The Pittsburgh Steelers are well-regarded, and rightfully so, for the quality work that they have done in the draft, particularly in the 1970s, but also in recent years. There was even a recent study of draft success that labeled them as the most successful franchise in doing so over the course of the past decade, or whatever timeframe it might have been.
Yet I’m still kind of waiting for them to find the next great late-round pick. Sure, they have been able to add some players since hitting a grand-slam home run with wide receiver Antonio Brown in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft, an all-time great late-round pick, but who else can we speak of since then?
Defining ‘late-round’ as the fifth or later, Brown was the fifth of six late-round picks in that draft, and the only one aside from him to even come close to making anything of himself was running back Jonathan Dwyer, who turned in one of the poorest starting seasons for a running back in recent Steelers history.
The next season saw the likes of Chris Carter and Baron Batch join the team in the fifth and seventh rounds, respectively, and the greatest accomplishment of either combined has proven to be…salsa. Literally. Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Now, things get more interesting in 2012. With their fourth of four seventh-round picks, the 248th overall, the Steelers drafted Kelvin Beachum, a college tackle they wanted to convert to guard. But as their second-round tackle Mike Adams continued to struggle in 2013, he was benched and replaced by Beachum.
The 6’3” lineman grew—figuratively—over the course of the next two seasons and looked to show signs of being a viable long-term option, but in 2014, he did not look to have picked up where he left off, and five or six games into the year, he suffered a torn ACL.
Beachum left in free agency and had a mediocre season in Jacksonville last year. Another year removed from the injury, he is looking to resume his ascent into becoming a quality starter, who uses his intelligence and athleticism to compensate for his diminutive stature.
The other late-round picks from that draft? Chris Rainey, Toney Clemons, David Paulson, and Terrence Frederick.
In 2013, the Steelers landed Vince Williams, who is entering the starting lineup this season after Lawrence Timmons left in free agency. It is, therefore, a job that he is inheriting rather than earning, and he has yet to prove that he is capable of handling the job.
Meanwhile, Terry Hawthorne didn’t even make the practice squad, Justin Brown never lived up to training camp hype in his second year, and Nick Williams is scraping and clawing for rotational snaps somewhere else in the league.
Shaquille Ricardson…another fifth-round cornerback who didn’t make the roster. Jordan Zumwalt was never even healthy. Daniel McCullers will never be a starter on a good team without an obvious injury situation. I don’t think Rob Blanchflower is anywhere.
Yet Wesley Johnson is going to get the chance to start at center for the Jets this year…a year in which they seem to be selling out.
The past two drafts have yielded some encouraging depth players in L.T. Walton, Anthony Chickillo, Demarcus Ayers, and Tyler Matakevich, but none seem clearly marked for a starting role in the future. Jesse James, of course, is the best of an underwhelming bunch at tight end right now.
The Steelers may have cheated this year in drafting a long snapper, but Brian Allen, a raw 6’3” cornerback, and Keion Adams, an outside linebacker, are the latest late-rounders the team hopes to have at least hit a strong double with.