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 2013 class.
First Round (17): OLB Jarvis Jones: It’s easy in hindsight to say that the Steelers going for Jarvis Jones was a kneejerk reaction and a reach, but I’ll still trust that the front office at least truly believed that they would get a lot more from him than they have—or frankly will. He simply will never live up to the value put in him, which has been reflected in his playing time. It is fair, however, to point out that it was not a strong draft class overall at the top.
Second Round (48): RB Le’Veon Bell: An obvious home run here at a time when it wasn’t so obvious. The Steelers received their fair share of doubt for picking Le’Veon Bell over other running backs, but he has clearly emerged as the best of his class, and arguably the best in the league. Two very unfortunate and uncommon injuries, and a foolish arrest, are the only blemishes on his already impressive young career.
Third Round (79): WR Markus Wheaton: The drafting of Markus Wheaton came after the Steelers began preparing for the likely departure of Emmanuel Sanders the following offseason. Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Wheaton has slowly crawled into his own over the past two years, catching five touchdowns last year with a strong finish that hopefully bodes well for the future.
Fourth Round (111): S Shamarko Thomas: Shamarko Thomas was not a terrible fourth-round draft pick, but the trade to acquire him makes it a lot worse, as they essentially invested a mid-third-round pick in him. While he has developed into an excellent special teams player, he has yet to be trusted to participate on defense, even when given every opportunity last summer.
Fourth Round (115): QB Landry Jones: No player from this draft class changed their perception more than has Landry Jones. Many hated the pick at the time, and his first two seasons didn’t help much. He didn’t even look all that great in the preseason this year all the time. But he has played some good ball-as well as some bad—in the regular season now, and that will at least earn him a roster spot, though he will have to fight to hold on to the backup job.
Fifth Round (150): CB Terry Hawthorne: Terry Hawthorne sounded like a good prospect on paper. A cornerback with a bit of size, strength, and speed who underperformed in his final season to hurt his draft stock. Came in with a chip on his shoulder, but spent training camp with a chip on his knee, so to speak. He spent too much time watching practice to even be considered for a practice squad spot.
Sixth Round (186): WR Justin Brown: It seems surprising to me that Justin Brown was drafted only a couple years ago. It just feels longer for some reason. The tall wide receiver spent his rookie year on the practice squad, where he developed well, and he had a healthy buzz going on around him during the following offseason. He made the 53-man roster and contributed early, but insubstantially, and eventually was inactive for the rest of the season until he was released toward the end. But such is life in the sixth round.
Sixth Round (206): ILB Vince Williams: The Steelers have gotten much better value out of their other sixth-round pick from that year, Vince Williams, who is entering his fourth season and has logged—I’m ballparking it—perhaps somewhere in the vicinity of about 900 snaps on defense over his three seasons, and played fairly well. He is also an excellent and core special teams player with a great attitude and a mind for the game. tremendously valuable depth with the upside of a possible starter if necessary.
Seventh Round (223): DE Nick Williams: Defensive line coach John Mitchell was enamored with Nick Williams’ size and athleticism and his ability to stay on his feet, so the Steelers took a chance on him. Like Hawthorne, he couldn’t stay healthy, though, seeing action in just one preseason game before landing on injured reserve. I thought he played pretty decently in his second training camp and made the practice squad, but he was picked up during the season by the Chiefs in 2014, where he remains as a rotational player, playing close to 200 snaps in 2015.