A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about a series of grades evaluating the rookie draft classes of each NFL team following their first seasons, and I talked about the arbitrary nature of the process, in particular the signing of a letter grade for players who have yet to really have a meaningful NFL experience, as is the case of the majority of players in their first seasons.
In the subsequent comments, a few people asked about evaluating past draft classes, which is idea that I had already previously considered. While I will not go so far as to provide letter grades for each player, I will cover each of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft picks from the 2011 class.
First Round (31): DE Cameron Heyward: Cameron Heyward was one of those draft picks that seemed destined to happen. Beyond his father’s connections with Pittsburgh, Heyward seemed to embody everything that the Steelers look for in a player, and he has become that. He is the nucleus of their defense now and is helping transform it with his pass rush, allowing the team to use more sub-packages. For a late-first-round pick, this was a home run. He is a Pro Bowl-caliber franchise cornerstone.
Second Round (63): T Marcus Gilbert: In spite of the fact that many may not have always been thrilled with his play, there is no disputing the sort of player he has become, ascending to new heights in 2015 and cementing his status as one of the better right tackles in the league. He was thrust into the starting lineup early, and while he had some maturing to do, the biggest impediment to his success had been injuries. He missed five snaps last year, and deserved Pro Bowl consideration.
Third Round (95): CB Curtis Brown: It’s hard for me to say that a late-third-round player who actually was a very good special teams player was a bust, but as far as being a defensive player goes, Curtis Brown ultimately offered the Steelers nothing. He seemed to struggle with the mental and emotional aspect of the game, even if he had the physical tools to play the position.
Fourth Round (128): CB Cortez Allen: Cortez Allen has had one of the bigger career turnarounds among fairly recent Steelers draft picks, and his has been one that was profoundly negative. He was a positive contributor in sub-packages during his first two seasons, but he has since been demoted from the starting lineup in three consecutive seasons. With injuries mounting and a big contract on the books, he stands a good chance of not making the 53-man roster again.
Fifth Round (162): OLB Chris Carter: Chris Carter never developed into the sort of pass rusher that some thought he had the potential to reach, and, frankly, I always regarded him as a pedestrian special teamer, but as a fifth-round pick, was the Steelers got out of him is about par. He provided competent depth at the position, at least in terms of being able to run the defense, but that was it.
Sixth Round (196): G Keith Williams: While I don’t have a distinct recollection of Keith Williams’ preseason showing, I do recall being surprised that the Steelers didn’t even retain him on the practice squad. He signed to the Bills’ practice squad in late September 2011 and was on their 53-man roster for the final four games of the 2012 season, active for two.
Seventh Round (232): RB Baron Batch: I feel that the drafting of Baron Batch had as much to do with his character as with his ability as a football player—and that was a character that eventually took him out of football as well after the Steelers let him go. A smaller back who seemed to be a jack of all trades sort, he tore his ACL his rookie year, but was on the roster for 12 games in 2012, carrying 25 times, including a touchdown, and catching four passes. But his defining moment was a wide open drop on a gadget throw. After he was released by the team during the first wave of cuts in 2013, he chose to retire rather than continue to pursue his NFL career, and has led an entrepreneurial life since then, moving on to his life’s work. One thing you can say about this draft pick is that they hit the nail on the head as far as personal character goes.