Believe it or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers have better luck in the NFL Draft than most people would expect, especially in the first round. Though they’ve landed some busts in the past few years, especially Evander ‘Ziggy’ Hood and Jarvis Jones, the Steelers’ excellent drafting is why a veteran team remains a Super Bowl contender each year.
What if the Steelers could go back to the start of the 2000s, though, and change up some of their draft picks? Would Ben Roethlisberger still land in Pittsburgh, or would the Steelers wait on Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft? What would happen with Casey Hampton, a member of a strong 2002 NFL Draft class? How about Lawrence Timmons at linebacker in the 2007 NFL Draft?
As with other re-drafts, there’s two things to keep in mind with this re-draft:
– To add some fun and realism to the mix, we’re going to pretend that each pick follows one another, meaning who the Steelers drafted in this version of the 2002 NFL Draft may change how they look at the 2003 NFL Draft.
– Players already off the board (i.e. Eli Manning in 2004) are ineligible for this, meaning Pittsburgh will have to do the best of what they’re given.
Ready to take a look back at history and come up with some new rosters? Let’s do it.
17. 2000: Brian Urlacher, LB (8th overall)
Actual Pick: Plaxico Burress, WR
We start with this list off with the first major change, which is snagging Brian Urlacher – who somehow slipped all the way to the ninth overall pick (of the first eight players taken, five went on to be Pro Bowlers and LaVar Arrington and Chris Samuels each have Hall of Fame cases, but still!) – with the eighth pick. While Plaxico Burress was a fine receiver with the Steelers and obviously played a major role in the New York Giants’ run to the Super Bowl in 2007, adding Urlacher as the face of a new-look defense that already had fellow linebacker Joey Porter growing as a budding star would have meant serious business for Bill Cowher’s team.
If the Steelers still wanted to add a wide receiver in the 2000 NFL Draft, Florida State’s Laveranues Coles wouldn’t have been a bad pick in the third round. Pittsburgh actually could have pounced on him with the 72nd overall pick, but instead chose defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy.
16. 2001: Casey Hampton, DT (19th overall)
Old Pick: Casey Hampton, DT
With how well this pick worked out the first time, why try something new? A five-time Pro Bowler from 2001-12, Hampton was actually turning into a legitimate pass rush threat in his first few seasons – four of his career nine sacks came in his first three seasons – but adapted after a torn ACL in the 2004 season to become more of a bruising, get-it-done lineman.
For good reason, Porter, Troy Polamalu, and James Harrison may have gotten all of the attention, but Hampton was who you wanted in the trenches to attack and wear down the lineman play after play in hopes of pressuring the quarterback; it worked in Super Bowl XL, it worked in Super Bowl XLIII, and if given another chance, it’d still work again.
15. 2002: Andre Gurode, C (30th overall)
Old Pick: Kendall Simmons, G
As long as Gurode doesn’t get the stomp from Albert Haynesworth again, this pick looks to make sense. Knowing what we know about how banged up Steelers quarterbacks could get (and we’ll talk a bit more about that soon), adding a five-time Pro Bowler who was capable at guard and excellent at center makes perfect sense for the Steelers here. Drafting Clinton Portis in the first round may seem tempting, but Jerome Bettis had a few more years left in him and there’s other running backs to pick from.
As for Kendall Simmons, who sustained injury after injury with the Steelers, Gurode is simply the better choice. Although, given how popular he was coming into the 2002 NFL Draft, Simmons would probably still go in the first round; it’s only a question of how banged up he’d be in a Houston or a Detroit rather than with the Steelers.
14. 2003: Troy Polamalu, DB (16th overall)
Old Pick: Troy Polamalu, DB
I don’t know how you can put anyone else here. Willis McGahee? Dallas Clark? Rex Grossman?? In his prime, Polamalu was one of the game’s most dominant defenders and a key member of two Super Bowl teams, so who else would the Steelers draft if given a second chance? Even with the injuries at the end of his career, Polamalu was so important to the franchise and the city of Pittsburgh that there’s no one else they could pass him up again, especially not with Brian Urlacher on the defense.
As USA Today’s Curt Popejoy wrote last year about the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year…
“Few safeties could impact a game the way he could. There aren’t many players that could dictate the game plan of an opposing offense like Polamalu could. While guys like [Alan] Faneca and [Hines] Ward are waiting their turn, Old #43 is going to fly past them just like he did potential blockers and end up in the Hall right away.”
13. 2004: Ben Roethlisberger, QB (11th overall)
Old Pick: Ben Roethlisberger, QB
Drop the pitchforks, folks. Some will argue that the Steelers should stay away from Roethlisberger – the man of all the injuries and off-the-field issues – in the 2004 NFL Draft to instead add a Steven Jackson or a Bob Sanders and go for Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL Draft and hey, I get it. Maybe you even want to draft Matt Schaub in this draft instead of second-rounder Ricardo Colclough, fine.
