Steelers Draft Picks And The Practice Squad Developing Myth

The Pittsburgh Steelers practice squad is believed by many to be a place where several draft picks that fail to make the team’s 53 man roster out of training camp as rookies go to develop so that they can be promoted at a later date and contribute. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t happen as much as people think.

According to my research, the Steelers have drafted 113 players from 2000-2013 and of the 32 that failed to make the Week one 53 man roster during their rookie season, only five of them managed to eventually make it to the main squad and dress for a game.

Former Steelers safety Ryan Mundy is the most notable of the five players. While Mundy failed to make the Steelers final 53 man roster after being drafted in 2008, a year on the practice squad resulted in him making the team out of training camp in 2009. For the next four seasons, Mundy stuck on the roster and dressed for 64 straight games.

Former Steelers running back Baron Batch is the second most successful draft pick to not play during his rookie season only to return in year two and contribute. However, Batch’s circumstance was different, as a knee injury that he suffered as a rookie during training camp resulted in him being placed on injured reserve. Had Batch stayed healthy as a rookie, there was speculation that he was going to easily crack the Steelers 53 man roster out of training camp. In 2012, Batch dressed for 12 games.

Former Steelers offensive lineman Chris Scott managed to dress for two games during his second season in the league after failing to make the 53 man roster as a rookie. However, much like Batch, an injury suffered by Scott prior to the start of his rookie season resulted in him being placed on the PUP list initially. He was activated to the 53 man roster later that season, but never dressed for a game until his second season.

If my research is correct, Ryan McBean and Dallas Baker are the only other two players that managed to accomplish this feat. After spending his entire rookie season on the practice squad, Baker made the Steelers 53 man roster out of training camp in 2008 and even dressed for eight games. In 2007, McBean spent nearly the whole season on the Steelers practice squad as a rookie, but was finally promoted for the final three regular season games, of which he was allowed to dress for one of them.

As you can tell, history and the Steelers current depth at the wide receiver position will likely result in wide receiver Justin Brown, who was drafted in the sixth-round last year, never making the final 53 man roster unless several injuries strike.

As far as defensive end Nick Williams goes, he might stand a little better chance being as his rookie season was wiped out by a knee injury. However, Williams still is unable to practice as he continues to rehab and when you consider that several other new and old players will be competing for the same roster spot, he has his work cut out for him in training camp.

NOTE: After writing this article, I remembered that Ra’Shon Harris made it back to the Steelers 53 man roster during his rookie season after spending time with the Carolina Panthers, who claimed him off waivers after he was waived prior to the start of the regular season. Harris, however, never dressed for a game despite being on the roster.

Let me know if you find any errors in my research.

Remember, this article is focused only on draft picks. My next segment will focus on undrafted players that fail to make the Steelers final 53 man roster as rookies.

2000-2013 Steelers Draft Picks That Failed To Make Week 1 Roster As Rookies
GD = Games Dressed for Steelers

20086194Ryan MundyDB64
20117232Baron BatchRB12
20077227Dallas BakerWR8
20105151Chris ScottG2
20074132Ryan McBeanDT1
20004103Danny FarmerWR0
20006204Jason GavadzaTE0
20016182Roger KnightLB0
20017218Chris TaylorWR0
20027212LaVar GloverDB0
20037242J.T. WallRB0
20045145Nathaniel AdibiDE0
20046177Bo LacyT0
20046197Drew CaylorC0
20047212Eric TaylorDT0
20054131Fred GibsonWR0
20057228Shaun NuaDE0
20064133Orien HarrisDT0
20065164Omar JacobsQB0
20065167Charles DavisTE0
20067240Cedric HumesRB0
20075156Cameron StephensonG0
20086188Mike HumpalLB0
20096205Ra’Shon HarrisDT0
20097226A.Q. ShipleyC0
20107242Doug WorthingtonDT0
20116196Keith WilliamsOL0
20127231Toney ClemonsWR0
20127246Terrence FrederickDB0
20135150Terry HawthorneDB0
20136186Justin BrownWR0
20137223Nick WilliamsDT0

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I guess there is a reason these guys don’t make the 53-man roster. I’m sure every draft pick this year won’t make the team either. Out of all of their draft picks, I would say that Daniel McCullers has the least chance to make the 53-man roster. I just think he needs a lot of work and he is definitely a project. What does everyone else think? Thanks for the hard work, as always, Dave.

