In this retrospective series, we’ll use 20/20 hindsight to play General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers to review past drafts – focusing primarily on top 2-3 selections – and personnel decisions year-by-year and redraft or implement trades based on the Steelers roster at the time.
General rule: Any “redrafted” pick will generally fall within a 15-pick range and trade propositions being realistic and attainable.
Steelers situation and needs:
- Incredibly frustrating AFC Championship Game loss where the Steelers really missed chances.
- What would you get if the Steelers entered the Super Bowl behind the 3rd most rushing yards of the decade (2,479) featuring the best season of Jerome Bettis‘ career against a cocky team with the 20th ranked defense in the league in the Green Bay Packers?
- Kordell Stewart played incredible and WR Yancey Thigpen was outstanding – the Steelers best “Triplets” since 70s.
- Thigpen had to make some incredible plays to help Kordell look good and he didn’t have faith in the QB, departing for Tennessee Titans in FA.
- After a series of phenomenal drafts, then a few lackluster ones, and with all the losses in free agency, it was looking like it was about to catch up with the Steelers.
The Steelers begin the “Great Reset”
Redrafting 1998: 1st Round – #26 Overall; 2nd Round – #41 Overall
Alan Faneca was inserted at LG after injuries forced Will Wolford to LT and by 2001, he simply became the best guard in the NFL for the next decade — earning Pro Bowl and All-Pro (6x 1st team) honors for 9 consecutive years (7 as a Steeler) and was named to the NFL 2000s All Decade Team. In recognition that he was the best, the Steelers gave Faneca a 6-year $25M extension (the highest for a guard in NFL history at the time). When the Steelers offensive line was decimated by injury in 2003, he shifted to LT and was still named 2nd Team All-Pro. The signature play of his career occurred in when he pulled and with his block, cleared the hole for Willie Parker to set the record for the longest TD run in Super Bowl history. It’s probably the only time the block was more celebrated than a 75-yard TD run.
Tom Donahoe started to try and make moves in the draft and moved up from #56 to #41 (giving up a FA 3rd and a 5th) and to address the DL need with DT Jeremy Staat. The Steelers were reportedly so high on Staat that it was between Faneca and Staat to be their #1 pick. Staat didn’t pan out, but I will applaud the effort on moving up to get a guy that you feel is the right fit, especially when it didn’t cost the team a great amount of draft capital.
Using the Compensatory Pick
Hines Ward was the last player taken in the 3rd round as was a compensatory pick for the FAs that were lost. He only turned out to be one of the greatest Steelers in team history. He was every bit the perfect blend and mix to be a Pittsburgh Steeler that Jerome Bettis was. The Steelers leading WR in franchise history and the toughest WR in NFL history. He’s a future Hall of Famer, though it will take some politics because of the anti-Steeler bias as the Steelers have so many Hall of Famers, other voters will refrain from voting for him on that basis alone. But just like Faneca, he shined in Super Bowl XL when they needed their stars to do so the most, winning Super Bowl XL MVP.
- The Steelers pulled 2 future Hall of Famers out of the draft that served as cornerstones of a Super Bowl team.
- CB Deshea Townsend was drafted in the 4th and was a key contributor to all 3 Super Bowl runs.
- 6th round RB Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala was an unforgettable part of the 2002 AFC Wildcard comeback win.
- The Steelers looked to FA to help fix the secondary after the Rod Woodson/Donnell Woolford 1997 debacle. They signed former #1 pick and 1994 Defensive Rookie of the Year Dwayne Washington to a cap-friendly deal – and Washington would respond with 14 INTs (2 pick-6s in 1998) in the next 3 seasons before he sharply declined.
Note: Both Faneca and Ward went through ugly contract situations with the Steelers. How the two handled them differently and how the ending played out is an interesting discussion and will be the topic of a future article.
Redrafting 1998: Overall, a Great Draft
The trade to move up 15 spots in the 2nd round was a great move with the extra 3rd round pick to spare, it’s unfortunate that Staat didn’t pan out. The 2nd round of the 1998 draft was pretty barren though, with the best player taken in the 2nd after the #41 pick was CB Patrick Surtain – he would have been a difference maker. If anything, in the 6th round take Matt Hasselbeck. He was a crybaby and not popular due in Steeler Nation, but high value for a QB in the 6th round. Besides he was taken #187 overall, especially considering the the Steelers drafted DT Ryan Olsen #186 overall.
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