But with how well Big Ben has played on the field and how dangerous he’s been when healthy, passing on him doesn’t work if you’re trying to win. Roethlisberger was ready to play from the second he stepped onto the field and even if you dismiss that for the sake of this article and still want to take Aaron Rodgers, you’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t draft the future Super Bowl champion.
12. 2005: Logan Mankins, G (30th overall)
Old Pick: Heath Miller, TE
Steelers fans, I have nothing against Heath Miller and I was a big fan of his for a long time, but the priority in a re-draft should be getting Ben Roethlisberger more protection on the offensive line. Between concussions and other injuries, Roethlisberger’s body is a mess – a key reason why 2017 is likely to be his final season as a professional quarterback – and the future All-Pro guard Mankins is exactly the man Bill Cowher would need to keep his quarterback upright.
Mankins may come off as another player who only succeeded in the Bill Belichick system, but Cowher and Mike Tomlin both have had their own success turning players into successful short and long-term pieces. Would Mankins, a six-time All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler, be that guy? Probably.
11. 2006: Andrew Whitworth, OT (25th overall)
Old Pick: Santonio Holmes, WR
Everything that we just said about Mankins applies to Whitworth, a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman with the Cincinnati Bengals who now is with the Los Angeles Rams. The difference here, however, is that while the Steelers’ AFC North rivals drafted Whitworth as a guard before moving him to offensive tackle in 2009, the LSU product would be beginning his NFL career as a tackle here because the guard spots would be filled by Mankins and Alan Faneca, who wouldn’t be leaving for the New York Jets until after the 2007 season.
Holmes may sound appealing because of his catch at the end of Super Bowl XLIII and it’s hard to go wrong with Brandon Marshall, but is it worth bringing in those guys and their off-the-field issues on the same team as Ben Roethlisberger? Probably not…
10. 2007: Greg Olsen, TE (15th overall)
Old Pick: Lawrence Timmons, LB
No Heath Miller here allows the Steelers to draft Greg Olsen, arguably the top tight end in the NFL right now (Olsen stays healthy and Rob Gronkowski doesn’t, folks. Health has to be taken into account!) and someone that could bolster the black and gold’s receiving corps immediately. If Olsen could do as well as he’s doing in Carolina with Cam Newton, an inconsistent quarterback in the passing game, then how would he do with one of the game’s top passing quarterbacks?
Add in the Steelers’ need for another weapon after not drafting Holmes in 2006 and Olsen has to be the pick here, right? Timmons was a great pick at that spot, but he wouldn’t work here with Urlacher still in his prime; if the Steelers did want to add a linebacker, though, David Harris was available in the second round – though that’d mean passing on LaMarr Woodley.
9. 2008: DeSean Jackson, WR (23rd overall)
Old Pick: Rashard Mendenhall, RB
Remember that whole part about giving Roethlisberger an offensive line before adding weapons? With an offensive line in place, now is when the Steelers can start a mini-youth movement on offense, taking their deadly wide receiver two years after originally intended in the form of California’s DeSean Jackson. Not only would Jackson have a chance to learn from Hines Ward instead of practically having to do everything himself in Philadelphia, that deadly speed mixed with Roethlisberger’s quarterbacking ability would mean video game-numbers like for both parties. Oh, and this is before we start thinking about adding Antonio Brown to the mix in 2010…
As for Mendenhall, there’s not much else to say about someone who condemned people for celebrating the death of Osama bin Laden and then went on to discuss the 9/11 conspiracy theories. Not much else to say at all…
8. 2009: LeSean McCoy, RB (32nd overall)
Old Pick: Evander Hood, DT
That mini-youth movement continues as the Steelers, seeking a running back of the future after Jerome Bettis’ retirement in 2006 and a lack of Mendenhall, take hometown hero LeSean McCoy in the 2009 NFL Draft – and for what it’s worth, the Eagles in this universe filled the holes created by no Jackson and McCoy with Limas Sweed and Shonn Greene, so I’m sorry, Eagles fans. Behind that awesome offensive line and in an offense that would allow him to catch plenty of passes, the future All-Pro running back would be fine as a member of the black and gold.
The problem then becomes what happens to Le’Veon Bell, but for the sake of really irritating fans of other teams, let’s pretend the Steelers still draft Bell in 2013. Talk about an unstoppable offense…
7. 2010: Maurkice Pouncey, C (18th overall)
Old Pick: Maurkice Pouncey, C
Like with Roethlisberger (though it’s obviously a different situation because you’re comparing a center to a quarterback), I’m willing to dismiss all of the off-the-field incidents for the sake of this and still draft Pouncey because of how well he’s played on the field. There’s other routes the Steelers could go in the 2010 NFL Draft, but is adding Dez Bryant really worth it with all of the weapons already in place?
If you add Pouncey, Gurode could slide into the guard spot once occupied by Faneca and add even more protection for Roethlisberger, who would surely need it with the defense that the rival Baltimore Ravens had. Forgoing Pouncey would be silly, though let’s at least hope that he’d be more mature and responsible in this universe rather than…well, the ‘Free Hernandez’ hat says it all.
