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Study: Just How Bad Is Pittsburgh At Drafting Defensive Backs?

Doran Grant, the 2015 4th round pick, has been picked up by the Buffalo Bills.

It’s just another in a long line of of swings and misses by the Pittsburgh Steelers. I could write basically the same article I did last year, this one entitled, “Steelers Woes Of Evaluating Secondary Continues.” It was short and to the point, the anecdotal evidence of the team’s horrendous track record.

Grant was quickly brought back and eventually elevated. Now, he’s gone for good. It wasn’t a numbers crunch, it wasn’t an overflow of talent, it wasn’t injury that derailed a promising career. Grant did some positive things, he was physical and an above average tackler, but his repeated issues above the neck led to too many blown coverages, too many touchdowns. So out he goes.

Following that news, I tweeted out a list of cornerbacks the Steelers have drafted since 2008. There were 12 of them and they combined for 25 total starts.

Ryan Mundy – 5 starts
Joe Burnett – 0 starts
Crezdon Butler – 0 starts
Curtis Brown – 0 starts
Cortez Allen – 18 starts
Terrence Frederick – 0 starts
Terry Hawthorne – 0 starts
Shamarko Thomas – 2 starts
Shaquille Richardson – 0 starts
Gerod Holliman – 0 starts
Senquez Golson – 0 starts
Doran Grant – 0 starts

I should’ve included/should’ve clarified the exclusion of Keenan Lewis, who made 17 starts in Pittsburgh. So throw him in and you get:

13 prospects – 42 Steelers’ starts

Frankly, I don’t know why the discussion has to go a lot farther than that. That’s just ugly. But some will argue, and to a degree I get it, that the expectations should be lowered because the Steelers hadn’t often invested in the top two rounds. Of that group, Golson is the only one.

Relatively, the argument goes, the Steelers might not be that bad.

Like a magic trick, it’s better to show, not tell. So I went through the process of seeing how accurate that idea is.

Here’s what I did: compared all the starts of Pittsburgh drafted defensive backs versus ones drafted in the 4th round or later by every other NFL team.

This even gives the Steelers an advantage here, reaping the benefits of having every pick included, and in theory, giving them a higher number and chance of success. Every other team just gets their fourth and back.

I debated where to start with other teams, the third or fourth round, but went with the fourth to curb any biases I have to again, in theory, give the Steelers’ a higher “grade.”

Here’s how the following table will be broken down. Total number of draftees, total numbers of starts, and starts per pick. That last number is most important to me because it breaks things down relatively. The team who drafted just four defensive backs is going to have a disadvantage in total starts to the ones who drafted 11.

The results.

Team DB Starts DB Selections Starts Per Pick
KC 123 6 20.5
MIA 178 9 19.8
SEA 182 11 16.5
TEN 157 12 13.1
CAR 113 9 12.6
CHI 113 10 11.3
HOU 99 9 11
MIN 74 7 10.6
OAK 91 9 10.1
TB 48 5 9.6
NYJ 36 4 9
LA 84 10 8.4
JAX 79 10 7.9
GB 38 5 7.6
WSH 78 11 7.1
ARI 19 3 6.3
BUF 55 10 5.5
NE 33 6 5.5
NO 21 4 5.5
CLE 57 11 5.2
CIN 46 9 5.1
PHI 54 12 4.5
DET 22 5 4.4
ATL 34 9 3.8
DAL 48 13 3.7
PIT 42 13 3.2
DEN 31 10 3.1
SF 19 9 2.1
BAL 8 6 1.3
IND 6 4 1.5
SD 2 4 0.5
NYG 0 7 0

Pittsburgh comes in at 26th place, 7th worst. Not the absolute worst in the league but not even close to eve the league average or even median of 7.1. Pittsburgh is also 3rd of fourth in the AFC North, well behind the Cleveland BrownsThe Browns. 

The New York Giants take home the dunce cap of the least effective on the list with sterling selections of: Mykkele Thompson, Nat Berhe, Bennett Jackson, Cooper Taylor, Tyler Sash, DeAndre Wright, and Stoney Woodson.

The Kansas City Chiefs are your winners here and the only team to eclipse 20 starts per pick. It’s mainly thanks to the selections of Kendrick Lewis (50 starts) and Brandon Carr (64 starts). Both were selected in the 5th round and each have more starts than the entire Steelers’ group combined.

I didn’t crunch these numbers but had I chosen to start all other teams with their third round pick, it’s likely the Steelers would’ve finished in 30th, only ahead of the Giants and Denver Broncos. The San Diego Chargers had Shareece Wright’s 29 starts, the San Francisco 49ers Chris Culliver’s 15 starts, the Baltimore Ravens Lardarius Webb’s 66 and the Indianapolis Colts Jerraud Powers’ had 42.

Can’t make that point clear enough. I gave the Steelers a clear advantage and they still couldn’t do better than barely being out of the cellar.

I’m not expecting the Steelers or any team to cash in on every single pick. Or even half. And no, starts does not equate to success. But just getting players on the field, making the team, seeing them on the defense.

This doesn’t even delve into total games played, six of the thirteen Steelers have zero, total tackles recorded, eight players don’t have one, or interceptions, which only three of the thirteen have done.

The last seven DB draft picks have logged just 213 defensive snaps, 212 of those belonging to Shamarko Thomas. No matter how you slice it, in a vacuum or relatively, and by any metric of success, the Steelers are near the bottom of the barrel.

They’ve made an effort to change that tide, just as they did with the offensive line in 2010, by drafting three defensive backs in the top two rounds since 2015. Which is a big relief. Because this team is atrocious at trying to find that diamond in the rough.

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