While I have been writing these draft revisitation articles, one theme in particular struck me as concerning for a brief span of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft history. While they may have avoided landing any true outright busts, the team experienced a dry spell when it comes to hitting on first-rounders, an evaluation that factors in longevity.
From 2006 to 2009, the Steelers drafted four players in the first round, and three of them failed to reach a second contract with the Steelers. It started with Santonio Holmes, the wide receiver drafted in the first round of the 2006 draft, the last of the Cowher era.
To be clear, Holmes was by no means a bust on the field. He developed into an excellent wide receiver who turned in a legitimate Super Bowl MVP performance to clinch the Steelers’ most recent Super Bowl trophy.
Where his issue lay was off the field—mostly, anyway. He got in trouble with drugs, and when the Steelers learned he was to face a four-game suspension, they traded him in the final year of his contract for a fifth-round draft pick.
Holmes later did hit that big-money contract with the Jets that his talent merited, but New York soon learned the same lesson as the Steelers, only more so, because without success on the field, he slowly became a cancer in the locker room, and a lazy player on the field.
Two years later, the Steelers used their first-round pick on running back Rashard Mendenhall, who after an injury-riddled rookie season developed into a quality starting running back until an ACL tear ended his fourth season. In year five, he grew to be a malcontent with his lack of contributions, to the point that he went AWOL when he was inactive for a game. He burned his bridges with the team.
Defensive end Ziggy Hood, who admittedly was a 32nd overall pick, was never really a solid, ideal fit for the Steelers’ defensive front. His build is more that of a three-tech rather than a five-tech, so it is no surprise that when his rookie contract was up and he got a pretty strong offer elsewhere, he was out the door.
For a team that builds almost exclusively from the draft, it is imperative that you hit on your first-round draft picks especially. They need not only to be very good players, but also franchise cornerstones that make up the nucleus of your team.
With the Steelers suffering a major try spell during that era, it set their overall development back. But it should be noted that they hit three home runs in the first round from 2003 to 2005, and again from 2010 to 2012.
The issue that they now face is Jarvis Jones, their 2013 first-round draft pick, who at this stage in his career doesn’t look as though he has the ability to live up to that draft position. They have to decide after the draft whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option, and there is good reason that they should hesitate doing so. The only thing that sets your franchise back more than missing a pick is hanging on to a sub-par one.