The Pittsburgh Steelers have a deep history of selecting high-quality players capable of becoming cornerstones of championship rosters in draft classes. In the 2000s alone, the Steelers drafted a young man who became a franchise quarterback, a two-time Super Bowl winner and somebody who will, one day, deservedly be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the club also built impressive defensive units that helped the franchise remain the class of the AFC North for the better part of the past decade or so. While the Steelers are not a dynasty like the New England Patriots have been throughout the Tom Brady era, Pittsburgh fans have had little to complain about throughout the current century, especially when you compare the club to the likes of the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.
Every sports organization is guilty of miscues and mistakes, and the Steelers are no different even if it often feels as if the team gets more right than wrong during every draft. Some draft busts taken by the Steelers did set the franchise back and possibly even cost the team a shot at playing in a Super Bowl contest, while others are simply regrettable decisions that look awful in hindsight. Regardless of how you feel about the talents possessed by the man who tops the list of players the Steelers never should have drafted, history will always remember his costly fumble during a title game. Passionate Pittsburgh fans will only be able to wonder what could have been had that player held onto the football on that fateful night.
15 Bruce Davis
The Steelers whiffed on multiple selections during the 2008 NFL Draft. We’ll begin this list with Bruce Davis, the linebacker taken in the third round of that year’s selection process. Davis entered the NFL as a prospect who, ideally, could feature at either defensive end or outside linebacker, but he was unable to find a roster spot with the Steelers at either position after only a single season.
He made journeys to multiple clubs in attempts to jumpstart his NFL career, but he last played a meaningful down in the league during the 2011 campaign. Most recently, American football fans have seen Davis appear in television commercials for the Copper Fit product. If nothing else, we hope Copper Fit is keeping Davis comfortable and healthy in whatever it is he's up to as of the summer of 2017.
14 Troy Edwards
Some Pittsburgh fans out there may fondly remember when wide receiver Troy Edwards, selected with the 13th overall pick of the 1999 NFL Draft, finished his rookie campaign with 61 receptions, 714 receiving yards and five touchdowns. That year proved to be nothing but a tease for supporters and for the Steelers. Edwards failed to register even a single receiving score the following two seasons, and he accumulated 37 receptions over that same period of time.
Pittsburgh moved on from Edwards following three seasons, but the team’s draft class from that year wasn’t a complete bust. After all, Pittsburgh grabbed Joey Porter in the third round of the ’99 draft. If only the club would’ve selected a wide receiver or a different offensive weapon with a longer shelf life in the first round.
13 Mike Adams
Critics would say the Steelers should’ve known better before selecting offensive tackle Mike Adams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Adams reportedly failed a drug test at that year’s scouting combine, but the Steelers became convinced that he wouldn’t be a headache and would prove himself to be a bargain as the 56th overall pick of his draft class.
Instead, Adams was involved in an altercation outside of a Pittsburgh restaurant that left him with stab wounds in June 2013, and he couldn’t earn a starting gig with the club when he was healthy enough to be listed on the roster. The Steelers moved on from Adams in the spring of 2016 after he failed a club physical, and he's now one of the team’s biggest draft busts of the decade.
12 Mark Malone
Pittsburgh football fans of a certain age don’t know how good they’ve had it watching Ben Roethlisberger serve as the franchise quarterback of the club for over a decade. Back in 1980, the Steelers used a first-round draft pick on QB Mark Malone, a young signal-caller advertised to be the team’s answer at the position so much so that the Steelers elected to not draft Dan Marino, among other QBs, in the future.
That proved to be a massive mistake, as Malone tossed more interceptions (68) than touchdowns (54) during his time with the Steelers. It could be said the Steelers never fully recovered from this miscue until the franchise landed Big Ben in the 2000s. Be thankful for what you have today, Pittsburgh fans.
11 Kraig Urbik
When the Steelers grabbed Kraig Urbik in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft, scouts and coaches likely saw a player who could possibly win a starting gig on the offensive line as a guard and also somebody who could maybe serve as a backup center.
Instead, Pittsburgh drafted a product who sunk on the depth chart not long after the ink on his rookie contract dried. Urbik never developed to the point of becoming even a suitable backup for the Steelers, and the club released him after only one regular season. To his credit, Urbik remains in the NFL and is currently a member of the Miami Dolphins, but it’s not a stretch to assume he'll never live up to the promise certain individuals within the Steelers had for him back in the spring of 2009.
10 Shamarko Thomas
Being asked to replace a legend can be an impossible task, and Shamarko Thomas learned that lesson the hard way during his stint with the Steelers. Thomas, drafted in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft, was seen as a potential replacement for future Hall-of-Famer Troy Polamalu, and he was provided with multiple opportunities to fill that role in the Pittsburgh lineup during his tenure with the club.
Unfortunately for the player and the franchise, Thomas wasn’t up to the challenge, and the Steelers seemingly had no problem with allowing him to enter free agency after the 2016 campaign. The New York Jets, a franchise that is apparently planning on tanking the 2017 season, decided to give Thomas a chance to earn a roster spot heading into the summer months. We’ll see how that goes.
9 Dri Archer
During the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the Steelers thought it wise to take a flier on an undersized wide receiver named Dri Archer. Archer flashed some promise as a speedy weapon who could feature in the offense, sporadically, and also on special teams, but he was unable to improve to the point that the Steelers made any real lasting investment on his future with the club.
