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No team is the same from one year to the next, but one can learn about where a team is going by studying where it has been. We’ve watched each Steelers game last year play-by-play and pulled out a certain amount of trend-setting and trend-extending plays that earned the Steelers both a 12-4 record and a first-round playoff loss. We’ll highlight what each of those plays meant from a bigger picture perspective on the season that was in 2011.
The hit QB Ben Roethlisberger took from Seahawks DE Raheem Brock drew both a 15-yard penalty flag and a $ 15,000 fine from the league (a “Fline”), but in the long run, it was one of many hits the mobile quarterback took that ultimately wore him down to the point of ineffectiveness.
It just didn’t really stop him, or the Steelers’ defense, from kicking the tar out of Seattle.
The Steelers shut out the Seahawks in their second consecutive game since defeating them in Super Bowl XL. It was a 21-0 win in Week 5 of the 2007 season the first time, and this time, it was 24-0, and the Seahawks, led by QB Tarvaris Jackson, failed to cross midfield until the fourth quarter.
Wallace v. Browner
The Steelers led 14-0 late in the second quarter – plenty cushion for a defense that allowed just 164 total yards on the day – when Brock hit Roethlisberger low. He returned to the game to finish off a field goal-scoring drive.
How healthy was he, though? At the end of the third quarter, the Steelers went five wide, with Wallace on the line between Hines Ward and Heath Miller. The Seahawks come out in man coverage, hoping the pass rush can get to Roethlisberger before the speedy Wallace can get down field.
It almost worked. Roethlisberger took a (legal) shot just after he launched a deep pass for Wallace, who burned Browner off the line, held up, then burned him again as he adjusted for the throw, which was off the mark by quite a bit.
Wallace makes a sensational catch on a poorly thrown pass for a 53-yard gain. Incidentally, I choked when I saw Brandon Browner in the Pro Bowl at the end of last season. I’m not sure I can recall a cornerback as overmatched as Browner was in this game. I didn’t see the rest of his season, but wow…he was awful in Week 2.
It wasn’t that Roethlisberger’s injured knee affected the throw, but it was a clear example of the numerous opportunities the Steelers had in 2011 to get Wallace the ball in a position to be able to run after the catch, but for many reasons (in this case, taking a shot to the chops), they weren’t able to connect.
It wasn’t the same play, but Wallace had to adjust to a poorly thrown Roethlisberger pass against Denver in the AFC Wild Card playoff game in January. Wallace was unable to maintain possession of that one.
For a team to base its offense heavily around the idea of getting the ball deep down the field, the inability to sustain pass protection long enough for Roethlisberger to step into his throws, and the additional hits he took outside the pocket, eventually would make that deep option far less successful, albeit dangerous.
This play in Week 2 worked, but the frequency of these kinds of plays early in the year would lead to Wallace’s diminished production and Roethlisberger’s multiple injuries down the stretch.
Goal Line Futility
After a (brutal) pass interference call against Browner, the Steelers had first and goal on Seattle’s 1-yard line. Enter Doug Legursky as a blocking fullback. First carry, RB Rashard Mendenhall, behind the motioning TE David Johnson, no gain. FS Earl Thomas knifes in to make the play.
They’ve got approximately 570 pounds in the backfield to block, and another 225 from Mendenhall. Thomas weighs maybe 200 pounds. No one got a hat on him.
Second down, same formation, but they run play action out of it. TE Weslye Saunders blocks his man inside, leaving S Atari Bigby free to sack Roethlisberger for a 7-yard loss. The blame probably falls on RT Marcus Gilbert, who should kick down and cut the angle off for the free rusher, but he pushed too far inside, and couldn’t get back to stop Bigby.
Another misfire in the red zone.
Third down, another pass, Seattle blankets every Steelers receiver. Roethlisberger scrambles, and is taken down inside the 1-yard line. Every receiver the Steelers had on the play ran a quick route, turned, didn’t see the ball and stopped. That was another problem with the team’s overall red zone struggles. While I don’t know the play call or the specific intentions of it, it appears the call was essentially a quick-hit throw by Roethlisberger, and if nothing was there, he was to run it. But Roethlisberger ran away from his receivers, and none of them followed him. He nearly gets across the goal line, but Seattle made another tough stop.
The Steelers elect to go for it on fourth down, and in comes the heavy package again, and again, the run off left guard behind Johnson and Legursky. Again, no one prevents Thomas from knifing in and making a play. Legursky missed him in the hole, and Mendenhall had no chance.
Credit the Seahawks, who had a very strong defensive team in 2011, but the Steelers had 1st and goal from their 1-yard line, gained nothing and walked off the field without any points. I liked the decision to go for it, but the execution was poor, setting the tone for a season of disappointment inside the 20.
