By Cian Fahey
While it may have absolutely no bearing on this year\’s draft class, or reflect the Steelers\’ ability to evaluate and draft talent, it is always interesting to try to gauge the quality of this year\’s draft by comparing it to previous ones.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are picking 24th in this year\’s draft, which can be considered unusually high compared to recent years, as such I will now look through the past 10 players to go 24th overall in the draft and how they fared in the NFL.
2011—The New Orleans Saints select Cameron Jordan 24th overall.
Jordan didn\’t have a very good season statistically for the New Orleans Saints, but he did show flashes as a rookie after being forced to start from day one with Will Smith suspended. It\’s too early to properly judge Jordan in the NFL, but the Saints have high hopes for him still under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
2010—The Dallas Cowboys select Dez Bryant 24th overall.
The Dallas Cowboys traded up for the talented receiver who has shown a huge amount of inconsistency during his first two seasons in the league. His off-the-field issues and attitude is somewhat worrying but his talent on the field is overwhelming at times.
Bryant fell in the draft because of his suspension in college which allowed the Cowboys to trade up to snag him. The Steelers could potentially see players fall to them in a similar form but they are very unlikely to draft anyone like a Janoris Jenkins with off-the-field issues.
That situation would open up some valuable trade options for the team however. Trading down is an option for the Steelers this year to bulk up on middle round selections or even add a future draft pick or two. Sitting at 24, they are in a good position to see some top tier talent fall to their feet.
2009—The Atlanta Falcons select Peria Jerry 24th overall.
Outside of maybe his own mother, nobody will even attempt to argue that Jerry is anything but a colossal bust as a professional footballer. In three seasons he has six starts and 15 total tackles. Significantly however, the Atlanta Falcons didn\’t get a bad player because of where they picked, they got a bad player because they made a poor pick.
Simply look at the players selected directly after Jerry: Vontae Davis, Clay Matthews, Donald Brown, Eric Wood, Hakeem Nicks and Kenny Britt. If the Steelers had been picking 24th that year, I highly doubt Jerry would have been taken even if the team still took a defensive lineman at 32—Ziggy Hood.
2008—The Tennessee Titans select Chris Johnson 24th overall.
The season the Steelers actually selected Rashard Mendenhall with the immediate selection before the Tennessee Titans were on the clock. Prior to holding out ahead of last season, Johnson was one of the top two backs in the NFL.
Realistically, taking a running back in the first round, anywhere in the first round, is a massive risk and a player who you should expect to become a feature back. There is no doubt that the Titans got that type of player at that late stage despite the question marks that hung over his head at the time.
2007—The New England Patriots select Brandon Meriweather 24th overall.
The optimistic point of view labels Meriweather as a Pro Bowler. The realistic point of view labels him as a bust. Meriweather is an example of the risk picking a player late in the first round. He obviously came with a lot of talent but had too many issues to overcome to actually perform on the field.
While Meriweather is a reflection of the type of player who generally falls in the first round of the draft, he also represents the difference between the Steelers and Patriots\’ approach to the draft. The New England Patriots will always gamble on talent in the hopes of Bill Belichick curtailing him on the field, the Steelers however will completely avoid a player with red flags in favor of quality character.
The Patriots acquired the 24th selection through trade.
2006—The Cincinnati Bengals select Jonathan Joseph 24th overall.
The Steelers\’ divisional rivals really got a great player in the 2006 draft. Joseph was a legitimate number one cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals before moving on to the Houston Texans. Joseph was one of four cornerbacks to come off the board in the first round but arguably became the best player of the group.
2006 epitomized how the 24th pick, generally, allows for the team to take one of the best talents from the deeper sections of each draft. The Steelers don\’t need a cornerback, but they are in position to take the best talent available. At 24, there still should be top level talent available at multiple positions.
2005—The Green Bay Packers select Aaron Rodgers 24th overall.
If you don\’t know who Aaron Rodgers is, you probably shouldn\’t be reading this. Rodgers may not have done much for the first few years of his career, but he is now the best player in the league. It\’s unlikely for any player to suffer through that infamous wait in the green room this year however.
Nonetheless, this is another example of the 24th pick benefiting from elite talent sliding on draft day.
2004—The St. Louis Rams select Steven Jackson 24th overall.
In 2004, another elite running back was drafted as Steven Jackson is now the feature back in St. Louis with the Rams. Despite picking 24th overall, Jackson was the first running-back off the board. With the devaluation of backs in the league today, adding a talent like Jackson at that stage is always a possibility.
Trent Richardson isn\’t expected to fall far enough for the Steelers to draft him, but stranger things have happened in the draft before.
The Rams traded up to pick 24th.
2003—The Indianapolis Colts select Dallas Clark 24th overall.
Much like with running backs, the Indianapolis Colts proved once again that you can get top tier talent at the 24th overall selection. Dallas Clark was the first tight end taken in 2003 and went on to have an outstanding career for the franchise.
The recurring theme with the 24th overall pick is that teams take the best player available opposed to trying to fill needs. This is exactly what the Steelers want to do.
2002—The Baltimore Ravens select Ed Reed 24th overall.
Guess how many free safeties were taken ahead of Ed Reed in 2002! That\’s right, zero. Reed has obviously been a future hall-of-fame safety and unbelievable value at 24th overall. If the 2002 draft was redone, Reed would be the first pick of the lot.
The 24th pick in the draft has been involved in three trades and taken number one ranked players at their respective positions three times. The 10 drafted players have combined for one defensive player of the year, one offensive player of the year, one Super Bowl MVP, one MVP, 20 Pro Bowl and 14 All-Pro seasons.
While the Steelers will have no chance at drafting Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, they should have the opportunity to take a top rated player at one of the \’lesser\’ positions such as tight end Coby Fleener out of Stanford(had to put this in here for Dave) or have the opportunity to trade down if an elite talent falls from the top for character issues.
You can follow Cian on Twitter at @cianaf