The biggest mistake Steelers have repeated in recent NFL Drafts
By Tommy Jaggi
The Pittsburgh Steelers have found some terrific talent under Kevin Colbert, but here’s why they have been hit or miss in recent years.
When it comes to the NFL Draft, there is no exact science. Even prospects who we consider safe players with high upside often times end up busting. However, there is such a thing as eliminating risks in the first round — an area where the Steelers can do better.
In 2013, Pittsburgh rolled the dice on outside linebacker, Jarvis Jones. The Georgia defender was wildly productive during his college career, but a closer investigation into this prospect could have saved the Steelers a lot of grief.
Jones’ tackle for loss and sack production was largely fabricated at Georgia thanks to being a free overhanging rusher off the edge most of the time. It was also a major red flag when he tested horribly at his Pro Day — running a 4.92 40-yard dash and earning a 30.5” vertical jump at just 6’2” and 242 pounds.
Combine this poor athleticism with the fact that Jones was a very old prospect coming out and was flagged medically for spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spine). The Steelers chose to ignore all of the signs and take a player based on his elite college production in the SEC.
Since then, the Steelers have learned from some of their past mistakes. They now clearly prioritize athleticism in the first round, and weighting this more heavily into their evaluation has mostly paid off.
Still, Pittsburgh isn’t without their misses and draft busts. Over the past eight years, the Steelers whiffed on cornerback Artie Burns and the same seems to be happening with Devin Bush. Even Terrell Edmunds has been just so-so.
I started grading players back in 2014. Here are the pre-draft grades I had on each of the Steelers picks prior to being selected by Pittsburgh in the NFL Draft:
With the exception of Devin Bush, the Steelers struck gold on my only true first-round grades in Ryan Shazier (whose career was cut short) and T.J. Watt. When they have reached for players with lesser grades, the results haven’t been as kind.
I don’t really consider Bud Dupree a reach at all. The 2015 NFL Draft was pretty weak, so despite his 1-2 round grade, he was still considered solid value. However, Artie Burns, Terrell Edmunds, and Najee Harris were all considered reaches based on my evaluation.
Steelers biggest mistake has been reaching for need
What do these players have in common? They were each drafted solely based on need. In 2016, the Steelers Ross Cockrell and an aging William Gay. They desperately needed a cornerback, and there were reports that William Jackson was the player they loved.
However, when he was selected one pick before the Steelers to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh seemed to panic and take the next CB on their board in Artie Burns (a player I had a third-round grade on).
In 2018, the Steelers made a similar mistake. Former second-round pick, Sean Davis, had been rather disappointing, and Robert Golden was forced to start alongside him. Pittsburgh needed a safety in the worst way, and instead of filling this need in free agency, they reached for Terrell Edmunds in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Edmunds obviously had a better career than Burns, but it’s hard to argue that he has played like a first-round pick. Najee Harris was clearly the best of my non-first-round grades, but the Steelers still reached for need, according to my draft board. Harris was productive as a rookie, but not efficient by any stretch of the imagination, and there just isn’t enough value in running backs to take them in the first round.
This year very much has the feel that the Steelers could fall into the same mistakes they’ve made in the past. Pittsburgh seems to be fixated on a quarterback, but I don’t have a single QB with a first-round grade in 2022.
If Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert choose to reach down their board for a position of need instead of taking the best player available, it seems very likely that the player they choose will be a disappointment, based on history. Let’s hope they make a wise decision.