It’s been years since the Pittsburgh Steelers have been a preseason favorite for Super Bowl contention.
If Big Ben is going to return to the Big Show this season it will be the result of a successful, albeit long-laboring youth movement.
It seems a lifetime ago when Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers were dancing in the showering confetti of their 31-25 Super Bowl win after dismantling the Steelers aging defense.
This resulted in a Black and Gold boot over the next few years for great Steelers like Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu and even fan favorite “swaggin’” Ike Taylor. Offensive stars like Hines Ward were exited stage left as well.
General Manager Kevin Colbert, in his role of chief talent scout since 2000, began his serious “reloading” period in 2011, a term teams less prone to denial refer to simply as rebuilding.
So how successful was the Steelers youth movement following the team’s last Super Bowl appearance? Will it be enough to earn the team top honors this year? Can it be the foundation of another great decade-long run?
Let’s try to answer that question.
Firstly, it must be said it would take a complete fool to draw any firm conclusions this early from recent drafts. Which means, as those who read my articles know, I’m perfectly qualified for the job.
Still, let’s give the 2016 NFL Draft Class a pass for now. So here’s a 30,000-foot view of the Steelers drafts from 2011-2015.
The “Reloading” Era (2011-2015)
|1||DE -Cameron Heyward||G – David DeCastro||LB – Jarvis Jones||LB – Ryan Shazier||LB – Bud Dupree|
|2||T – Marcus Gilbert||T- Mike Adams||RB – Le’Veon Bell||DT – Stephon Tuitt||CB – Senquez Golden|
|3||CB – Curtis Brown||LB – Sean Spence||WR – Markus Wheaton||RB – Dri Archer||WR – Sammie Coates|
|4||CB – Cortez Allen||DT – Alameda Ta’amu||S – Shamarko Thomas
QB – Landry Jones
|WR – Martavis Bryant||CB – Doran Grant
|5||LB – Chris Carter||RB – Chris Rainey||CB – Terry Hawthorne||DB – Shaquille Richardson
C – Wesley Johnson
|TE – Jesse James|
|6||G – Keith Williams||WR – Justin Brown
LB – Vince Williams
|LB – Jordan Zumwalt
DT- Dan McCullers
|DT – L.T. Walton
LB – Anthony Chickillo
|7||RB – Baron Batch||WR – Toney Clemons
TE- David Paulson
CB – Terrence Frederick
T – Kelvin Beachum
|DT – Nick Williams||TE – Rob Blanchflower||S – Gerod Holliman|
Hope And Change
First the good news. This draft quintet still has a chance to be special. Le’Veon Bell has Hall of Fame potential if he is able to “Just Say No” the rest of his career. Martavis Bryant has tremendous upside as well although admittedly his climb out of the ditch is quite steep. Cameron Heyward could rise to being consistently elite and Stephon Tuitt may be close behind. If Ryan Shazier can keep from breaking he could reach All Pro status. Sammie Coates might work his way into prime time and this year should determine whether Daniel McCullers can be a legitimate force in the middle of the defensive line.
Youth Is So Fragile
But, Dorothy, it’s time to wake up now. You should know in the NFL that cows don’t fly and Oz never did give nothing to the tin man.
After all, Kelvin Beachum is already gone. Markus Wheaton may be playing his last season as a Steeler. Odds are, Bryant won’t see another Pittsburgh contract and might not even play on Heinz Field again.
If Bell gets caught even watching a Cheech and Chong movie it will be lights out for his brief Steelers career. Both linebackers Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree have yet to find their paperwork proving their first round pedigree.
The reality is, when compared to Colbert’s earlier draft runs, his latest youth movement may not be strong enough to take them to the next level.
Let’s take a closer look.
