David DeCastro has been one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best first round picks over the last decade. But he very nearly didn’t become a Steeler. At least, that’s according to this draft-day nugget tweeted out by NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala. Pittsburgh was apparently set on drafting Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower at #24 back in 2012. But Team President Art Rooney II stepped in and compelled Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin to instead choose DeCastro.
Here’s the tweet.
One of the first behind-the-scenes stories I was told when I moved to PIT in 2012: #Steelers were all set to draft stud LB Dont'a Hightower. Then, moments before the pick, Art Rooney steps in and says, No, we need an OL. Take David DeCastro.
This is instructive, Steelers fans.
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 15, 2021
DeCastro’s fall in that draft was a surprise. Most projected him to go well before the Steelers could turn their card in. NFL.com’s final mock draft pegged him to go #18 to the Chargers. Bleacher Report projected him to go all the way at #11 to Kansas City. So to watch his draft day fall to #24 was a surprise. I was shocked to see him fall into the Steelers’ lap.
Still, the team almost passed on him. It took Rooney’s input to get the team to switch course. The early 2010s were an era dedicated to investing in the offensive line after having some rough units the previous seasons. Maurkice Pouncey was taken #18 overall in 2010 while Marcus Gilbert was drafted in the second round the following year. Those two plus DeCastro would make up one of the best offensive lines in football for years.
Hightower would get taken with the next pick to the New England Patriots and has enjoyed a strong career. Pittsburgh even reportedly attempted to sign him back in 2017 before he changed his mind and re-upped with the Pats.
Kinkhabwala’s story is to illustrate a potential identical scenario playing out this year, highlighting Rooney’s dedication and desire to invest in the offensive line. It’s one of the team’s top needs, potentially having big holes at left tackle and center by the time April’s draft comes around. It’s also a look behind the veil that may show Rooney having more sway in the draft process than we’ve thought. It’s hard to know exactly how forceful Rooney was in compelling the team, he clearly isn’t Jerry Jones, but his words held enough weight to get Pittsburgh to change course. Inside linebacker was a need that season following James Farrior’s release so their interest in Hightower made sense. After going offensive line in the first two rounds with DeCastro and Mike Adams, they swung back around and took ILB Sean Spence in the third round.
This is one of those draft-day stories that tend to surface years after. Like the time Mike Tomlin went against his draft board to take Jason Worilds over Sean Lee. It shows Pittsburgh isn’t beholden to their draft board and plan. And nothing is set in stone until that draft card is turned over to the league.