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 final area that we will take a look at for the purposes of revisiting the team’s draft history under Tomlin will be that of specialists—namely, kickers and punters.
Fairly unsurprisingly, the Steelers have only used one draft pick on a special teams player thus far in the seven years’ worth of drafts since Tomlin became the head coach. Somewhat more surprising is that is also the same number of draft picks under Tomlin used on the nose tackle position since he’s been here.
That one draft pick on a specialist actually came in Tomlin’s first year, in 2007. In hindsight, of course, the move didn’t ultimately work out very well, largely for reasons outside of the team’s control. At the time that the pick was made, however, there did seem to be a line of reasoning for securing a punter, or more specifically, this punter:
2007 – Daniel Sepulveda – 4th round (112)
Think back to 2007 and the years leading up to it. The Steelers had a solid Josh Miller from 1996 to 2003, a sense of stability. After that came Chris Gardocki, who at the end of his career was able to give the Steelers three seasons of fairly respectable play from the punter position, though his net averages were lower than one would care for.
After the 2006 season, during which he gave the middle finger to head coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers were looking for a new punter, in the hopes of finding a long-term solution at the spot, and it seemed that they had the perfect candidate.
Daniel Sepulveda had quite a strong college career, which began when he first made the team as a walk-on at linebacker. While he redshirted as a linebacker, he became this team’s starting punter in his second year.
Sepulveda became the first punter in college football to win the Ray Guy Award for the best punter in the nation twice. Only Ryan Allen has since duplicated the feat.
So it was in 2007 that the Steelers saw what they believed to be the opportunity to lock up a difference-making specialist. As far as punters go, Sepulveda at the time could have been viewed as one of Kevin Colbert’s ‘special’ players.
Which is why they were not only willing to use a fourth-round pick on a punter, but to trade up in the fourth round to ensure that they got him. After the first punter came off the board, Pittsburgh got antsy and gave up their sixth-round pick to move up seven spots to take Sepulveda.
As we all know by now, Sepulveda, while talented, was never able to reach his potential, not because of his skills, but because of his body. Three times in his five-year career did he have his season ended by injury, tearing ACLs in both knees.
By 2012, the Steelers had had enough of the uncertainty. They opted to re-sign Jeremy Kapinos, whom they signed the previous season to replace Sepulveda. Kapinos then proceeded to lose his job to rookie Drew Butler because he too couldn’t stay healthy during training camp.
Fast forward to the spring of 2014, and we find ourselves back where we began, in the fourth round of the 2007 draft. The punter taken ahead of Sepulveda that year, which prompted the Steelers to trade up? Why, none other than the team’s most recent signing: Adam Podlesh.