Ranking the Steelers' last 10 first-round draft picks

The Pittsburgh Steelers' past ten first-round draft picks reveal a disturbing trend despite having a few household names.

2018 NFL Draft
2018 NFL Draft / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

With the 2024 NFL Draft just around the corner, it is a perfect time to reflect on the success (or lack of success) of the Pittsburgh Steelers in their previous first-day decisions.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a rich history of producing All Pro's and Hall of Famers through the draft. In the past 25 years, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, and Troy Polamalu are just a few first-round selections who racked up accolades and made undeniable cases for the NFL Hall of Fame. Polamalu was officially enshrined in the hall in 2020, with Roethlisberger and Heyward likely to join him someday.

Despite the success the Steelers saw in the early 2000s, the magic of the first round has seemingly dried up for much of Pittsburgh's previous ten first-round draft choices. Let's hope Omar Khan can erase this disturbing trend of first-round busts from our memories in this April's draft with another home-run pick.

I took the liberty of ranking every first-round pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past decade based on factors such as their impact on the team and statistics. Here's are my rankings.

10. Jarvis Jones

Jarvis Jones had lofty expectations coming out of Georgia as the 17th overall pick in 2013. He was supposed to be the rightful heir to James Harrison's throne after Harrison departed from the Steelers for division-rival Cincinnati. Jones, the NCAA sack leader in 2011, was highly regarded for his production and versatility during his senior year at Georgia. Unfortunately for Jones and the Steelers, his college game never amounted to anything in the big leagues.

During his rookie year, Jones appeared in 14 games as the Steelers' third man in the pass rush rotation, mustering up just one sack. Jones never reached his college potential and finished his stint in Pittsburgh with just six sacks over four years in the black and gold, per ESPN stats.

With the Steelers declining to grant Jones another contract, he signed with the Arizona Cardinals on a one-year deal in 2017. Jones failed to make the Cardinals' 53-man roster, and his NFL career concluded. Jarvis Jones is arguably the franchise's worst first-round pick and finds himself at number ten on this list.

9. Devin Bush

The 2019 NFL draft saw the Steelers make a very uncharacteristic move when they traded up to tenth overall with the Denver Broncos to select Michigan's Devin Bush. Denver acquired Pittsburgh's 20th pick, 52nd pick, and a 2020 third-round pick. Bush's tenure kicked off with a bang, leading fans to believe the team had solved their middle linebacker woes after Ryan Shazier's career-ending injury in 2017.

While Bush was not as awful as this ranking may suggest, the assets given up to acquire him make his bust of a career sting that much more. Bush racked up 109 tackles, four fumble recoveries, and two interceptions in his rookie year, via ESPN stats.

Unfortunately, Bush sustained an injury five games into 2020, ending his sophomore campaign and his trajectory to becoming one of the league's best defenders. Devin Bush never looked the same for the Steelers after that injury, and his play diminished along with Mike Tomlin's faith. The ex-Steeler finds himself in Cleveland on his third team in three years.

8. Kenny Pickett

Kenny Pickett, selected in the first round of the 2022 draft by former GM Kevin Colbert, was supposed to be the next franchise cornerstone after the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger. Two short years later, Pickett is one of the Steelers' worst starting quarterbacks in franchise history.

Call it recency bias if you want, but Kenny Pickett's lack of production made a strong case for edging out Jarvis Jones and Devin Bush for the bottom of this list. You could argue that the former 20th overall pick showed flashes during his brief Steeler career, but Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan pulled the plug on the former Pitt Panther for valid reasons.

Pickett finished his Steeler career throwing a touchdown on only 1.9% of his passes. Yikes! With Pickett's reported reluctance to sit behind Russell Wilson in 2024 and potentially learn from a Super Bowl champion, the Steelers had no choice but to trade him while he still had some value. Kenny would finish his time as the Steelers starting quarterback with an abysmal stat line. The 2021 ACC player of the year threw for just 13 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, and 4,474 yards, per ESPN stats.

7. Artie Burns

The Steelers' 25th overall pick in 2016 was awful for several reasons. Pittsburgh desperately needed an infusion of talent into their secondary, headlined by names like Antwon Blake, Will Allen, and Mike Mitchell just a year prior. Coming off a divisional-round loss to the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh turned to Miami's Artie Burns on draft night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had all the talent in the world on offense in 2016 but were egregiously hindered by a lackluster secondary, ultimately making this pick even more damaging. Burns snagged three interceptions in nine starts in his rookie year and stepped into a full-time role in 2017. By 2018, Burns quickly became a punching bag for Steelers fans as he gave up big play after big play on an already porous defense.