6. 2011: Justin Houston, LB (31st overall)
Old Pick: Cameron Heyward, DE
Entering the 2011 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a minor problem on their hands: though he’s still performing at a high level, Brian Urlacher is getting up there in age and there’s no Lawrence Timmons around, so the black and gold have to add another linebacker in the draft. Enter Justin Houston, who the Steelers mae their first-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. With Urlacher still healthy enough to play middle linebacker, Houston could play his normal position on the outside and then when the former New Mexico star retired, maybe the 2011 first-round pick would move to that spot.
Heyward has definitely had his moments where he’s shown why the Steelers took him with a first-round pick, but Houston is the better fit here, especially with Urlacher around to guide him. It’s the best of both worlds!
5. 2012: David DeCastro, G (24th overall)
Old Pick: David DeCastro, G
Alan Faneca is long gone, Andre Gurode is on his way out and is far removed from his prime, and the Steelers need some more depth on the offensive line – and that rhyme was not intended. As they did in real life when the time came to add some youth on the offensive line, the Steelers go with David DeCastro, who quietly has been improving his game over the past few seasons (even if he still struggles with penalties) while stepping up to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright.
But wait, you ask, what about the defensive line? Without Cameron Heyward added in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Steelers still could use another piece on the d-line, right? Easy: instead of drafting bust Mike Adams in the second round, the Steelers go for Miami defensive end Olivier Vernon.
4. 2013: Tyrann Mathieu, DB (17th overall)
Old Pick: Jarvis Jones, LB
Oh, yes. Oh, most definitely yes. Sweet Christmas, as Luke Cage would say. As Troy Polamalu gets up there in age, the Steelers know that they need another defensive back, one that they can groom to be the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year’s replacement, and former LSU star Tyrann Mathieu fits the bill perfectly. Even with off-the-field issues that might have initially rubbed the notoriously strict Steelers organization the wrong way, the Honey Badger impresses the front office enough for them to use a first-round selection on him even after missing the 2012 season.
Under the tutelage of Polamalu, Mathieu does more in his first month on the Steelers defense than Jarvis Jones did in his first four years. All due respect to the former Georgia star, but Jones was nothing more than a bust for the Steelers before departing for the Arizona Cardinals this offseason.
3. 2014: Allen Robinson, WR (15th overall)
Old Pick: Ryan Shazier, LB
Would the Pittsburgh Steelers really use a first-round pick on Allen Robinson when they already have an offense that features Ben Roethlisberger, LeSean McCoy, Le’Veon Bell, DeSean Jackson, Antonio Brown, and Greg Olsen? Maybe not. Are we going to? Definitely, and here’s why: other then the obvious idea of keeping a Penn State star in Pennsylvania, Roethlisberger loves his deep threats. If the Steelers are going with the ‘best player available’ mentality that many championship teams do, why not add Robinson?
As for Shazier, who made his first Pro Bowl the past season, I can’t see him doing much on the team with Justin Houston already here. Maybe he’d fit in alongside Houston on the Steelers defense, but I personally like the idea of adding Robinson to that already-potent offense – and besides, this universe sees the Steelers add a defensive lineman in the second round in the form of Kony Ealy, so the black and gold will be fine.
2. 2015: Landon Collins, S (22nd overall)
Old Pick: Bud Dupree, LB
Is this too early to start doing a re-draft? Maybe, but let’s think about this for a second. Slowly but surely, Bud Dupree is evolving into a major piece on the Steelers’ defense, but I’m going to go a different route and add Landon Collins to the mix here to play alongside Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary. We’re talking about a Madden Ultimate Team type of secondary, a ‘No Fly Zone’ combined with the ‘Legion of Boom’ that no quarterback would dare test.
We saw Collins’ own evolution this past season with the New York Giants into a dangerous playmaker, not unlike what Mathieu has done with the Arizona Cardinals. I’ll admit that it’s way too early to start thinking about re-drafting the 2015 NFL Draft, but this is a fun one to think about.
1. 2016: Dak Prescott, QB (25th overall)
Old Pick: Artie Burns, CB
And if it’s way too early to be thinking about re-drafting the 2015 NFL Draft, then it’s certainly way too early to be thinking about re-drafting the 2016 NFL Draft – and I’m not quite sure what the fascination is with doing it one year after. However, I will say this because I think it’s relevant: do the Pittsburgh Steelers regret not scooping up Prescott in last year’s draft not only because of how well he played with the Cowboys, but because Ben Roethlisberger is approaching the end of the line?
Again, it’s way too early to start saying that the Steelers whiffed on Burns, but that’s not the point here; what is the point is that now, even in a classs with some real quarterback potential, the Steelers are almost going to have to rush to fill a position of need. Should they have tried taking Prescott?
What players would you have liked the Steelers to take if they had a chance to redo their drafts? Make sure to let us know in the comment section below!