By Michael K. Reynolds
After just completing an exhaustive series on the all-time Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits, there are some critical lessons to be shared.
The Real Reason for Parity in the NFL?
What is clear is the Steelers once proud dominance during draft day has been fading in the sunset over the years. Is the front office to blame?
Perhaps, but a more practical explanation is that the advance of recruiting technology has leveled the playing field for all 32 teams. Where once teams like the Steelers could boast superior ability at finding small school hidden gems, it seems there are few secrets anymore.
Any player is just a click away from being a YouTube sensation. And with people like Mel Kiper Jr. and Mike Mayock considered Spring time celebrities, and the draft becoming a prime time event, this may be a greater explanation for parity in the NFL than free agency.
Decades of Drafting Lessons
What can be learned by looking back at the Steelers draft performance over the past few decades? Clearly…that times are a changing. But there are a few other prominent lessons for today’s Steelers to reflect on as well.
Through the course of our extensive Steelers draft history series we identified 51 of the Steelers greatest draft hits on a round-by-round basis. Here is how those premium draft picks spread out across the past few decades.
1970’s (17 Players)
This was a time of the “old school scout” where the Steelers had a seemingly unfair advantage in finding gems at small schools. Seven of the Steelers best picks per round came during this decade with five of these being Hall of Famers!
Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | Top Pick of Each Round
|1||Joe Greene||DT||1969||North Texas State|
|2||Jack Lambert||LB||1974||Kent State|
|4||John Stallworth||WR||1974||Alabama A&M|
|6||Greg Lloyd||LB||1987||Fort Valley State|
|8||Ernie Holmes||DT||1971||Texas Southern|
|9+||L.C. Greenwood (Rd. 10)||DE||1969||Arkansas-Pine Bluff|
1980’s (14 Players)
It was a bit surprising to see so much great talent selected during this decade because these are considered the “dark ages” of the modern Steelers era. In retrospect, the 1980’s were considered so bleak mostly because…they weren’t the 1970’s. For Steelers fans who believed every year should produce a Super Bowl Championship the expectations were unrealistic. But that being said, the majority of team’s good picks this decade were in the lower rounds and by and large the team performed poorly in Rounds One and Two, proving how critical the upper end of the draft is to competing in the NFL.
1990’s (12 Players)
This was considered the recovery years of the Pittsburgh Steelers as Coach Bill Cowher built the team back to playoff prominence mainly by reconstructing an elite defense. With fewer teams playing the 3-4 defense during this decade, the front office was able to grab an impressive group of bargain linebackers including Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Joey Porter and Jason Gildon. Unfortunately, Cowher’s downfall was that he didn’t value the quarterback position enough to allot it a high pick. It wasn’t until Cowher reluctantly agreed to select Ben Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004, that his Lombardi drought ended.
2000’s + (8 Players)
During the Kevin Colbert era, the key to his success was winning in the first round having picked winners like Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Heath Miller, Lawrence Timmons and David DeCastro. But beyond his undeniable victories in Round One, the front office’s inability to consistently win in the lower rounds has left us where we have been the past few years–a team thin in talent.
Offense or Defense in 2014?
It’s difficult to avoid a “chicken vs. the egg” discussion when trying to determine whether the team had a historical advantage in leaning toward defense as opposed to offense.
Were they more successful with drafting great defensive players because that was their leaning, or because those are the picks they are best at selecting?
It may be a combination of both. In a league that focuses on offense, the Steelers might be best off by warehousing the top defensive talent as that might be where the best value lies. At least this is what their history might suggest.
Pittsburgh Steelers Greatest Draft Hits | By Position
|Wide Receivers||5||Defensive Backs||8|
|Offense Total||18||Defense Total||31|
Is Past Performance a Trustworthy Predictor?
Can history be used to foretell the future for the Pittsburgh Steelers? If so, you can expect Colbert to hit another home run with his number one draft pick and then it’s a roll of the dice for the rest of the class.
Here’s one vote that the Steelers look back on their greatest draft picks of the past four decades and stick to their winning formula:
Championships are built on the backs of great defense.
The Steelers Greatest Draft Hits Series
Haven’t had a chance to read the comprehensive round-by-round series? You’re now just a click away.
READ PAST ARTICLES OF THIS SERIES