at least in the first round).

Jones and Burns were flat-out busts, and Bush could be headed down the same path. Even Dupree and Edmunds didn’t turn out to be solid players until the end of their rookie contracts, and there’s no guarantee Edmunds is even going to return in 2022.

Simply put, the Steelers have not gotten enough quality production out of their first-round picks since 2013. So what is the reasoning for this?

As much as we hate to admit it, Pittsburgh has been ignoring the ‘best player available’ approach in the NFL Draft. Instead, they have been selecting for positional need — often at the cost of passing up more talented players on the board.

In 2013, the Steelers needed an edge defender, so they took Jarvis Jones despite huge red flags with athletic testing, spinal stenosis, and age. Colbert did the same in 2016 when he selected Burns after William Jackson was taken one pick before them, and they fixated on a safety in 2018 when they took Edmunds.

While occasionally the best player on the board lines up with the positional need (as it did in 2017 with T.J. Watt), drafting based on need is never a great approach, and this is a legitimate cause for concern for Steelers fans.

light. Related Story. 3 underrated positions of need the Steelers need to address

Perhaps the next general manager will think a bit more long-term. One thing is for sure: the Steelers really can’t afford to have another seven-year stretch of first-round picks like the one they had from 2013-2019.