As we sit here today, we can now officially say that the 2020 NFL Draft is this week, just four days away, although for the Pittsburgh Steelers, among the few teams who do not have a first-round pick, the draft effectively will not start until Friday, unless they trade up into the first round.
Historically, and more recently, Pittsburgh has continued to be among the best in the league in terms of finding success in the draft, particularly with their higher picks. Everyone has their misses—Artie Burns and Jarvis Jones are their big ones, as you all know—but their track record speaks for itself.
In fact, according to Elias, the Steelers have drafted the fifth-most players who made the Pro Bowl at least once with the team that originally drafted them going back to 1996, tied with the Chicago Bears with 23 such players. The Kansas City Chiefs’ 27 leads the league, while the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers each have 26, and the Baltimore Ravens have 25.
The Steelers haven’t drafted a player in the past two years who has made the Pro Bowl, yet, but it’s very likely that 2019’s first-round pick, Devin Bush, will be making one rather soon, perhaps as early as this year. He was close to making it as a rookie. Diontae Johnson also has a chance in the future.
The 2017 class, however, produced three Pro Bowlers, with first-rounder T.J. Watt, second-rounder JuJu Smith-Schuster, and third-round compensatory pick James Conner all reaching that honorific in 2018. Watt also made the Pro Bowl again in 2019.
Going back to 2014, you have Ryan Shazier as a two-time Pro Bowler. Stephon Tuitt has been on the cusp for a while, as well. Le’Veon Bell in 2013, David DeCastro in 2012, Cameron Heyward in 2011, Maurkice Pouncey and Antonio Brown in 2010 (Emmanuel Sanders would make the Pro Bowl with the Broncos), Mike Wallace in 2009, and Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in 2007 round out all of the Pro Bowlers that have been drafted in the Mike Tomlin era. That’s 11, for those who didn’t count.
Back to the Bill Cowher era, there was Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Kendall Simmons, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Kendrell Bell, Marvel Smith, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Alan Faneca, and Hines Ward, going back to 1996.
Not a bad list of players, by any means, and including Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. As well as many who would be in the Hall of Very good, such as Ward, Hampton, Miller, and Smith. Pouncey and Heyward may end up settling for the Hall of Very Good, too, when all is said and done.
The Steelers’ draft record is not flawless—nobody’s will ever be—and they may not be the absolute best, but they are certainly in that discussion. Even the Tomlin detractors acknowledge this when they say that he has underperformed with talented rosters, sort of a backhanded compliment in a sense.
Draft fact of day
Since the Ravens’ inaugural 1996 season, here are the teams who have drafted the most Pro Bowl players (only counting those who made PB with their original team):
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
— Jamison Hensley (@jamisonhensley) April 17, 2020