Development, Not Drafting, Problem for Steelers in Tomlin Era
By Dan Snyder
(Featured Columnist) on March 28, 2013
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After being bested by the Tim Tebow-led Broncos in the 2011 Wild Card round and missing the entire playoff dance in 2012, many Steelers fans and media members have come to attack the practices of head coach Mike Tomlin.
Specifically, they've mostly brought his drafting philosophy into question.
It's true that there have been a good number of high profile Tomlin-era picks haven't panned out since the coach took over the team in 2007, but is it truly his drafting style or the players themselves that are the problem?
If you take a look back at the Steelers' drafts since 2007, most of them come with very positive reviews.In 2011, Fox Sports analyst Adam Caplan gave the Steelers a "B" for a draft that included Cameron Heyward, Marcus Gilbert and others citing that the team "nice job of drafting for value, which is usually the case with this team."
Even back in 2008, which may turn out to be the worst draft in the Steelers history, experts were raving about the job Tomlin and GM Kevin Colbert did. Larry Weisman of USA Today gave Pittsburgh the third-highest grade for the class saying:
Unfortunately, none of the four players Weisman mentions in the article are currently on the roster with Mendenhall becoming the latest casualty from an utterly disastrous class.
Rashard Mendenhall was the 1st pick of a disastrous 2008 draft class.
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"Terrific bit of luck getting RB Rashard Mendenhall 23rd, especially when the o-linemen they liked best were gone. This gives them some between-the-tackles punch to complement Willie Parker, who comes off a broken leg. WR Limas Sweed is a great value late in round 2 and Bruce Davis is a typical Steelers' outside LB with rush skills. OT Tony Hill is a mauler who fits this type of running game."
Overall, between the 2007 and 2012 classes, the Steelers have averaged about a B to B+ grade in the five year period. I wouldn't call that bad drafting so something else has to be in play here, right?
All the concerns have had Steelers fans reverting back to the old "If Bill Cowher were here..." routine when discussing the issues with the draft, but what they fail to remember is that rarely were fans raving about the job Cowher did on draft day.
From 1992 to 2006, Cowher coached the Steelers to six AFC Title Games and two Super Bowls culminating in the fifth of six Lombardi Trophies that currently reside in the Steel City. Drafting guys like Deon Figures ('93), Jamain Stephens ('96) and Troy Edwards ('99) in the first round, it's hard to see how that happened.
Now in fairness to Cowher, he went on a string from 2000 to 2006 where he drafted not just starters, but Pro Bowlers in the first round every year during that span. But there's a distinct difference between the Cowher-era players and the Tomlin-era players.
Tomlin embraces Antonio Brown, one of his draft pieces who has worked out.
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Simply put, the Tomlin-era have never properly developed or have never been properly developed.
Don't get me wrong, Tomlin has had his share of impact players on the Steelers roster. LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, and Maurkice Pouncey are all Tomlin players and have all played big roles on this team.
But there's been a lot of high picks that haven't exactly panned out so far. By my count, of the 33 players the Steelers drafted between 2007 and 2010, only eight remain on the roster. That means under one-quarter of the drafted players in those four classes now remain in Pittsburgh.
Even more importantly is that only eight of those same 33 players made significant impacts (starter or significant contributor for MULTIPLE seasons; so no K. Lewis, J. Dwyer) to date.
Tomlin and Colbert discuss the selection of Ziggy Hood.
But it's not like the Steelers are reaching for players by leaps and bounds or are taking guys who weren't productive at the college level. Ziggy Hood, for example, was a consensus All-Big 12 first teamer in his senior year and even an Academic second team All-Big 12er. Hood got good reviews from the guys over at fftoolbox.com and had a fantastic Senior Bowl.
But the praise for Hood was nothing compared to the worshiping the Steelers brass got for their 2008 draft which included Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed and Bruce Davis.
In 2008, College Football News ranked Mendenhall as the top back in the class, ahead of guys like Darren McFaddeen, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Ray Rice and Chris Johnson. They went on to add, "If he can find the fire and the drive to be special, he'll be a yearly Pro Bowl performer."
The guys at CFN also dubbed that outside of a wrist injury, Sweed "had it all" and that "he'll work his tail off and will be very productive." As we know now, neither of those statements were true. Sweed did not have it all and did anything but work his tail off.
The point is, all of these guys were very good college players who had the potential and, apparently, the drive to play at the next level. So what happened?
To me, this one is on the coaches for failing to get these players where they need to be to succeed at the next level. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure some of this still has to do with the individual players themselves, but too much has gone wrong for it to be a coincidence.
Whether the Steelers haven't pushed their guys hard enough or whether they're simply just not good scheme fits for what the team does, the point is moot. Under Tomlin, Pittsburgh has failed to fully develop draftees into the future stars they're capable of becoming. Even a guy like LaMarr Woodley who has the potential to be an All-Pro continually comes into camp overweight and out of shape and really to no consequence.
Players like Mendenhall, Hood and Cameron Heyward haven't ever lived up to the hype that comes with being a first round pick and currently, I'll be the first to point the finger at the coaches development.
If the Steelers want to keep doing business the "Steeler Way", they're going to have to do a better job of getting their guys ready.