While the Pittsburgh Steelers of the past two decades are regarded by many as one of, if not the best team in the league when it comes to drafting quality players—one Washington Post study reached that conclusion a year ago—it is also true that on average, it has taken longer for their draft picks to see meaningful playing time.
That was at the forefront of my thoughts when I came across an article from Pro Football Focus that ranks all 32 teams based on their five previous draft classes (excluding the most recent for obvious reasons) based on a model inspired by the concept of Wins Above Replacement, for those who follow advanced metrics.
Mileage may vary for such a list based on the individual’s tolerance for more esoteric measures of success on a football field, especially while attempting to figure out how the Steelers ended up being ranked 30th in the league here, but let’s look at the facts.
Over the course of the previous five drafts, the Steelers have used first-round draft picks on David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, and Artie Burns. Of the five, only DeCastro has made a Pro Bowl outright, while Shazier made it last season as an alternate.
Jones for obvious reasons is not going to score the team many points here, while Shazier’s opportunity to do so will be handicapped by his injuries. Dupree, of course, has missed a lot of time during his two years as well, and has been merely okay to date. Burns had half a season or so of solid play.
Among second-round draft picks, we have Mike Adams, who was close to an abject failure, followed by Le’Veon Bell, obviously the Steelers’ best draft pick, all things considered, of the past five years. He was the team’s top grader in this exercise.
Stephon Tuitt followed, then Senquez Golson and finally Sean Davis. Tuitt has been a very good find, even if his impact is not always obvious, but Golson has yet to be on the field. Davis became a starter midway through last season and will boost their future grade here, but is to date limited in that regard.
Third-round picks are Sean Spence, Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer, Sammie Coates, and Javon Hargrave. Frankly, only Hargrave has proven himself, and he was a rookie last year. Spence and Wheaton had limited productivity largely in reserve roles. Archer was a mistake. We know Coates’ story last year.
Beyond the third round, draft picks of note would be Kelvin Beachum, Landry Jones, Vince Williams, Martavis Bryant, Jesse James, and Anthony Chickillo. All of them have started games, though Bryant would be the only real point-earner here, and he has spent a lot of time being suspended.
So if we’re looking at the past five classes and being honest with ourselves about what they have gotten from this group to date, I actually can see the Steelers ranking pretty low here. But the future is bright with the likes of Burns, Dupree, Shazier, Davis, Tuitt, Hargrave, and Bryant.