For whatever chatter may arise now and then about the supposed decline in the quality of drafting from Kevin Colbert under Mike Tomlin, in comparison to the era under his predecessor, Bill Cowher, the one constant praise has always been that he has never delivered a first-round bust.
In fact, a good majority of his first-round selections, as they should, tended to grow into cornerstones of the franchise, which produced two Super Bowl trophies in three appearances in the championship game.
And the Colbert-Tomlin team have truly knocked some out of the park as a tandem. I refer specifically to Lawrence Timmons in 2007, Maurkice Pouncey in 2010, and Cameron Heyward in 2011.
All three of these selections have or soon will reach a second contract with the team, which is always a key measuring stick when it comes to draft picks when discussing longevity. But this realization also makes obvious the flip side of the coin—the fact that three of the Steelers’ past six first-round draft picks currently eligible for a second contract with the team have failed to reach that stage.
Admittedly, this does go back just a year prior to Tomlin’s tenure with the team, after the Steelers traded up in the first round to select wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
As a matter of fact, the team traded Holmes to the Jets during the 2010 offseason for just a fifth-round pick. But of course that is after he commanded a remarkable postseason run in 2008 that he capped off with the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLIII, which earned him MVP honors.
That alone makes him a successful draft pick. And to say that a first-round draft pick failed to reach a second contract with his original team is not to say that the pick was a bust by any means. In Holmes’ case, for example, he began to run into off-field troubles, and was facing a suspension for the 2010 season. In the final year of his rookie contract, it made sense to gamble on his future by trading him. And we all know what the Steelers got in return.
The Steelers drafted Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 after Willie Parker fractured his leg in the 2007 season finale and was never the same again. Mendenhall went on to have three very solid seasons and was a key factor in the team’s 2010 success, but after tearing his ACL in 2012 and following an incident of insubordination, the Steelers chose to move on at the end of his rookie contract, and they, again, ended up better off for it.
The following year, Pittsburgh began turning its eyes toward the future of the defensive line, selecting Ziggy Hood in the first round. He put in five solid years, mostly as a starter, and contributed to one of the best run defenses in recent memory during the 2010 Super Bowl run.
But by the end of his contract both parties realized that he was never an ideal fit, and they both sought options elsewhere. Hood found a new home, and the Steelers drafted Stephon Tuitt, who entered the starting lineup at defensive end faster than anybody else on the team in recent memory.
Not all of the Steelers’ first-round picks of late, as chronicled above, left the ballpark, but all proved to be solid short-term contributors, and none even approached the level of a bust. And they all ended up being replaced by arguably superior options. Which may give some hope for those still wringing their hands over Jarvis Jones.