Ever since Chuck Noll took the helm at head coach for a struggling Pittsburgh Steelers franchise in 1969, the organization has placed its focus on building the team primarily through the draft, which has been a more difficult position to maintain in the era of free agency.
The Steelers are among the most successful franchises in the modern era of the sport, however, which certainly lends credence to the idea that there is some merit to their strategy of dedicating the bulk of their team-building resources to prioritizing their draft selections and committing their funds to re-signing their own draft picks.
While there has been some criticism about the drafting prowess of the combination of general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, which is not entirely without merit, however, one cannot ignore the fact that the team has never posted a losing record during his tenure, and seems on the rise again after winning the division with a record of 11-5, with minimal free agent additions.
Over the span of the past 10 drafts, the Steelers are in the upper third when it comes to draft picks that have turned in at least on Pro Bowl season, ranking tied for 10th in that category. But it is interesting, and perhaps even telling, that the list of Pro Bowlers skews heavily toward the offensive side of the ball.
Of their eight Pro Bowl draft selections since 2005, six of them have come on the offensive side of the ball. It’s also worth noting that only Heath Miller, drafted in 2005, was selected for a Pro Bowl from Bill Cowher’s two draft classes of this era, meaning that seven Tomlin-era selections have gone to the Pro Bowl.
Three of those Pro Bowlers came from the 2010 draft class, which produced All-Pro players in center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders earned his first Pro Bowl nod with Denver this past season.
Rounding out the group of offensive Pro Bowl selections are wide receiver Mike Wallace from the 2009 class and running back Le’Veon Bell from 2013, who also earned All-Pro honors this past season.
Both of Tomlin’s defensive Pro Bowl selections came from the 2007 class, his first, and, in fact, they are the first two draft selections that he has ever made. First-round inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons in fact made his first Pro Bowl just this past season, while second-round outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley also earned a Pro Bowl nod.
The unspoken question here is why the Steelers have not produced a Pro Bowl defensive draft pick since 2007. They have committed five first-round draft selections to the defensive side of the ball since then, although that includes the past three drafts.
The logical choice for the next defensive Pro Bowler would have to be defensive end Cameron Heyward, taken in the 2011 draft in the first round. He may have already been worthy for consideration last season after registering 7.5 sacks, which he hopes to top this season. Ryan Shazier figures to be another possibility.
On offense, the two best hopes for another Pro Bowler would go to wide receiver Martavis Bryant and guard David DeCastro. Tackle Kelvin Beachum could be an outside possibility, but the top crop of tackles in this league, and their reputations, will be hard to top.