Steelers time machine: Evaluating Mike Tomlin’s first NFL Draft 15 years later

Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images) /

Mike Tomlin has had terrific success with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here’s a look back at his first NFL Draft 15 years later. 

When the Rooney’s first hired Mike Tomlin back in 2007, they were hoping he would be next in line when it comes to Pittsburgh’s historic coaches. Expectations from the organization and the fan base were very high.

Chuck Noll had a legendary and lengthy career from 1969 to 1991 that included four Super Bowl rings. He was succeeded by another Hall of Fame coach Bill Cowher (1992-2006). When it was Tomlin’s turn to take the reigns, it didn’t take him long to hoist his Lombardi Trophy.

While many argue that Tomlin inherited Bill Cowher’s team when he took over as head coach, Tomlin — along with GM Kevin Colbert — was responsible for building a winning organization after Cowher was gone. The Steelers head coach was no stranger to finding success in the NFL Draft either.

Though he didn’t land any Hall of Famers in his first draft, Tomlin yielded respectable results in their first draft as the Steelers head coach:

Steelers 2007 draft rewind

Tomlin and Colbert kicked things off by selecting Lawrence Timmons with the 15th overall pick. Timmons, a former edge defender at Florida State, converted to off-ball linebacker early in his career with the Steelers. While he only earned Pro Bowl honors once, he was a centerpiece of some very impressive defenses and offered Pittsburgh a reliable presence in the middle of their defense for 10 years.

LaMarr Woodley was the second draft choice Mike Tomlin ever made. Though his tenure in Pittsburgh wasn’t as long as Timmons’ (7 years), Woodley was arguable even more important to their success on defense, and many would say he was the better player of the two.

Woodley averaged 11 sacks per season over a four-year span from 2008 to 2011. Though his career really fell off after his fifth NFL season (largely due to injuries), Woodley proved to be one of the best second-round draft choices this team has made in recent memory.

In the mid-rounds of the 2007 NFL Draft, Tomlin and Colbert weren’t quite as fortunate. Though Matt Spaeth was a solid in-line blocking tight end, Pittsburgh had a bit of a rough stretch of picks with P Daniel Sepulveda, DT Ryan McBean, and OG Cameron Stephenson.

Still, finding Pro Bowl-level talent on each of your first two picks is automatically going to earn a pat on the back. Tomlin and his crew solidified their good haul in the 2007 draft when they landed William Gay with the 170th overall pick in the 5th round. Gay was inconsistent early on with the Steelers, but he ultimately played 10 years for Pittsburgh and become one of the most reliable tacklers at the CB position around the league.

Steelers 2007 draft grade: A-

Looking at the defensive success that ensued years after this draft class and the extensive production they got out of three players from this class, it’s hard to reassess this draft without giving it a very solid grade.

No, Pittsburgh didn’t land a Hall of Famer in this class like Cowher did in the years leading up to his departure with Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger, but this was a solid group of contributors with players like Timmons, Woodley, Gay, and even Spaeth.

While there were some stars selected after Timmons was taken in the first round, most of the players taken after Pittsburgh in round one didn’t have as long or as productive careers as the former Pro Bowl linebacker.

In the second round of what was considered a relatively weak draft class, Pittsburgh found one of the better overall players in the draft in LaMarr Woodley. Perhaps even more impressive is that William Gay’s career lasted longer than most of the players selected in the first two rounds.

Reflecting on it now, I would give the Steelers an “A-” for their 2007 draft class. The results gave their defense three quality starters that helped them push for their sixth Super Bowl victory and another Super Bowl appearance.

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There are a few different choices Mike Tomlin would have made in his first draft as head coach, but at the end of the day, I know he’s still proud of those results.