In fact, it was in the fall of 2015 when Pittsburgh realized the club had spent a third-round pick unwisely and moved on from Archer. In the spring of 2016, Archer made headlines when he failed to report to the Buffalo Bills. It's widely believed his NFL career is now a thing of the past.
8 Jamain Stephens
Sometimes, a player deemed to be a “project” is worth the risk and the investment. That was not the case with offensive tackle Jamain Stephens, who was drafted by the Steelers with the 29th overall pick of the 1996 NFL Draft. Stephens didn’t grow as a player in the way Pittsburgh coaches and the team’s front office probably hoped that he would, and he was also criticized because of his lack of adequate work ethic and his physical conditioning.
In late July 1999, Stephens was reportedly so out of shape, he nearly collapsed during a training camp session. That was all head coach Bill Cowher needed to see, and the Steelers happily moved on from this failed experiment and a player who is now a cautionary tale for any future athlete who thinks he can coast after being drafted.
7 Ricardo Colclough
Pittsburgh fans will always happily remember the 2004 NFL Draft because the team selected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first round. Unlike Big Ben, defensive back Ricardo Colclough was never a lineup mainstay who quieted critics. The 38th overall pick of that year’s draft ended up being more a liability in the secondary than a good acquisition, and he essentially became an afterthought before the fall of 2007.
Those running the Steelers probably barely noticed when Colclough signed with division rivals the Cleveland Browns in October of that year. We can’t blame them, as Colclough failed to generate positive headlines throughout the remainder of a disappointing NFL career. Eventually, Colclough made the move up north to the Canadian Football League after 2009. He never again played in the NFL.
6 Alonzo Jackson
During the 2003 NFL Draft, the Steelers selected both Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. Between those picks was linebacker Alonzo Jackson, who, unfortunately for him, is now known as the club’s worst draft selection from that year. Jackson managed to flash moments of promise, but he never managed to fully make the transition to the pros and earn a spot in the Pittsburgh starting lineup.
The Steelers moved on from him after only two campaigns, and Jackson was unable to feature at either defensive end or linebacker with both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles for any significant amount of time. Tight end Jason Witten, who should one day be honored in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was still on the board when the Steelers drafted Jackson.
5 Jarvis Jones
Back in the spring of 2013, the hope was that Jarvis Jones, selected with the 17th overall pick of that year’s draft, would become yet another defensive star for the Steelers. He accumulated 31 tackles, one sack and four passes defended during his rookie season, but he had only five sacks across the next three years as a member of the club.
Pittsburgh allowed Jones to enter free agency after 2016, and he'll be looking to find a new spark for his career as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Had the Steelers elected to pass on Jones in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the club could’ve taken Tyler Eifert, Desmond Trufant or DeAndre Hopkins, any of whom would’ve been a better pick.
4 Tim Worley
Running back Tim Worley largely looked the part during his rookie season after being taken by the Steelers with the seventh pick of the 1989 NFL Draft. Worley rushed for 770 yards and scored five touchdowns during his debut campaign, but that proved to be his best year as a member of the Steelers.
As if it wasn’t bad enough his on-the-field production dropped off during his second season, he reportedly violated the league’s substance abuse policy on multiple occasions. Worley also put the ball on the ground a total of 16 times during his stint with the club. All of these factors combined resulted in the Steelers moving on from Worley in 1993, and he was unable to save his NFL career as a member of the Chicago Bears.
3 Huey Richardson
Take a quick spin around the Internet, and you’ll probably see linebacker Huey Richardson mentioned high on any list of the worst players ever drafted by the Steelers. Pittsburgh grabbed Richardson with the 15th overall selection of the 1991 NFL Draft, but he never even flirted with earning such a high value during a very short NFL career.
Richardson did little of note during his rookie year, to the point that he failed to register a sack or even a tackle in 16 games. When Bill Cowher took over as Pittsburgh head coach before the start of the 1992 campaign en route to becoming a local football icon, he made it clear to all within the franchise he was ready to move on from the draft bust. Richardson completed journeys to the Washington Redskins and New York Jets before his uneventful pro career ended.
2 Limas Sweed
We return to the 2008 NFL Draft. This time, we’re looking at wide receiver Limas Sweed, the lengthy target selected by the Steelers with the 53rd overall pick. Sweed seemed to have the size and skills necessary to excel at the position, particularly while playing alongside a great quarterback such as Ben Roethisberger, but he failed to convert that kind of promise into memorable production. It is also worth noting that injury concerns and also at least one non-football related issue stopped any positive momentum Sweed could have built up.
The Steelers gave up on him after only two seasons, and he failed to catch on with any other NFL team during what ultimately proved to be nothing more than a brief stint in the league.
1 Rashard Mendenhall
In the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, the Steelers could’ve drafted Chris Johnson, Matt Forte and Ray Rice among running backs who aren’t Rashard Mendenhall. Pittsburgh instead grabbed Mendenhall, and that decision proved to change football history and also the fates of two different teams.
The Steelers were driving down the field early into the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV versus the Green Bay Packers when Mendenhall put the football on the turf in Green Bay territory. That was one of three turnovers committed by the Steelers that night, and the Packers went on to win the game and the championship. Would a different running back have been able to retain possession of the football under the bright lights that night? That’s a question Pittsburgh fans will continue to ask years, and maybe decades, from now.