Last week, we passed along the CBS story of Cam Heyward being named the greatest 31st overall pick in NFL Draft history. Awfully specific, I know, but an interesting angle at looking at the draft. You would think Troy Polamalu would be a slam-dunk choice for the best selection at his spot ever. He isn’t. Polamalu took the silver medal in CBS’ ranking of the greatest 16th overall pick in the draft. But don’t call it a snub.
Polamalu finished second to the great Jerry Rice, picked 16th overall in 1985. As great as Troy was, it’s hard to argue he should be above Rice.
For Polamalu’s selection, author Jordan Dajani writes:
“The Steelers had never drafted a safety in the first round of any NFL draft, but they traded up in 2003 to grab Polamalu. While they were high on the kid out of USC, they had no way of knowing he would turn into one of the best safeties of all time. Polamalu was a four-time First Team All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler, was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 and helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls during his 12 seasons.
Polamalu was as elite as a defender as you can find. Whether it was serving as a ball hawk deep in the secondary, surveying tight ends in the box or pursuing the quarterback, he really could do it all. His athleticism had a big part in that, but it was his instincts that took his success to another level. How did he know the other team’s snap count so often?”
At the risk of sounding pedantic, that first sentence is actually incorrect. Pittsburgh took other safeties in the first round before Polamalu. The team took both Gary Glick and Paul Martha in the first round pre-merger, Glick himself a first overall pick. But that’s beside the point.
Everything else though here is on-point. There aren’t enough superlatives to properly describe his play. Polamalu spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, 2003-2014, making eight Pro Bowls, four All-Pro teams, and won a pair of Super Bowls. He was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010.
Topping Rice though was an impossible task. He’s widely considered the greatest receiver in NFL history and it would’ve been a crime to put him anywhere but #1 overall.
Since our last writing, a couple other Steelers have popped up on these top-five lists. CBS named Lynn Swann the second-best 21st pick of all-time, behind only Randy Moss. They also ranked Maurkice Pouncey the fifth-best 18th overall selection.