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Steelers Spin: Evaluating The Youth Movement

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)

Round 2011 2012 2013 2014 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)

Round 2006 2007 2008 2009 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)

Round 2001 2002 2003 2004 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
Elite Talent
NT – Casey Hampton

TE – Heath Miller

C – Maurkice Pouncey

LB –Lawrence Timmons

G – David DeCastro

DE -Cameron Heyward

Blue Chippers
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

Solid Performers
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.

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