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:
- Bill Cowher caught the league’s attention as the Steelers launched their way into contender status, but it was clear they needed more verticality in the passing game if they wanted to go deeper.
- WRs Jeff Graham and Dwight Stone struggled over season to maintain any consistency and were plagued by drops (as indicated by catching only 50% of the passes when targeted).
- TE Eric Green was out most of 1992 and it was obvious the Steelers missed their top receiving threat.
- The offense was carried by Barry Foster who set team records for carries (390) yards (1,690) and tied the 1984 Eric Dickerson record of 12 100-yard games in a season, but the Steelers did need last second heroics to pull out 4th quarter CFB wins against last place teams Seattle Seahawks and Detroit Lions.
“The Steelers have no outstanding weaknesses” – Bill Cowher, 1992
1993 Steelers Draft: 1st Round – #23 Overall; 2nd Round – #44 Overall
The Steelers made a curious pick with CB Deon Figures despite having a very solid CB already in D.J. Johnson to start alongside Rod Woodson. Johnson was still young and had been a quality starter for three years. While it is possible the organization was concerned about it being the last year of his contract (and he did sign with the Atlanta Falcons after the season), how much of that was drafting Figures or other reasons Johnson was ejected for throwing a punch in the 1993 Wildcard game vs. the Kansas City Chiefs may never be known. Figures took over the starting CB on that incredible 1994 defense and by all accounts, was living up to the status the Steelers had hoped until he was accidently shot in the knee during a drive by shooting while visiting his mother who unknown to the organization, was enduring terminal cancer and would pass away shortly thereafter. To his football career with the Steelers, it can never be known as to what extent it affected him. He would not start during the Super Bowl run of 1995 — although he was the player who recovered the famous onside kick in Super Bowl XXX.
In the 2nd round, the Steelers landed just a beast of a LB in Chad Brown. Because the Steelers had a dominant pair of OLBs, he was forced to play inside and arguably would end up constituting the best starting 4 LBs to play the 3-4 “Blitzburgh” scheme with Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Levon Kirkland. Although reliable Jerry Olsavsky would rotate in – Brown was a starter as a rookie and the Steelers ’94 defense was as good as fearsome that have been fielded before or since. It’s just a shame injuries hit them as hard as they did in the following years and the offense was not able to compliment the defense.
- The most important acquisition came very unexpectedly with the signing of future Hall of Fame OLB Kevin Greene along with the team leading 12.5 sacks. Greene was at the time considered to be one of the most prominent free agents in the early days — something the Steelers have not delved into since.
- Andre Hastings was a great 3rd round pick who would eventually give the Steelers a lot more depth at WR.
- 4th round pick DE Kevin Henry would become a full-time starter by 1996 and for the rest of the decade.
- 6th round pick CB Willie Williams had one of the best seasons for a Steelers CB in 1995 with 7 INTs after he was thrust unexpectedly into the starting role and his shoestring tackle in the 1995 AFC Championship game preventing the Indianapolis Colts from easily running for the 1st down and an easy burning of the clock is among the most unsung but important plays in team history. Ironic that he left via FA, but returned to start most of 2004 and won a ring as a reserve CB in 2005.
Redrafting 1993: The one time they didn’t look at DL
With the clear weakness on the DL featuring Kenny Davidson and Donald Evans, #26 overall Dana Stubblefield is the obvious choice the Steelers should have went with. Stubblefield went on to win 1993 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 1997 Defensive Player of the Year along being named to multiple All-Pros. Granted it’s impossible to ever know the “what could have been” on Deon Figures – from a financial standpoint, it was far more viable that the Steelers could resign Johnson (with the money allocated to signing Ray Seals prior to 1994). Just on outright need and draft position, the Steelers missed it here.
In my endless search for the QB upgrade – Mark Brunell in the 4th round would have been best option in the 4th round.
- Figures was lost to free agency after 1996 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the 2nd #1 pick in a row to be snagged in FA by the expansion team and he had a slight career resurgence.
- Brown was lost to free agency after 1996 to the Seattle Seahawks, preventing the Steelers from seeing how special he could become.
- FWIW: Stubblefield was snagged in FA from the San Francisco 49ers the year after winning DPOY as a number of teams were not quite prepared for how to manage their salary cap and focus on keeping key players.
Thoughts on Figures? Was he a bust? Leave a comment below.