Grading each Pittsburgh Steelers first-round draft pick in the Mike Tomlin era
By Cory Rogers
On the eve of his 17th NFL Draft as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mike Tomlin has been praised throughout his tenure for the ability to find players in later rounds who become solid contributors, and in some cases stars.
For example, the Steelers haven't drafted a wide receiver in the first round since Tomlin arrived. But names like Mike Wallace (third round, 2009), Emmanuel Sanders (third round, 2010), Antonio Brown (sixth round, 2010), Martavis Bryant (fourth round, 2014), JuJu Smith-Schuster (second round, 2017), Diontae Johnson (third round, 2019), Chase Claypool (second round, 2020) and George Pickens (second round, 2022) have all played key roles for Pittsburgh after being drafted on days two or three.
Just last year, the Steelers' overall draft class was ranked as one of the top 10 in the NFL by some analysts due to the key contributions of four players in their top five picks.
But how has Tomlin fared in his Steelers career when it comes to drafting first-round picks? This is an extremely important selection, as a misfire can set an organization back years on end. In this day and age, nearly every team expects its first round choice to be an immediate starter.
Make no mistake, the Steelers' draft process is a group effort, led by the owner, general manager, and Tomlin. With former GM Kevin Colbert now retired, it will be interesting to see if new GM Omar Khan's approach is different this year. But until the 2023 NFL Draft takes place, all that we have to go on is the historical data of first-round selections that have occurred since 2007, the year Tomlin arrived.
So, after examining NFL.com for pre-draft measurables and information, here's a breakdown of those first-round draft choices since Tomlin became head coach, as well as my grade for each selection.
Spoiler alert...if this study was a report card, Tomlin would have a 2.67 GPA. Not exactly scholarly, but understanding the nature of the draft, not bad. Nine of his 15 first-round choices (the Steelers didn't have a first round pick in 2020) have been better than average, including six players that earned an A.