With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is the nose tackle. With this particular spot having been locked down for over a decade, it’s not much of a surprise that the Steelers under Tomlin have virtually ignored he position in the draft.
When Pittsburgh drafted Casey Hampton in the first round of the 2001 draft, they were banking on having found their nose tackle for the next decade or so, and that’s exactly what he ended up being on a reliable basis, making several Pro Bowls and even recording a sack in the team’s first Super Bowl victory in decades.
The fact that they also found Chris Hoke as an undrafted free agent around the same time that they drafted Hampton was quite fortunate, as the two made an excellent pairing at nose tackle throughout the 00s. When Hampton went down with an ACL in 2004, Hoke filled in and helped the Steelers achieve a franchise-best 15-1 record.
With the two in place, draft picks such as Eric Taylor in 2004 and then Orien Harris in 2006 were unable to succeed, or really even make the roster.
Taylor was a seventh-round draft pick who washed out of the NFL in a few short years and is currently still playing in Canada. Harris, meanwhile, a former fourth-round pick, bounced around with several teams for a few years, and most recently played in the UFL.
In the meantime, the Steelers were able to find Steve McLendon as an undrafted free agent, and he has slowly climbed his way into the starting lineup at nose tackle, inheriting the job full-time from Hampton in 2013. In an ideal world, this job would have been inherited by the lone nose tackle drafted under Tomlin:
2012 – Alameda Ta’amu – 4th round (109)
Sensing that Hampton was on his last legs (he was rehabbing a torn ACL at the time and was asked to take a $3 million pay cut just to keep his job), the Steelers were determined to come out of the 2012 draft with a nose tackle.
Thus, when day three arrived, they became proactive, trading away their sixth-round draft pick in order to move up in the fourth round to select Alameda Ta’amu, whom some projected as a second-round pick.
We all know how the story went from there, more or less. As a rookie, he was figured to take a redshirt season anyway, but then in October, he was arrested after an intoxicated joyride that included quite a sub-set of offenses.
The Steelers suspended him for two games, and following the suspension, released him, later re-signing him to the practice squad, where he finished the season.
Perhaps partially influenced by his history, the Steelers chose to carry 29-year old second-year nose tackle Hebron Fangupo instead of Ta’amu as the backup nose tackle in 2013, though Al Woods ended up filling that role.
Fangupo hardly played and seems likely to be replaced this offseason by another nose tackle candidate, while Ta’amu was signed by the Arizona Cardinals and had a fairly successful season rotating at nose tackle, playing over 200 snaps.