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 wide receiver. As should be no surprise, it has been heavily addressed over the past several drafts. They’ve twice doubled up at wide receiver, as recently as last draft, and have taken four receivers within the top three rounds—with varying degrees of success—since 2007.
2007 – Dallas Baker – 7th round (227)
Having just used a first-round pick on Santonio Holmes the year before, and Hines Ward still in his prime, the Steelers didn’t feel much urgency to tackle the wide receiver position in Tomlin’s first season. Dallas Baker was taken in the seventh round, and he contributed one catch for six yards in 2008 before quickly being cycled out of the roster.
2008 – Limas Sweed – 2nd round (53)
Using the philosophy of a great offense being the best defense, the Steelers took a running back in the first round in 2008 and followed it up with a big receiver in the second round. Limas Sweed never made it to a third season, and now can’t even hold a job in the Canadian league. He was able to get open, but he dropped too many passes in his direction. The next player on this list helped make him expendable so early into his career.
2009 – Mike Wallace – 3rd round (84)
Mike Wallace was a burner and a big-play threat immediately. He and Ben Roethlisberger will go down as one of the best explosive play pairs in league history. He became a starter in his second year and the top receiver on the team in year three, catching 32 touchdowns in his four-year Steelers career. He had limitations to his game, of course, but the team got tremendous value out of this pick, given the contract he went on to sign last year.
2010 – Emmanuel Sanders – 3rd round (82)
Having gotten rid of the headache waiting to happen that was Santonio Holmes, and beginning to prepare for a life without Ward, the Steelers doubled up at receiver in 2010, first taking Emmanuel Sanders in the third round. While a solid third-round pick, one gets the sense that he had more potential that he never reached in Pittsburgh. Though he finally became a starter last year and caught six touchdowns, there’s a reason the Steelers made no effort to retain him this offseason.
2010 – Antonio Brown – 6th round (195)
In time, Antonio Brown may go down as one of the best late-round picks in league history, if he keeps up his trajectory. After glimmers of success as a rookie in limited action—including a kickoff return for a touchdown for his first touch—Brown has gone on to make his mark in the NFL record books.
In 2011, he became the first player ever to record 1000 receiving yards and 1000 return yards in the same season. In 2013, he became the first receiver to record at least five receptions and 50 yards in every game. And he’ll only turn 26 this summer. And he’s still under contract for four more seasons. Score.
2012 – Tony Clemons – 7th round (231)
A late-round flyer in a year in which the Steelers had four seventh-round picks, Toney Clemons couldn’t make the roster behind a crowded depth chart. He wound up with the Panthers, where he caught three passes in 2012, but did not contribute last year.
2013 – Markus Wheaton – 3rd round (79)
After losing Wallace, and with the impending loss of Sanders, the Steelers doubled up at receiver again last year, taking Markus Wheaton in the third round. School obligations, multiple finger injuries, and a crowded depth chart prevented him from making an impact as a rookie, being limited to just six catches, but he’s expected to take on a much bigger role this season, perhaps even entering the starting lineup.
2013 – Justin Brown – 6th round (186)
Justin Brown and Derek Moye battled to make the final 53 as the ‘tall’ receiver on the roster. Moye won last season, but 2014 is a new year. Brown spent his rookie season growing on the practice squad. His chances of making the roster this year will be impacted by how hard the Steelers hit the position in this draft.