Don’t Forget 43
The series after the Steelers’ goal line SNAFU, Steelers SS Troy Polamalu forces a 3-and-out almost single-handedly. On first down, Seattle tries to scrape him with TE Zack Miller while running a flare to RB Marshawn Lynch. Polamalu isn’t fooled, and pushes Lynch out of bounds for a 1-yard gain. They try to run away from Polamalu on second down, but he chases Lynch down from 12 yards away for a 1-yard loss. Third down, Polamalu lines up on the offensive left side, and chases Lynch down again, this time for a 1-yard gain.
Polamalu, top to bottom, played brilliantly in 2011. He had a few gaffes in coverage (we’ll get to those in this series), but he was so crucial for this team in run support, the year would have ended much worse if he wasn’t out there.
He made the splash plays in 2010, which was the biggest reason why he was named Defensive Player of the Year (the defensive player with the most splash plays, not the best all-around body of work, wins that award now, just ask Terrell Suggs). Polamalu made less splash plays, but was more important to the defense in 2011. That first possession, and others that season, are evidence to it.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
With free agency in full swing, it seems the perfect time to highlight one of the two reasons why the Steelers aren’t fully immersed in the NFL’s version of a live auction; they draft very well. In the second part of her series, BTSC writer Rebecca Rollett assesses past Steelers’ drafts and compares them to an AFC rival, looking to determine who’s been more successful. – nc
Part I of this series, which addresses the Round 1 picks of the 2001 – 2010 drafts, can be found here. There were a couple of comments to that article I wish to address before proceeding to Round 2. First, from Cols714, objecting to the information taken from the Cold Hard Football Facts article assessing the past decade of drafting:
…any system that has the Pats! ranked higher than the Steelers for drafting players is doing it wrong.
The Steelers do not sign free agents yet have been pretty much every bit as good as the Pats have been over the past decade.
The Pats are good at trading for draft picks but fail when it comes to actually turning those picks into players, which is the entire purpose of drafting.
So is he right? Here’s the information CHFF used to make their assessment:
Using information from the great folks at pro-football-reference.com – or, as we like to call it, “The Bible” – we broke down the 10 drafts from 2001-2010 looking for an impartial answer to who was the best. Who drafted the most stars, the most longtime starters, the most promising young players? Who had the most players from their drafts active in the league last year? Who was the best?
So it appears the CHFFs people used exactly the information Cols714 was suggesting—in other words, how well the Patriots turned their picks into players. One point CHFF may have missed is how much benefit the Patriots ultimately extracted from their picks. Because if you develop a player who then leaves in free agency he is “active in the league” but you may not have maximized his value for your own team. On the other hand, if you develop a player and then keep him too long, that might not be the best strategy either.
So out of curiosity I tried an experiment. The 2010 Steelers went to the Super Bowl and lost. The 2011 Patriots went to the Super Bowl and lost. I took the Super Bowl roster for each team and, for lack of a better quick option, added up the total of the Trade Value Chart points for each player. Since both teams had so many UDFAs I assigned that value as one. After all, if the value of the last pick in the draft is two, someone who isn’t picked at all is surely worth less. (Since a UDFA doesn’t have any draft cost at all, I suppose it should be zero, but a UDFA does take up roster space eventually, possibly pushing off someone else with draft value.) I didn’t distinguish whether the player was drafted by the Steelers/Patriots or by another team, just the value of the place they were picked. Here are the numbers:
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers: 10,214.9
2011 New England Patriots: 11,396.5
Using this entirely unscientific method, we come to the conclusion the Steelers win. They made it to the Super Bowl for a lower draft investment cost. Maurkice Pouncey, our 2010 No. 1 pick, wasn’t on that roster, but adding in his 900 points (vs. 1 point for Doug Legursky, who replaced him) still leaves the Steelers the winner at 11,113.9.
It’s admittedly rather a silly method. But in the course of doing it I noticed something rather interesting. All but two of the Steelers’ 2001-2010 first-round picks were on the Super Bowl roster (or, in Pouncey’s case, would have been if he hadn’t been injured.) Only five of the Patriots’ 2002-2011 picks were. What happened to the others?
2002 pick: Daniel Graham, TE: left in FA, currently signed with TEN
2003 pick: Ty Warren, DE: released in 2010, now with DEN
2005 pick: Logan Mankins
2006 pick: Lawrence Maroney, RB: Traded to DEN early in the 2010 season, now a free agent
2007 pick: Brandon Meriweather, S: Released Sept 2011, signed with CHI
2008 pick: Jerod Mayo
2009: no pick, traded down
2010 pick: Devin McCourty
2011 pick: Nate Solder
Of the other five picks, two (Meriweather and Maroney) had character concerns; in Maroney’s case it shortened his career. The Patriots got a lot out of Graham, Watson and Warren and then released them.