  • Toddy Bravo

    I just don’t see how it’s “likely” that Justin Brown doesn’t make the roster given these likelihoods:

    A) The Steelers will keep 5 or 6 WRs on the 53.

    B) I think there are 4 locks to make the roster–Brown, Wheaton, Moore and Bryant.

    C) If we keep 5, then DHB, Justin Brown and Moye will battle for the last roster spot. I see no other WRs on the roster that can realistically compete for a spot.

    D) If we keep 6, then the same 3 players will battle for 2 spots.

    I don’t know, I think he has a pretty good chance to make the 53. I wasn’t a math major, but that appears to be between a 33%-66% chance that he does, depending on how many WRs we keep. DHB has pedigree and speed, but has shown little to nothing in this league. Moye was an UDFA who’s been waived several times despite showing a few flashes of talent. Brown was a 6th round pick with at least as much to offer as a 5th or 6th WR as the other two guys IMO.

  • Toddy Bravo

    Just guessing, but my bets for which draft picks make the practice squad are: Wesley Johnson, Rob Blanchflower and Jordan Zumwalt.

    I agree with you. I think McCullers is cut outright. He’s a mountain of a man, but I fear his height will be a leverage disadvantage in the NFL, not to mention his utter lack of mobility. There are reasons he lasted until the 6th round.

  • Bill Sechrengost

    I think the Steelers will use this time to determine if McCullers can play in their defensive system. If they don’t think he can, he might not even make the practice squad. I think after McCullers, the next least likely to make the roster might be Zumwalt, and then Johnson. I think Blanchflower will make the 53-man if he shows any kind of promise. Paulson has had two seasons to show something and he hasn’t.

  • steeltown

    Oddly enough the list of undrafted players (past and present) that actually make the 53man is far more impressive.

  • steeltown

    I’d say McCullers, Zumwalt and W.Johnson have their work cut out for them, Zumwalt and Johnson due to the numbers game, there just aren’t enough spots for everyone. I think Richardson and BFlower can beat out the bottom of the depth chart guys and find themselves on the 53man. The others might be destined for the PS, although I am rooting for them.

  • walter mason

    Steve McClendon? oops he was a UFA

  • Toddy Bravo

    Zumwalt, Johnson and Blanchflower would have to beat out some vets to make the roster, which is a tough task for low round draft picks. That’s why I think they go to the practice squad. The only reason I would give the nod to Paulson over Blanchflower is because of Paulson’s veteran experience and because Blanchflower has Practice Squad eligibility.

    The one guy I really hope shows enough to make it is Wesley Johnson. He would probably have to beat out either Whimper or Embernate, so he has a chance.

  • Toddy Bravo

    True statement. I guess that’s because there’s more of them, right? Better odds.

  • Joeybaggadonuts

    Something to factor…several of the players you mentioned didn’t stick with the Steelers but did latch on with other team. Consider some of the Steeler UDFA who may have been on other teams PS’s as well

  • RMSteeler

    I thought the Steelers PS was for developing players for AZ!

  • joed32

    I like Brown quite a bit but they may be counting Archer as a receiver as well. That would leave 3 fighting for a 6th spot, if there is one.

  • tim

    I like what you said cept part about Wheaton….I think they’d LIKE to have him show enough progression to BE a lock but I don’t think he’s an actual lock….

  • Steve

    How about Fast Willie Parker who was a Free agent that made the team in 2004? Ok,,, I see you are ONLY taking about Drafted players.

  • Steve

    Archer was changed to #13 yesterday, so realistically he is a WR.

  • patrick Mayfield

    Al Woods should get partial credit maybe. Not drafted by the Steelers but spent some time on the PS then many games on the active 46.

