The Steelers formula for success for many years has been simple. Draft well, re-sign quality free agents and add a low profile free agent or two during free agency for extra depth. That very formula has resulted in 3 Super Bowl appearances over the last 6 seasons with 2 of those appearances ending with the Steelers 5th and 6th championships.
The Steelers usually like to bring their draft picks along slow, especially on the defensive side of the ball, because of the complexities of the Dick LeBeau defense. On the offensive side, it is a little bit easier for draft picks to contribute a little bit faster and they might very well need that this year. Usually by the 2nd or 3rd year, the Steelers start seeing the fruits of the previous two or three drafts labor.
Heading into the 2011 season, the Steelers will field a heavily veteran laden roster and that is not such a bad thing due to the lockout. It is obvious however that they lack quality starters and or depth on the offensive line and cornerback position as well as lack of experience at the wide receiver position. Kevin Colbert voiced as much today in his interview with Tim Benz. They lack this things mostly because they missed pretty bad in the 2008 and 2009 drafts.
The first round picks in both of those drafts were hits, as they should be, but outside of them and the Mike Wallace selection in 2009, it was pretty much two failed drafts. If you remove Rashard Mendenhall, Ziggy Hood and Wallace out of the equation, the Steelers have gotten 1196 total plays out of the other 13 players drafted in those two drafts. 735 of those 1196 plays have come from David Johnson and Ryan Mundy, both of whom were the last players drafted in each of those years. While both have contributed, they are in no way vital keys to the success the Steelers have had recently. So that leaves 461 plays of contribution from the other 11 players drafted. I should note that those numbers include the playoffs as well.
The most noticeable misses in those two drafts coincide with the issues I mentioned above in the form of Limas Sweed, Tony Hills, Kraig Urbik, Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett. Urbik and Burnett are distant memories now while Sweed, Hills and Lewis could be weeks away from joining them. The Steelers had hoped Hills would be their left tackle by now or at the very least a reliable swing man. Urbik should have been firmly planted at one of the guard spots and Sweed should be at worst the number three receiver by now. Lewis and Burnett were expected to have supplanted Bryant McFadden and William Gay by now. Of course none of that has happened and the main reason that McFadden was brought back from Arizona and Gay was re-signed this offseason.
The Steelers have drafted from all of those positions once again in the last two drafts, but the young corners will definitely take the most time to develop. Marcus Gilbert and Keith Williams will likely be asked to contribute in some fashion at some point this season, but realistically their best shot at contributing heavily is in 2012. Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Chris Scott and Crezdon Butler are being fast tracked and their second year contributions will likely decide how successful the Steelers will be in 2011. It should be noted though that Sanders and Butler have both missed considerable time in camp due to their injuries and all four really could have used the normal offseason sessions.
Bad drafts do happen and you are going to miss on some picks from time to time. It happens. Even to Colbert and company. If the Steelers can keep their veterans healthy and keep Ben Roethlisberger upright, they certainly should be able to make a run at a 7th Lombardi Trophy. If the secondary falls apart and the second year players I just mentioned above can not contribute heavily, you might be able to trace the bulk of the 2011 problems back to the drafts of 2008 and 2009. The lockout plays into the Steelers favor this year and hopefully they can get by until the 2011 class can contribute. Anything out of this years draft class will be a blessing on the line and in the secondary.