To take up Col714’s point again, Steelers teams are largely composed of players they draft or pick up as UDFAs and develop themselves. The 2010 Steelers Super Bowl active roster had four players on it picked up in free agency, out of the 44 active players that night. The Patriots had seven players drafted by other teams on their roster, and more of their UDFAs were picked up from other teams as well. I don’t think you can say this definitively proves his point. But, as another poster noted, CHFF is based in Boston…
And before I leave this topic, I did a little more Googling and found the following article, published in Forbes magazine in 2009. In summary, they evaluated how well teams draft based strictly on how large a percentage of their draft choices were still on their roster. They gave a slight edge to players who made the Pro Bowl. (The years in question were 2006-2008.) Their conclusion? The top three teams, from the best down, were the Texans, the Colts, and the Giants. The bottom three teams, from the worst up, were the Patriots, the Rams, and the Steelers. There you have it, folks. Here was their conclusion:
The bottom line: Drafting NFL-caliber players is very important, but it doesn’t necessarily equal success on the field. Finding other strategies to plug the gaps, like the Patriots and Steelers have done, is essential. So don’t judge your team’s success at the end of draft day. Wait to see how it all plays out–and watch for what your team does to boost draft deficiencies.
On to the next comment, from SteelCityRoller. It was long, impassioned, and very interesting, but I edited it to the essentials for brevity’s sake:
The biggest argument against the point system for grading picks, is Tom Brady vs. Ryan Leaf. Some guys possess all the natural gifts, but no ability to control them, or evolve. Some lack the physical talents, but make up for it with intelligence, devotion, or good, old-fashioned heart. (Lookin at you, Hines) I’ve learned the most important aspect of a player to judge…is the person inside the meat suit. Sometimes the human being gets buried in piles of college highlight clips and media speculations…Character is just as important as any measurable physical ability. ..I think we owe that to Mr. Rooney and Coach Noll, carried on through Coach Cowher, and now mantled by Coach Tomlin and Mr. Colbert…we leave no stone unturned when finding “our” guys.
I love what SteelCityRoller has to say, and agree with a great deal of it. The problem is that you can look at what a person has done but you can’t look into their heart or know for sure what they will be like after they get a large contract, thus making judgments about character more difficult than you might think. You can weed out the obvious troublemakers, but sometimes a person that looks like a high-character pick doesn’t turn out to be quite what one expected.
And unfortunately, in the end football is a business, and winning trumps a lot of things. I love high-character guys, and I think the Steelers draft them if they can. Life isn’t alway fair, though, and the high-character guy doesn’t always have the physical tools it takes to succeed at the highest level.
In regards to grading by pick points, SteelCityRoller is absolutely right on a case-by-case basis. Brady/Leaf is the classic argument against just that. And honestly, since it is the example every single person making the argument uses, it must be a fairly rare exception. As a general rule, there must be some validity to the value collectively assigned by the people paid to make these decisions. Obviously, they don’t always get it right, but the numbers show they generally do.
Advanced NFL Stats has crunched the numbers, and as I discussed in the earlier article, they clearly demonstrate the first one or two quarterbacks taken in the draft are vastly more likely to be successful in the NFL. Not all of them are going to succeed, for a variety of reasons, but the majority of the top-end quarterbacks currently in the league are the first or second quarterback picked in their class.
You might luck out and get Matt Flynn in the 7th round (although only time will tell whether he actually does well as the starter on a different team) but it’s highly unlikely. 21 QBs were drafted during the 7th round between 2001 and 2010. Three of them have turned out to be serviceable enough to be the starter. That’s about 14%.
So maybe you hit on one the first time you draft, but by the percentages you may have to draft as many as 9 or 10 before you get a good one. You’re certainly going to have to develop them. And development involves a cost. You can only carry so many guys on your roster, and while the time of your coaching staff, training staff et al isn’t a zero sum, it is finite, and to a certain extent time you expend on one guy takes away from time you can spend on another guy.
But even more of a concern is this: all three of those 7th round quarterbacks were drafted by a different team than the one benefitting from their services. Yes, the Packers got some value out of Flynn, but assuming he continues to play well, the team who will benefit from the development time and costs the Packers put into him will not be the Packers. This is true if you continue through the list of quarterbacks taken after the first round between 2011 and 2010. (You can find the list in the previous article.) The two outstanding quarterbacks on that list, Matt Schaub and Dree Brees, were both drafted by different teams than they currently play for. (And Brees should probably not even be on the list, as he was the 2nd quarterback chosen in his draft and was picked at #32, which is now a first-round pick, just.)
In other words, not only are late-round picks a crap shoot, but you might actually find and develop someone who will leave in free agency not long after they have really begun to blossom. First round picks are as valuable as they are for a reason—because you have a much better chance of getting a quick return on your investment. This would argue, as many people have, that the best strategy is to take fewer, higher-round picks.
This, however, ignores something I will attempt to address now—why is the Steelers’ record so much less impressive in the second round? I noted CHFF didn’t even mention this, so either most teams struggle a lot more in the second round, or they missed it. Thanks to PaVaSteeler and ProFootball Reference, I had the data to look at this, and so I did. Here are the top five teams and the bottom five teams, with Pittsburgh in the middle, in a handy table:
|SD||9||.88||4.8||36.5||Drew Brees, QB||None|
|JAX||10||.3||4.4||29.6||Maurice Jone-Drew.RB||Eben Britton, T|
|SD||8||.38||4.1||28.9||Marcus McNeill, T||None|
|CHI||7||.43||3.6||27.1||Charles Tillman, DB||None|
|BUF||11||.36||3.2||23.5||Aaron Schoebel, DE||James Hardy, WR|
|ATL||8||.5||5||23.3||Alge Crumpler, TE||Jimmy Williams, DB|
|PIT||8||.25||2||19.5||Antwaan Randle El, WR||Limas Sweed, WR|
|BAL||10||.1||2.1||14.3||Antony Weaver, DE||Dan Cody, DE|
|DEN||12||.17||1.5||14.2||Clinton Portis, RB||Terry Pierce, RB|
|TAM||8||0||2.3||13.9||Barrett Ruud, LB||Dexter Jackson, WR|
|MIN||13||.15||1.7||12.5||E. J. Henderson, LB||Willie Howard, DE|
|KC||9||0||1.9||11.2||Kawicka Mitchell, LB||Eddie Freeman, DE|
The columns are: Team Name, the number of picks they had from 2001 – 2010, the number of pro bowl appearances by players drafted in the second round, divided by the number of picks (and hence it is always a fraction;) the total number of years players were/are starters, divided by the number of players; and the total of Pro Football Reference’s Weighted Career Approximate Value for each player, divided by the number of players.
Pittsburgh looks to be solidly in the middle, given the numbers, but in fact they are #9 out of 32. (If you’re wondering why there are two entries for San Diego, it’s because I calculated it both with and without Drew Brees. I thought he might have been skewing the figures unduly, but even without him they are #2, right below, yes, Jacksonville.) New England, in case you’re wondering, really is right in the middle, at #15.
Let’s look at the Steelers’ 2nd round from 2001-2010:
2001: Kendrell Bell
2002: Antwaan Randle El
2003: Alonzo Jackson
2004: Riccardo Colclough
2005: Bryant McFadden
2006: no second round pick
2007: LaMarr Woodley
2008: Limas Sweed
2009: no second round pick
2010: Jason Worilds
The Steelers had no second round picks in 06 and 09 because they traded down, for Anthony Smith and Willie Reid in 2006 and for Kraig Urbik and Mike Wallace in 2009. Since in both years you can see one as a reasonable pick and one as a fail, it sort of cancels itself out. (In fairness, the Wallace pick weights it toward the overall success side.)
Here is how I view these picks—feel free to disagree as always:
Hits: Kendrell Bell, Antwaan Randle El, Bryant McFadden, LaMarr Woodley
Fails: Alonzo Jackson, Riccardo Colclough, Limas Sweed
Jury is still out: Jason Worilds
One of those picks, Alonzo Jackson, was considered by CHFF to be the worst (Steelers) pick of the decade. (Looking at the figures, I went with Limas Sweed.) All in all, assuming Jason Worilds continues to develop well, they hit on better than 50% of their picks, hit on one big star, (two if you consider Wallace as part of the 2nd round record,) and had several major fails. Who could they have taken instead?
Hindsight is always 20-20, but it is interesting to look at what players, both at the same position and as a so-called “BPA” of any position a team could have taken. I won’t go with players taken well below where the Steelers picked, because it becomes harder and harder to predict success for players taken in the lower rounds, but here are players who would have been available to the Steelers at their second-round spot. I’m going to confine myself to the unsuccessful draft picks, and assume the Steelers had stayed put in the two years they traded down.
2001, 2002: N/A
2003: They could have had Lance Briggs instead of reaching for Jackson, who wasn’t really an OLB in the first place. They could also have taken Jason Witten, TE, or Asante Samuel, CB. (The Pats got Samuel in the 4th round.)
2006: If the Steelers had stayed at their pick (#57) they could have had Devin Hester, DB, Brandon Marshall, WR. or Elvis Dumerville, DE. Hester was taken at #57 and both Marshall and Dumerville were taken in the 4th round.
2008: I think you could argue the best WRs in this class were gone by the time the Steelers picked. But there were a few left who would have given the Steelers more value than they got out of Limas Sweed, notably Mario Manningham and Early Doucet. Since this was the year the Steelers selected Mendenhall, even with BPA they wouldn’t have selected a second back. But they could have gotten either Jamaal Charles or Ray Rice instead of Limas Sweed.
2009: I guess there’s no point to arguing the Steelers should have stayed put. Mike Wallace is worth it.
If you want to argue the Steelers haven’t drafted as well in the second round as one would expect, and I still think it is a reasonable argument to make, what is the problem? First, let’s find out what Advanced NFL Stats has to say about positions other than QB, where we’re already discovered there isn’t much chance of finding a top one in the second round. In an April 2009 article, “Career Success by Draft Order,” they show a steep downward trend, using several different measures. In fact, this drop is quite steep prior to pick #16 and drops more slowly after that. Perhaps the question is how the Steelers do so well in the bottom of the first round, rather than why they aren’t more successful in the 2nd round.
Here are some other thoughts, by position:
DEs: There is a distinct drop-off after the first round, but there is also a reasonable chance of picking up a starter in the later rounds.
WRs: This, from their article, says it all:
As temperamental as they may be, top WR draft picks really do turn out to be stars far more often than later picks. They seem to be a lot like QBs. There is a real scarcity of talent at both positions, and it is difficult to predict with much certainty which ones will pan out. A team’s chances of finding a highly productive player are still better with a top pick.
RBs: Like QBs, the first two RBs in a draft are much better on average than the rest. But their conclusion was interesting enough to warrant printing the whole thing:
Top picks solidly outperform subsequent picks. The top two RBs taken tend to almost be in a class to themselves, then there is a steady decline in expected performance until the 8th RB taken, at which point there is very little to be expected from a pick.
So do teams need a superstar #1 pick RB to win, or can they find a premier runner deep in the draft? Which conventional wisdom was right? My theory is it’s neither.
I think most people still grade RBs in terms of total yards, whether it’s for a single game or for a season. Even though it should be well known now that winning leads to running, rather than vice versa, commentators and analysts continue to count 100 yard games or 1000 yard seasons as measures of RB effectiveness.
But even below-average RBs on winning teams with good passing games and good defenses will tend to accumulate large chunks of total yards due to frequent carries. Even a RB who was a 5th round pick on a great passing team will appear much better than he truly is. I believe that might explain the perception that solid RBs can be found anywhere in the draft.
The better RBs really do come from the top picks. It’s just that they’re not that important, or at least they’re not as important as they were in the 1970s before the NFL became a passing league. Plus, our understanding of which RBs are truly the very good ones is distorted by analysts who insist on total yards as the best measure of RB performance.
DBs: The data seemed to show a better chance of picking up a good DB later in the draft than most other positions.
LBs: Like the data for QBs, the data shows a sharp dropoff after the first couple of LBs taken in a draft.
The continuing theme in this series is that the best players really do come from the top of the draft. No surprise there. But the top players have more than just an incrementally higher chance of great success, but double or triple the chance. The scouts and GMs do have an ability to recognize the players with the most potential at every position we’ve looked at so far.
As I looked at their conclusions, it seems the Steelers have proceeded wisely in the past decade in many ways.
They didn’t mess around with late-round QBs except as back-ups, although taking a chance on the third QB in the 2004 draft might not have been playing the numbers. I have the sense, though, that Ben was their guy, even had they had the second pick. Or else they were really lucky to be picking their QB in a year with three top QBs instead of the usual one or two.
Picking a bunch of DBs in lower rounds and letting them sort themselves out made more sense than spending top dollar for a DB, except in the case of Troy Polamalu, who is a once-in-a-lifetime talent. They have been exceedingly lucky (or exceedingly thorough) in picking up some excellent WR talent in later rounds.
They took mainly high-round DEs and LBs, supplemented with flyers on late-round prospects or UDFAs that occasionally paid off.
The one place you might fault them, according to the Advanced NFL Stats conclusions, would be picking a first-round RB, but given their identity as a “smash-mouth” team its hardly surprising they felt the need to pick high on this. And had they taken advantage of Mendenhall’s receiving capabilities more he might now appear as even more valuable a pick.
So to return to the question of the second round, what’s going on? I’m hardly an expert, but I have a theory. As we’ve already seen, in most positions the first couple of players taken, or at least the ones taken in the upper part of the first round, are the creme de la creme. They are much more likely to excel. By the time you get to the second round there tend to be a lot of “top talents” that slipped out of the first round, combined with lower round talents who raised their stock at the combine or other official events.
I wonder if, in the case of players that slip, there’s a touch of hubris—the Steelers staff feel they know more than the majority of the scouts. Or they are prepared to gamble a bit more, feeling they have a coaching and development staff superior to other teams.
Certainly they get it right more often than not, on balance. But perhaps there is a weakness in their scouting. I noted with interest a comment from Kevin Colbert in re DT Amini Silatolu:
Any small-school guy, they have to prove they can do it at the next level because we can’t see them. They’re missing a step along the way. The further down you go in college football – Division III, II, I – the harder it is to prove you’re worthy of NFL competition because you’re not at that level as you’re preparing for the next step.
Maybe he is really interested in Silatolu, and trying to throw the opposition off-track. But probably not, as that doesn’t seem to be his style. I think the Steelers are genuinely less comfortable with small-school talent, and you can see why. Certainly you would have to allow for more development time, if nothing else. But I suspect this is where most of the real bargains are to be found.
I wonder if the Steelers ought to invest in more scouting staff, and spend more time at small schools. Antonio Brown was not someone on the Steelers’ (or anyone else’s) radar, and they only found him because they noticed him when they went to a small school to scout a different player altogether. So perhaps if the Steelers want to increase their percentage of late-round hits they need to greatly expand their coaching staff and flood the small schools with personal visits.
After all, that’s just a variant on how they first became successful in the 70s – they were scouting the small HBCs no one else was looking at. But really, this should be a discussion for the next article. We will look at the Steelers’ supposed lack of success in the later rounds (as per CHFF) and see whether it is actually true. And what is a reasonable measure of success? How many misses are you allowed when you have a big hit? To be continued…
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
Note: Those of you familiar with Momma’s Mock Drafts may wonder if this article is part of that series, but alas, this is actually a serious article. So if you came for the pictures, ladies, Mike Tomlin is all there is for today.
I wrote a series of articles last fall taking a look at the Steeler drafts from 2007 – 2009. I based my assessment on the talent identification part of the equation, whether it necessarily benefited the Steelers or not. In other words, Kraig Urbik was the second Steelers pick in the 2009 draft, although he was picked in the third round after the Steelers traded down. Given that he has turned into a serviceable guard, or better, I gave the Steelers’ scouting staff props for finding him, even though the Steelers themselves cut him and his guard services have only benefitted another franchise.
But with this assessment I will look at how well the Steelers have drafted in the Kevin Colbert era, considering only how well the picks have done for the Steelers. Since Colbert was hired at the beginning of the year in 2000 I decided it was fair to give him a year, since the 2000 draft picks may not have had his stamp on them quite yet. It’s too early to properly assess 2011—it’s actually probably too early to properly assess 2010 either, but it’s a convenient stopping point. So we will be looking at the drafts from 2001 – 2010.
The first question to consider is whether the Steelers actually do draft well, at least relatively speaking. The second question is whether there is a better way to draft, or whether it’s really a crap shoot no matter what you do. Because ultimately that’s the interesting question. If the Steelers are better than average at their draft choices, that would explain their continued success, even in a small market. But perhaps they aren’t actually better than average, but their policies and coaching after they draft players makes the difference. And if the latter is true, is it possible to also tweak their drafting process to make them even more successful?
So first let’s look at how well they draft overall. In their assessment of the previous decade, which conveniently enough is from 2001 – 2010, Cold Hard Football Facts gave the Steelers a B grade and placed them ninth among the 32 teams. Here’s what they had to say:
Pro Bowlers: 9 (t-4th)
Draftees Active in 2010: 35 (25th)
Players with 50+ Career AV: 3 (t-13th)
Players with 20+ Career AV: 18 (t-11th)
Best Pick: S Troy Polamalu (No. 16 overall, 2003)
Worst Pick: LB Alonzo Jackson (2nd round, 2006)
Summary: The Steelers had the best group of first-round picks in the decade, with two likely Hall of Famers (Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu) along with stars like Maurkice Pouncey, Santonio Holmes, Laurence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Heath Miller and Casey Hampton. They were also one of the least successful in rounds three through seven, interesting since they have such a sharp eye for top talent.
This is really interesting. Let’s look at “the best group of first-round picks in the decade” and where they were picked:
#11 – Ben Roethlisberger
#15 – Lawrence Timmons
#16 – Troy Polamalu
#18 – Maurkice Pouncey
#19 – Casey Hampton
#23 – Rashard Mendenhall
#25 – Santonio Holmes
#30 – Heath Miller
#30 – Kendall Simmons
#32 – Ziggy Hood
Only three times during the decade were the Steelers drafting in the top half of the draft, and one of those was a trade up, to #16 for Troy Polamalu. What is the expected difference in players in the first and second half of the first round?
According to the Draft Value Chart, here are the values of those picks:
The supposed value of the #1 pick overall is 3000. This chart is unofficial and is for trade value, not an assessment of the value of a player taken in that spot. But even though it isn’t really meant to value the players themselves, you could argue there is a relationship to where a player is taken and how likely they are to succeed in the NFL. A higher likelihood of success obvious increases the value of the pick.
But apparently, according to this article in the Wall Street Journal, just being picked in the first round correlates with a high degree of success:
Of the 287 players drafted in round one over the past nine years, 85% are still playing, which is 20% better than the rate for second rounders. The average “one” plays for 9 years, which is nearly triple the league average. They make up 40% of the league’s team captains and they were 140% more likely to make the Pro Bowl in the last decade than players taken in round two.
This may be at least partially a function of how much patience a team is likely to have with a player in whom they have invested a great deal. First-round “busts” are notable for a reason—because they’re fairly unusual, especially in the upper part of the first round. And some of that is possibly attributable to the team that drafts them as much as to the player himself. A given player may ultimately not be a good fit for the system the team runs, or the coaching staff they employ. The team may just suck in at least some areas in their player development. Serious injuries are always a possibility as well.
But to return to the question of whether you can determine the likelihood of a player having a successful career depending on where they were drafted, Advanced NFL Statistics has an answer, or rather, a number of answers. They broke down the chances of a successful career by position, and here is a sample, taken from one of the articles about quarterbacks. (You can find the full articles, bristling with charts and graphs and other impressive things, here.)
There are large drop offs in performance from the 1st QB taken to the 2nd, and from the 2nd to the 3rd. Then from there until the 9th or 10th QB taken, it’s pretty random. It appears that if your team doesn’t get one of the first two QB picks, it might as well take a chance on a later pick. Chances fall off quickly after the first two QBs that a team will find a franchise player.
Ben Roethlisberger is an exception, since he was taken after Eli Manning and Phillip Rivers. And Roethlisberger is far and away the most successful QB who was not a #1 or #2 QB in their class during the 2001 – 2010 drafts, at least to this point.
During the 2001-2010 drafts 128 quarterbacks were drafted. Of those, 27 have been drafted in the first round. I’ve heard of all but three of them, or about 11%. All four of those players were drafted prior to 2005. Since I wasn’t even a football fan until partway through the 2009 season, this indicates as well as anything else these players have made a reasonable impact and/or had a reasonable lengthy career.
Conversely, of the remaining 101 QBs drafted in rounds 2 – 7, I had only heard of 22 of them, or just over 20%. Of those, here are the QBs with a significant number of starts, or, in the case of Matt Flynn, about to get a significant number of starts: (the number in parenthesis is where the player was taken in among all QBs in that year, the second the actual draft position, so Drew Brees was the 2nd QB taken in the draft, in round 2 at pick #32, which was in the 2nd round at the time)
Drew Brees (2) 2/32
Jimmy Clausen (3) 2/48
Chad Henne (4) 2/57
Tavaris Jackson (5) 2/64
Kevin Kolb (3) 2/36
Colt McCoy (4) 3/85
Matt Schaub (5) 3/90
Kyle Orton (7) 4/106
Curtis Painter (11) 6/201
Matt Cassel (12) 7/230
Ryan Fitzpatrick (13) 7/250
Matt Flynn (12) 7/209
So is there a decent amount of correlation between where a player is taken in the draft and how likely they are to succeed? The “value” of pick #224 is 2. The “value” of pick #1 is 3000. Baron Batch was taken by the Steelers in 2011 at #232, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll assume the value of #232 is still 2. Is Cam Newton, the 2011 #1 overall pick, 1500 times as likely to succeed in the NFL as Baron Batch? Is Andrew Luck (or Robert Griffin III, possibly) 1500 times as likely to succeed as whoever is picked last this year?
But that may not be a fair question. Perhaps it makes more sense to ask “Is Cam Newton, the first QB to be taken in the 2011 draft, (draft value 3000) 366 times more likely to succeed than Greg McElroy, the last QB to be taken in the 2011 draft? Because the draft value of pick #208, where McElroy was taken, is 8.2.
There were 14 QBs taken in the 2004 draft after Ben Roethlisberger. Of those 14, I’ve only heard of one of them, Matt Schaub. Their supposed draft values are 1250 (Ben) and 140 (Schaub.) Has Ben proven to be about nine times as valuable as Matt Schaub? Probably. After all, the Steelers have been to three Super Bowls since 2004 and won two of them. In the final assessment things may change. Ben may get injured in the pre-season and never play again, while the Texans surge into NFL dominance and pick up a couple of rings. But although Ben is almost certainly not nine times better a QB per se as Matt Schaub, the combination of him and the Steelers have gained a lot more than Schaub and the Falcons/Texans so far.
Although I focused on the quarterback position for this segment of the series, it seems appropriate to me, given all the hoopla over quarterbacks this year. The Steelers drafted three quarterbacks between 2001 and 2010, and got it right for the one that mattered the most. This, despite the fact they are the only team during these years to successfully pick up their franchise quarterback after the second quarterback in the draft was gone.
The Steelers have clearly done very well in the first round, despite the generally low spot they pick at. They moved up once, for Troy Polamalu. They spent their highest pick in the decade on a quarterback and got it right. They moved down once and got a Pro Bowl nose tackle. The majority of the time they were picking in the lower half of the round, and that does make a difference. The Wall Street Journal article shows you expect some reasonable level of success from any first-round pick, but the Cold Hard Football Facts folks still determined the Steelers to have drafted the most successfully in the first round of any team during the ten years in question.
Well, that’s enough for the moment. The next article will deal with Round 2. The Steelers don’t do nearly so well in Round 2, as I expect most of you know. We’ll look at the players they chose, why they went wrong, who they might have picked instead at the same position, and whether they ought to call up BTSC for suggestions : )
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
Normally not much happens now. We are less than a week away from the beginning of free agency and more than a month and a half removed from the draft. We content ourselves with speculation concerning attractive free agents, who might be available to us in the draft, we mourn the releases of old favorites and breathe a sigh of relief when we rid ourselves of those whom we view as liabilities. And that’s pretty much it. But some things are happening right now that will have repercussions into the regular season regardless of what happens on the player personnel front. At first blush the news might not seem to concern us too much, but look a little closer.
The Peyton Manning release. Why should Steeler Nation be concerned? We are certainly one of a relative handful of teams with a reliable franchise quarterback who has absolutely no interest in the Manning sweepstakes; though I am sure that there is someone out there prepared to argue that we should dump Ben for Peyton. If Manning lands with an AFC team, which I believe likely, then the balance of power in the conference will be affected. This will be especially true if he ends up in some place like
They’ll be losing sleep in
In my own mind I admit to a bit of creeping complacency. The conference has been living on its reputation of late. We haven’t won a Super Bowl in the last three tries. ‘Strong’ teams like
However the Manning issue is resolved will probably raise the bar for the entire conference, and particularly for any teams who have serious aspirations for contending for a championship.
The Bounty Issue. There is so much significant and uncharted territory associated with this that I think that it may be hard to imagine the full impact until we have to live it. Suffice to say that the Saints franchise may be effectively crippled by it in both the short and long term.
Why it is relevant for Steeler Nation is two fold. First, and perhaps most positively, our defensive players will likely be relieved of their roles as poster children for mayhem in the NFL, at least for the near term. On the other hand, how all this combines with the other safety issues that we have been discussing lately on site is yet to be determined. The legitimate concerns expressed over the manner in which the league has approached this matter will be buried in the wake of an understandably severe response to the Saints. The methods and motives of defensive football may well be under trial everywhere as part of that response. And, of course, once a precedent has been set in terms of higher levels of punishment, it will be easier to visit that kind of treatment across the board. Watch out James!
Impact of the new CBA. The full effect of this will not be known until after the draft, but as maryrose pointed out earlier in the week it has already influenced how the Steelers are conducting business in this cycle. The important long term question will be whether the team can continue its stellar record of drafting and free agent decision making under the new rules. Just an important a short term concern is surviving the peculiar challenges brought on by the lockout and the uncapped year.
What is pretty amazing is that we know a lot about how this season may unfold before one free agent has been signed or one player drafted. Pretty interesting year already.
Source: Behind the Steel Curtain
In the regular season, preseason and postseason, NFL players can get fined if they use Twitter at any time from 90 minutes before kickoff until after they’ve takled to the media after a game. But in the Pro Bowl, not only will players not be fined for tweeting, but it’s actually being encouraged, with computers…