  • LucasY59

    some of the things that make it hard for PS players to crack the 53 roster are:

    1. Depth at the position, if the player doesn’t make the 53 roster its because there are already better players at the position so unless a player leaves in FA or retires there is still no room for the PS player to make the roster the next year (unless they improve a lot during the season on the PS and during the offseason and TC)

    2. The PS players are not being groomed into future stars, yes they are getting some experience and are practicing against NFL players, but the attention is going to the guys that are playing on Sunday not the guys in sweats on the sidelines

    3. Need for practice bodies, the Practice squad is so the 53 roster can successfully practice during the season. the team can’t keep 6 wr’s on the 53 and 2 more on the PS they need the PS players to fill holes in the roster so the team can practice. so again if there is already depth at a certain position it is hard to put a player on the PS when they need those spots for other positions.

    4. Injuries, it gets even harder for the PS players when a position has a lot of injuries on the 53 roster (O-line for example, if a couple of the lineman get hurt a 7th WR or 5th ILB get released from the PS so that the team can bring in a couple practice body lineman and allow the team to practice)

    I think this year there is a lot of “potential” Talent at WR, ILB and DE.
    and guys like J. Brown, Zumwalt, and Mauro who probably do have the talent to make the 53 will possibly be on the PS and because of the talent and depth will have a hard time making the 53 in 2015 as well.

  • Toddy Bravo

    Sorry, man. There is zero chance Wheaton doesn’t make the roster. They will not cut a 3rd rounder in his second year at a position of need.

  • blue

    Graveyard of Bums!

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    That is a pretty long list of non caliber nfl talent. Must have had some pretty light college talent in those drafts.

  • bonairsfavoriteson

    After checking out some of the comments below about this class. I am thinking that with the miserable depth at a lot of positions, and even some poor talent in starting positions, this might be the year that if it is true it was a very deep draft talent wise., we may have more picks make it than we think, plus a couple free agents. That is if this staff will not play favorites and go with the young guys, all things being equal.

  • Matthew Suloman

    Beau Allen was available. Hoke reincarnated?!

  • Matthew Suloman

    Bryant won’t imo. The desire/makeup isn’t there.

  • Matthew Suloman

    I agree.. He worries me for some reason. Never was a fan of PAC-12 receivers – I would have preferred a more physical wideout like Stedman Bailey last year. Funny they showed little interest, must have had red flags

  • Matthew Suloman

    Yeah.. They seem to comprise more of the roster, than the their recent drafts

  • Matthew Suloman

    Would have taken Ellington over archer, and Norwood over Bryant…

  • tim

    I wouldn’t say “Zero”… he eligible for the PS still or no…? They have some depth @ WRnow so why couldn’t someone else play their way in front of him? Happens….

  • tim

    That is a good reason for DP to stick rsther than Bflower however….DP played in HIS 1st season so I would believe that IF Bflower can block anything like a NFL TE then I think DP is cut for Bflower

  • tim

    Agreed…..I think people may be putting a lil too much stock into DHB……

  • tim

    Wow THAT would be a big hurt for us if he doesnt pan out….what a watse of a pick if that happens

  • Toddy Bravo

    Quite honestly, I’m indifferent as to whether Paulson or Bflower wins the roster battle, just as long as it’s the player who gives us the best opportunity to win games. If Bflower’s talent outweighs Paulson’s experience, then I’m all for it.

  • tim

    That was the easy way out huh..? I mean, I guess you can say that for anyone on the team if you are going by ” opportunity to win games”… would make little sense to NOT have the best players playing……

  • Toddy Bravo

    Ok then, if you want to go there, then your statement isn’t always true at all. The best players with the most talent don’t always give a team the best chance to win. There can be an uber talented rookie who hasn’t yet grasped the playbook and has no idea where to line up. In that case, a lesser player with experience may give the team the best chance to win simply because he would be making less mistakes. That’s why I referenced the need to weigh Paulson’s experience vs. Blanchflower’s talent, smart guy.

  • tim

    Have you SEEN DP’s experience? Lol Guy cant block, PERIOD….