Yesterday we took a look back at the inaugural draft class of head coach Mike Tomlin during his tenure as the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Entering his ninth season, he has now gone through the draft process nine times, and he still has three players from that 2007 draft class contributing at a high level to his team nine years later.
But what about the rest of his draft classes? How do they help shape today’s roster? How successful were they overall in terms of identifying quality players, and how did they end up working out for the Steelers specifically?
The fact is that Tomlin’s draft history takes a sharp turn after that first year. If you look at the team’s roster, there’s not a single player remaining from the 2008 and 2009 classes—although that doesn’t mean they were devoid of talent.
The 2008 class, however, comes pretty close to it, with only three players ever becoming contributors in any meaningful way. First-round running back Rashard Mendenhall put together a string of three very solid and commendable seasons, and helped the Steelers reach the Super Bowl in 2010, but after his ACL tear, he wasn’t the same. Pittsburgh did not try to re-sign him, and he retired a year later.
Quarterback Dennis Dixon started a couple of games, and did little to contribute to their winning efforts. Safety Ryan Mundy was allowed to walk as well.
The 2009 class, from a scouting standpoint, was actually pretty good, as all but two players remain in the league—but none of them are with the Steelers. First-round defensive end Ziggy Hood was allowed to walk after his rookie contract. Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis became very good players and left via free agency.
David Johnson was a solid contributor until he tore an ACL in the preseason and lost his spot. Kraig Urbik was let go perhaps too early, as he found some success elsewhere after his release.
The 2010 draft may be the best of all, netting three Pro Bowl players, including two All-Pros in center Maurkice Pouncey and wide receiver Antonio Brown. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders made the Pro Bowl this past season with Denver.
Jason Worilds never quite amounted to what many had envisioned, though he did find some success late in his career, after which he abruptly retired. Running back Jonathan Dwyer had some contributions as well.
The 2011 class projects to have three starters this season with defensive end Cameron Heyward and cornerback Cortez Allen on defense and right tackle Marcus Gilbert on offense. The rest of that class was a complete wash in terms of offensive or defensive contributions.
The three most recent classes are more difficult to judge, as not enough time has passed, but right guard David DeCastro has established himself as a potential Pro Bowl player in the very near future from the 2012 class. Kelvin Beachum, likewise, has become a very good left tackle, while Sean Spence’s return to the field last year was inspiring. Mike Adams has failed to show that he can be a starter three years in.
The 2013 class will have at least three starters and five significant contributors, with running back Le’Veon Bell leading the way. Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones needs to have a big year not only for the team, but for himself, as does safety Shamarko Thomas. Markus Wheaton may lose his starting spot this year, but there will still be plenty of passes headed his way (and for all intents and purposes, the Steelers basically play out with three receivers as their base), while Vince Williams has established himself as trusted depth, and perhaps as a rotational linebacker.
Impressively, the 2014 class figures already to yield three starters in inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant. Running back Dri Archer hopes to establish himself at least as a returner, while nose tackle Daniel McCullers steps forward in a much more prominent role as a rotational player in year two.
To recap, the starting lineups consist of the following numbers drafted by year:
The other six players consist of two draft picks prior to 2007, two free agent signings, and two players that they signed as undrafted free agents. At least six others from Tomlin’s drafts figure to be major contributors, excluding the rookie class, those being Spaeth, Adams, Spence, Williams, Archer, and McCullers.