By Christopher DiMarino
Chris Rainey. Did anyone see that coming? I certainly didn’t, in fact I was adamant that if the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t take a running back in the first three rounds, they’d likely avoid one entirely. That being said, Rainey isn’t exactly a prototypical running back. Were the Steelers drawn to Rainey because he is an exciting back who can help out on special teams? What put the Steelers spotlight on Rainey?
As I was mulling over the draft picks I remembered that Rainey is from Florida which is also where Marcus Gilbert played college ball. A year before that Maurkice Pouncey came out of Florida as well. That’s a pipeline the Steelers have used often. How much stock should I put into this trend? Will the Steelers be paying extra attention to Gators indefinitely? Or is it the fact that Pouncey has had close relationships with these guys. Gilbert played on the same offensive line as Pouncey and that undoubtedly led to the two players developing a close bond. Rainey was a roommate with the Pouncey twins. To be sure, I decided to check out the Gator roster before Pouncey was drafted in the 2010 NFL draft. The results really surprised me.
I have seen a couple of college rosters that in retrospect were powerhouses. The Gator team in 2009 definitely qualifies as one of the better rosters I’ve ever seen. The concentration of high round drafted prospects on this team floored me. This is a team that had a ridiculous level of talent over the end of the last decade. I included a list of players from this team that you might recognize and where they were drafted.
This 2009 team had both Pouncey’s and Gilbert as starting offensive lineman. Rainey, in his second year, was beginning to get more looks in that passing game and topped 500 yards rushing. The team finished 13-1 for the second straight year but was ranked #1 almost the entire year. With basically the identical roster to the past year’s BCS championship team this isn’t too surprising. They lost their only game to #2 ranked Alabama in the SEC championship game. Now ranked fifth, they responded by blowing out the fourth ranked Cincinnati Bearcats 51 – 24 in their bowl game. This left them ranked #3 on the year. Let’s look a little further back in the past to see how these players worked in to the roster.
I’ll start in 2007. The Pouncey’s and Gilbert were first string backups but Maurkice ended up starting 11 of the 13 games as a true freshman. While Tim Tebow was the starting quarterback, his backup was a guy who you might recognize named Cam Newton. Now they didn’t just let him slip away, in his sophomore season of 2008 he took a medical redshirt season and was suspended from the team for stealing a laptop. He then transferred to Auburn which is understandable for a kid looking for a fresh start. The receivers were also much better. They had a first rounder in Percy Harvin and two mid round guys in Andre Caldwell (third round) and Louis Murphy (fourth round). They went 9 and 4 including a Citrus (Capitol One) Bowl loss the Michigan Wolverines.
2008 had a very similar roster, but much more success. Aside from the receivers, the roster was almost identical. Maurkice ended up playing center even though he played at guard in 2007. Gilbert was not a starter but played in 2 games. Rainey was impressive in his first year rushing for almost 700 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did not do much work receiving or returning that year. They finished the season with only one loss and defeated the Heisman winner Sam Bradford led Sooners of Oklahoma to win the BCS Championship.
So while I can’t be sure if the fact that they drafted Pouncey lead to Gilbert and Rainey, or if the Steelers in general like the Gator system, it’s hard to deny that Florida pumps out many high level athletes.
Summary of Players Drafted from the 2009 Florida Roster:
Joe Haden- Cleveland Browns- 1.07
Mike Pouncey- Miami Dolphins- 1.15
Maurkice Pouncey- Pittsburgh Steelers – 1.18
Time Tebow- Denver Broncos- 1.25
Janoris Jenkins- St Louis Rams- 2.07
Carlos Dunlap- Cincinnati Bengals- 2.22
Brandon Spikes- New England Patriots- 2.30
Marcus Gilbert- Pittsburgh Steelers- 2.31
Major Wright- Chicago Bears- 3.11
Aaron Hernandez- New England Patriots- 4th
Chris Rainey- Pittsburgh Steelers- 5th
Riley Cooper- Philadelphia Eagles- 5th
Ahmad Black- Tampa Bay Buccaneers- 5th
David Nelson- Buffalo Bills- Undrafted