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:
- After a downtrodden 1999 season and a 6-10 record, Dan Rooney had to resolve a deep divide between the Steelers Head Coach and Director of Personnel for a 2nd time in 15 years.
- Rooney decided to keep Bill Cowher and let Tom Donahoe go, a decision that was criticized heavily by many in the media. Many believed Donahoe was the best talent evaluator in the league.
- The Steelers were rocked in two false scandals – one involving Bill Cowher and his marriage (because it was another man by the same name that was getting a divorce) and Kordell Stewart rumors of being gay.
- Kevin Colbert was hired to assume the Director of Football Operations after a decade with the Detroit Lions – a decision that had a lot of the sports talk shows abuzz with criticism.
- QB Kordell Stewart struggled at QB to such a level that was asked to attend WR meetings.
- The Steelers had a 5-3 start, lifted especially when they got revenge for the 1989 51-0 game vs. the Cleveland Browns by ruining their return to the league with a 43-0 beatdown on national tv. Then they suffered through the longest losing streak (6 games) since 1969 – which started by blowing a 15-7 lead with 7:11 in the 4th quarter and an embarrassing last second loss to 2-14 Browns.
Who to choose to start a new era?
Redrafting 2000: 1st Round – #8 Overall; 2nd Round – #38 Overall
There were a lot of rumors going around the Steelers top pick in 2000. There was added pressure from combining the #8 overall pick and it being the first pick of the Colbert/Cowher regime – they had to get it right. The rumors were circling around the choice between QB Chad Pennington and WR Plaxico Burress. They both came with question marks — Pennington on his arm strength and Burress on his character.
Colbert, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Burress:
“I’ve heard numerous things about this kid and I can’t get anybody to say anything bad about him. That’s the honest-to-God truth. The kid is getting a ton of publicity, and I think the more people talk about it the bigger the stories get. We’ve done extensive research on him, not only him but all these guys.”
Colbert, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Pennington:
“Chad Pennington is an exceptional quarterback who’s been productive, won games and won championships. Everybody talks about the level of competition. You know, the Mid-American Conference is Division I football, probably not as good or produced as many players as some of the other big conferences. But the kid has won, the kid has produced.”
In the end, the Steelers went with Burress, who they felt was just too gifted to pass up. However, it didn’t stop there as they tried to get back into the 1st round and also grab Pennington. Pennington even stated that Cowher and Colbert said they intended to draft him if he was available and Bill Parcells floated a rumor that he offered Pennington and Shaun Ellis (the #18 and #12 picks overall from the New York Jets for Burress).
Burress was a phenomenal talent and put up some spectacular games for the Steelers, but never transcended to the level they hoped. A disappointing rookie season saw him catch only 22 passes and make an incredible mental error of spiking the ball after he made a catch and fell to the ground — resulting in a fumble. There was a serious problem at QB as the team started the season with Kent Graham after a failed attempt by Bill Cowher to talk Dan Marino into one last run with the Steelers instead of retiring. Overall, Burress certainly wasn’t a bust and maybe some of that shine came off because of the certain unexpected play of the other starting WR in Hines Ward. The other part about Burress, it’s unfortunate that he wasn’t around Pittsburgh longer because he was one WR the New England Patriots really couldn’t handle.
Knowing the offensive line was weak, the Steelers snagged OT Marvel Smith in the 2nd round and was an unquestioned success. It took time for the league to recognize Smith for his talent as he was only selected for one Pro Bowl, but he was the best OT of the decade for the Steelers. Injuries would hamper Smith after 2005 and eventually cause his retirement, but he was a great pick.
- Despite the Steelers getting only one Pro Bowl out of the draft, they obtained some quality players, including OLB Clark Haggans in round 5 who was very underrated but a big component of the 15-1 2004 team and had a career year as he provided 9 sacks (including one in the Super Bowl) en route to winning Super Bowl XL.
- Undrafted FB Dan Kreider won the team Rookie of the Year Award, and while he never put up gaudy stats, he was a physical and pounding blocker for 7 seasons.
- The DL was upgraded with the surprising play of FA Kimo von Oelhoffen, who would start all but one game at NT and DE through the Steelers winning of Super Bowl XL.
Redrafting 2000: Makes me want to gauge my eyes out…
Let’s face fact: Drafting Tom Brady over Tee Martin would probably have put the Steelers in the Super Bowl in 2001, 2004, 2016 and 2017. That’s even without Brady ever starting a game for the Steelers, just keeping him away from the cheating Bill Belichick and off the substances he gets away with taking – if you are gullible enough to believe he’s not achieving better play through chemistry, I got a bridge to sell you.
Personally, I recall desperately wanting the Steelers to take Pennington, who turned out to be a very good QB until his rotator cuff surgery cut too deep into his already weakly considered arm strength. And indirectly, Pennington’s quality play for the Jets led to the Steelers being in position to draft Ben Roethlisberger a few years later.
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