Past Drafts Part V: Peeking Behind the Steel Curtain

The Steelers’ fortunes don’t quite seem to be so positive these days. These past two draft classes are examples in how everything can go wrong for a team, from the sure picks to the approved picks to the questionable picks.

Following an 8-8 season, Pittsburgh will need to fare better in the 2013 NFL Draft if they’re going to be playoff contenders once again.

2012 NFL Draft:

  • 24th overall: Stanford OG David DeCastro

DeCastro dropped a bit from his top-15 projection, but he still went in the top-25 to Pittsburgh. Projected as the starting right guard, tragedy struck when DeCastro suffered a gruesome injury during the preseason–a torn MCL, dislocated kneecap and damage to the patellar tendon. Pittsburgh placed DeCastro on injured reserve with a tag to return, he was activated in late November and started the final three games of the season. DeCastro has plenty of skill and he has the size to succeed at guard. In a questionable offensive line, DeCastro is a shoo-in for starting in 2013.

  • 2nd Round, 24th pick: Ohio St. OT Mike Adams

The second of two offensive linemen drafted to shore up a struggling and aging line, Adams was considered to be a bit weak for tackle and performed inconsistently throughout his Ohio State career (including a poor Senior Bowl showing in 2012). Pittsburgh took Adams as a future right tackle, but instead spent the entire offseason grooming him as the first-team left tackle. Due to an MCL sprain to Adams, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was shifted over to left tackle and Adams started at right tackle when he recovered. Ultimately, Adams started six games before going down with a season-ending ankle injury in week 12. Adams is likely to be a major player at tackle in the future, but he played very poorly in 2012 and he’s in danger of losing favor with the coaching staff if he can’t develop some consistency.

  • 3rd Round, 23rd pick: Miami LB Sean Spence

Spence was drafted in 2012 with the intention of making him the heir apparent to Larry Foote as the second inside ‘backer (next to Lawrence Timmons) in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. Spence did well in camp, as the undersized tackling machine learned both inside ‘backer positions and looked prepped to serve as a reserve inside ‘backer and special teams player in 2013. As with the previous two selections, Spence also suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve, wiping out his rookie season. Spence’s injury was dramatic, including a torn ACL, torn MCL, dislocated kneecap and a damaged nerve in his knee–making for one tough injury to rehab from. Spence likely will sit out 2013, and his career is in question at this point.

  • 4th Round, 14th pick: Washington DT Alameda Ta’amu

Ta’amu is an example of another pick gone awry for the Steelers. Although considered a developmental nose tackle with a possibility to replace aging Casey Hampton in the future, Ta’amu’s career with Pittsburgh derailed following several felony charges related to a drunk driving incident–which occurred prior to Ta’amu ever taking the field for the Steelers. Having played no games and facing a suspension, Ta’amu was eventually waived and added to the practice squad, only to be waived later in the season once again. His future with Pittsburgh is questionable at best, and his history of injury problems in college combined with off-the-field issues may be a poison pill for his NFL career.

  • 5th Round, 24th pick: Florida RB Chris Rainey

Rainey is another example of how being red-flagged for off-the-field concerns can dramatically decrease a player’s draft stock. A star at Florida, Rainey likely would have gone earlier in the draft if not for run-ins with the law, and Pittsburgh thought they were getting a steal talent-wise with this pick. Fast forward a year later, and Rainey made little impact for the Steelers before being arrested yet again and receiving his walking papers from Pittsburgh. