If you read my colleague’s 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft post from April 30, 2014, you will see that he projects the Steelers selecting wide receiver Paul Richardson from Colorado with the 97th overall in the 3rd round. Here is his detailed explanation for the pick along with alternate picks:
“Paul Richardson is a wide out that comes in the mold of what the Pittsburgh Steelers prefer when drafting a wide receiver. He needs to add weight which he should be able to do with his frame without losing speed. He has nice hands and runs his routes very well. He had 83 catches, for 1,343 yards, and 10 touchdowns. His was a very productive player for a bad college football team. Adding depth and picking up another playmaker is what this offense needs”.
Alternate Pick- Da’Quan Jones, DT, Penn St. Christian Jones, LB, Florida St. Caruan Reid, DT, Princeton
Whether the Steelers pick any of these players in the 3rd round or not, it is safe to say that it is a pivotal point in the 2014 NFL Draft. Whoever they select at 97th overall could have the greatest impact for the Steelers now and in the future. The 3rd round has been kind and not so kind over the years. Is it more important than the 1st round? The following discussion will illustrate some of the reasons why.WR Hines Ward was the Pittsburgh Steelers best 3rd round draft pick since CB Mel Blount.
What do Steeler players like Mel Blount and Hines Ward have in common? They are both Super Bowl champs. They hold franchise records and made such an impact on the game when they played that they forced the NFL to adopt rules governing play. Blount is probably the best cornerback in team history and Ward has to be considered to be one of its greatest receivers. They were third round players and All-Pros and overlooked coming out of college (sleepers, if you will).
The Steelers most recent 3rd round picks were major disappointments and underachievers. From Anthony Smith and Willie Reid in 2006 to Bruce Davis in 2008 to Curtis Brown in 2011, the failure to develop third-round picks has been an issue for a team that prided itself on finding “diamonds in the rough”. When the Steelers drafted very serviceable third-round players, they were not on the roster for very long opting to sign elsewhere as free agents.
ESPN analyst Bill Polian, a former general manager for the Bills, Panthers and Colts, said there is good reason the Steelers have experienced a setback with third-round picks. Inherently, third-round picks have a boom or bust quality to them. “Generally speaking, third-round picks tend to be guys with talent, but there is some chink in the armor,” Polian said. “They’re either overachievers or they’re underachievers. They can have great talent, but there might be a character issue. If you hit on one once in a while, that’s good. But there is a miss factor there. In the first and second rounds you pretty much know what you’re getting. In the third round, you don’t as much.”
When they have made good third-round picks, they have been very successful in putting championship teams on the field. Consider linebacker Jason Gildon, the franchise leader in sacks; linebacker Joey Porter, the emotional leader of the Super Bowl XL championship team; linebacker Mike Merriweather, a three-time Pro-Bowler who once recorded 15 sacks in a season and quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who led the Steelers to Super Bowl XXX.
“Everyone is focused on the first guy in the first round, but there are a lot of good football players who are not first-rounders,” said Tom Donahoe, the former director of player personnel for the Steelers who drafted Ward, Gildon and Porter. “You are always worried about your depth and tomorrow. You’re concerned about free agency. You’ll lose some guys. You can handle free agency better if you have guys who are waiting in the wings to take over a spot. It’s critical to be able to do that. Luck plays a major factor as well”. Donahoe points to Kris Farris, the 74th overall selection in 1999, never played in a game for the Steelers.
Ward dropped in the draft for two reasons. He was born without ACLs in his knees and he was forced to play quarterback in his senior season at Georgia because the team was infiltrated by injuries. For years, the Steelers took calculated gambles on tweeners (players who were converted to play a different position than they did in college, i.e. college defensive ends who would become outside linebackers in their 3-4 scheme. Porter and Gildon made the transition, but Bruce Davis did not.
When teams make good third-round picks, it can change the course of history. The most famous third-round pick is Joe Montana, who has four Super Bowl wins. He was deemed by scouts to be too small to play quarterback in the NFL. Last year’s Super Bowl winning quarterback, Russell Wilson, also was a third-round pick. Like Montana, there were concerns about Wilson’s size coming out of Wisconsin. Some other famous third-round picks in recent years include Terrell Owens, Jason Taylor and Curtis Martin.
“In the third round you are getting a top-100 guy,” said longtime scout and draft evaluator Joe Butler. “You can find some of the better guys in the draft. It’s an important round because you should be getting starters. In the third, fourth, and fifth rounds, you can get guys who slip for various reasons. They can develop into some big-time players.”
That has not happened often for the Steelers lately. Safety Anthony Smith left after three sub-par seasons. So was cornerback Curtis Brown, who was released in March without ever starting a game. Willie Reid, a wide receiver and punt returner with speed to burn, left after two seasons. Bruce Davis, outside linebacker, lasted only one season. Offensive lineman Kraig Urbik was released after one season because Ramon Foster, an undrafted free agent in 2009, developed into a starter. Urbik is now a starter in Buffalo.
The Steelers have made some quality third-round picks. They had three third-round draft picks in 2009 and all three became starters and played at a high level, but are now with other teams. Here is a list of some of those players - WR Mike Wallace (Super Bowl winner and starter), CB Keenan Lewis (Super Bowl winner), WR Emmanuel Sanders (starter) replaced by another third-round pick, Markus Wheaton. The only third-round picks currently on the roster are Wheaton (2013), linebacker Sean Spence (2012) and tight end Matt Spaeth (2007).
Whether it has been bad drafting, bad player development, bad luck or the Steelers not renewing a contract, they have not signed many third-round picks to second contracts lately. Regardless of round or pick in the draft order, the Steelers are hoping for the next Blount or Ward and not the next Curtis Brown or Willie Reid. I’m sure the organization would be content with a player somewhere in the middle like a Joey Porter.