The former Miami Hurricane became familiar with the sideline his last couple of years as a Pittsburgh Steeler. By 2019, Burns was a non-factor in the Steelers' defensive plans and saw very little playing time. It was no shock when Pittsburgh let him walk after just four years with the team. Artie Burns has since carved out a respectable role as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. His time with the Steelers, however, was the opposite of respectable.

6. Bud Dupree

Now that we've moved out of the "major bust" section, we can finally appreciate some of these players' tenures with the Steelers. Bud Dupree's time with the Steelers is tricky to rank due to his slow emergence in the pass rush. His final two seasons were solid, creating a scary duo between himself and TJ Watt in 2019 and 2020 before his injury.

It took Dupree until his fifth season to reach double-digit sacks, which prompted some to label him a bust early on. Though his pass rush skills never turned into that of TJ Watt, the Steelers' 2015 first-round pick was an effective run defender during his time with Pittsburgh.

Dupree, the former Kentucky Wildcat, received a hefty contract from the Tennessee Titans in free agency before the 2021 season but was later released by the Titans after two seasons and is currently a free agent.

5. Terrell Edmunds

The Steelers' 2018 first-round pick catches a lot of unwarranted heat, in my opinion. The Edmunds pick may have been a reach, especially with names like Lamar Jackson and Nick Chubb taken after him. Had he been selected in the second round, fans may have viewed him more positively.

Terrell Edmunds was not the most effective cover safety, but his skillset allowed Minkah Fitzpatrick to play his best brand of football, which has not been the case since Edmunds departed.

In five seasons with the Steelers, the former Virginia Tech Hokie started 75 games for the team and provided starting caliber play opposite of Minkah Fitzpatrick. During his time in the Burgh, Edmunds compiled 418 combined tackles, five interceptions, and five sacks, per ESPN stats.

4. Broderick Jones

It is entirely too early to make a judgment on the Steelers' 2023 first-round pick. The potential is there, however, and Jones was a mauler in the run game when he finally got onto the field last year. Jones would greatly benefit from the Steelers drafting a true Right Tackle this year, allowing him to revert to the left side of the line.

It took some time, but Broderick Jones made it into the starting lineup, replacing Chukwuma Okorafor at Right Tackle. Albeit out of position, it was vital for the Steelers to get Jones some playing time. The former Georgia Bulldog will have to carry a much heavier load in 2024, and we should get a better idea of the player he can develop into with a full year in the starting lineup.

3. Ryan Shazier

Had Ryan Shazier been able to play out the rest of his career, he'd likely be a lock for the number-two spot on this list. As we all know, Shazier's devastating injury ended a promising career, and the Steelers have been worse off ever since.

The 15th overall pick of the 2014 draft showcased elite athleticism at the linebacker position and ignited the Steelers' defense early on in his career. Shazier received back-to-back Pro Bowl nods in 2017 despite missing seven games across both seasons.

Fans will never forget Ryan Shazier's forced fumble against the Bengals in the 2015 Wild Card round, which kicked off one of the wildest endings in NFL history. The former Buckeye was a sideline-to-sideline menace for opposing offenses, and it's a shame he never got the chance to enjoy a long career.

2. Najee Harris

Pittsburgh's 2021 first-round pick has been the model of consistency for the Steelers in his first three seasons. Selected 24th overall, a rarity for running backs nowadays, Harris has rushed for 1,000 plus yards and no less than seven touchdowns every year thus far.

You could argue that Pittsburgh would have been better off going in a different direction in 2021, as there were more pressing needs than running back, but you can't be mad at Harris' ability to stay healthy. The 2021 Pro Bowl selection has not missed a single game in his career, which is incredibly impressive given he is a running back.

The former Crimson Tide bruiser will likely have his fifth-year option accepted by the Steelers this May, keeping him in the Steel City for at least two more years. In his brief career, Najee Harris has ground out 3,269 rushing yards and 28 total touchdowns, per ESPN stats.

1. TJ Watt

I'm sure you're all surprised with this pick. The man's resume speaks for itself. Pittsburgh's 30th overall pick from 2017 is a 5x Pro Bowler, 4x All-Pro, 2x NFL Sack leader, and the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year.

In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys decided to take Taco Charlton 28th overall, leaving the former Wisconsin Badger to fall into the hands of the Steelers. What a gift that was! Through seven seasons, Watt is already the franchise's all-time sack leader with 96.5, and tied the NFL's single season sack record in 2021 with 22.5 sacks.

TJ Watt has already made a strong case for the Hall of Fame when he decides to hang it up. Watt has been the centerpiece of the Steelers' defense for quite some time and has single-handedly won multiple games for his team. Enjoy him while you can, folks. They don't make many like him.