The Super Bowl Era (2006-2010)
|1||WR – Santonio Holmes||LB –Lawrence Timmons||RB – Rashard Mendenhall||DT – Evander “Ziggy” Hood||C – Maurkice Pouncey|
|2||LB – LaMarr Woodley||WR – Limas Sweed||LB – Jason Worilds|
|3||DB – Anthony Smith
WR – Willie Reed
|TE – Matt Spaeth||LB – Bruce Davis||G – Kraig Urbik
WR – Mike Wallace
CB – Keenan Lewis
|WR – Emmanuel Sanders|
|4||G – Willie Colon
DT – Orlen Harris
|P – Daniel Sepulveda
DT – Ryan McBean
|T – Tony Hills||WR – Thaddeus Gibson|
|5||Q – Omar Jacobs
TE – Charles Davis
|G – Cameron Stephenson
DB – William Gay
|QB – Dennis Dixon||CB – Joe Burnett
FB – Frank Summers
|T – Chris Scott
CB – Crezdon Butler
LB – Stevenson Sylvester
|6||C – Marvin Phillip
|LB – Mike Humpal
DB – Ryan Mundy
|DT – Ra’Shon Harris
|RB – Jonathan Dwyer
WR – Antonio Brown
|7||RB – Cedric Humes||WR – Dallas Baker||
|C – A.Q. Shipley
TE – David Johnson
|DE – Doug Worthington|
The Foundation Era (2001-2005)
|1||NT – Casey Hampton||G –Kendall Simmons||DB – Troy Polamalu||QB – Ben Roethlisberger||TE – Heath Miller|
|2||LB – Kendrell Bell||WR – Antwaan Randle El||LB – Alonzo Jackson||CB – Ricardo Colclough||CB – Bryant McFadden|
|3||DB – Chris Hope||T – Max Starks||T – Trai Essex|
|4||T – Mathias Nkwenti||LB – Larry Foote||CB – Ike Taylor||WR – Fred Gibson|
|5||C – Chukky Okobi
|RB – Verron Hayes||QB – Brian St. Pierre||DE – Nathaniel Adibi||LB – Rian Wallace
|6||DE – Rodney Bailey
LB – Rodney Knight
|WR – Lee Mays||T – Bo Lacy
TE – Matt Kranchick
C – Drew Caylor
|G – Chris Kemoeatu
|7||WR – Chris Taylor||DB – LaVar Glover
DE – Brett Keisel
|RB – J.T. Wall
|DT – Eric Taylor||DE – Shaun Nua
RB – Noah Herron
Comparing And Contrasting
How does the “Reloading” Era (2011-2015) compare to the Super Bowl Era (2006-2010) and the Foundation Era (2001-2005) in terms of cycling in new, quality talent? Let’s pull out the best players from each era and contrast them side-by-side.
To do so, we have to make some assumptions (which is a fancy word for “flat out guesses”) when looking at the last few drafts. For one, Bell and Bryant are marked down due to their indiscretions and the uncertainty of their long term future.
Also, it requires some reading of the tea leaves to forecast that Dupree, Jesse James and…yes…Anthony Chickillo will be solid performers. It’s another calculated reach to predict Coates will be a Blue Chipper.
|Foundation Era (01-05)||Super Bowl Era (06-10)||“Reloading” Era (11-15)|
|Hall of Fame Level Talent|
|DB – Troy Polamalu
QB – Ben Roethlisberger
|WR – Antonio Brown|
|NT – Casey Hampton
TE – Heath Miller
|C – Maurkice Pouncey
LB –Lawrence Timmons
|G – David DeCastro
DE -Cameron Heyward
|WR – Antwaan Randle El
DE – Brett Keisel
CB – Ike Taylor
|WR – Santonio Holmes
WR – Mike Wallace
WR – Emmanuel Sanders
LB – LaMarr Woodley
|T – Marcus Gilbert
RB – Le’Veon Bell
LB – Ryan Shazier
DT – Stephon Tuitt
WR – Sammie Coates
|LB – Kendrell Bell
G –Kendall Simmons
DB – Chris Hope
LB – Larry Foote
T – Max Starks
CB – Bryant McFadden
|CB – Keenan Lewis
LB – Jason Worilds
G – Willie Colon
TE – Matt Spaeth
RB – Rashard Mendenhall
|WR – Markus Wheaton
WR – Martavis Bryant
LB – Bud Dupree
TE – Jesse James
LB – Anthony Chickillo
And The Survey Says…
Even being generous with some of the forecasts in the “Reloading” Era (2011-2015) it’s trending to be the underachiever of the three drafting time periods.
If you polled 32 NFL general managers they would unanimously choose the Foundation Era (2001-2005) as the clear best of the three, primarily because it comes packaged with a Hall of Fame potential franchise quarterback. The contest is closer between the remaining two but most would consider Antonio Brown as the tiebreaker for going with the Super Bowl Era (2006-2010) youth infusion.
Fortunately, The Fat Lady Hasn’t Sung…Yet
The hidden and huge advantage the Reloaders have is most of them can still move the needle in an upward fashion. The story of 2016 is yet to be told, and many of this year’s players are in the most critical stages of their careers and will have a chance of a lifetime to state their cases in full.
Was the Steelers youth movement a success? This is the year we find out.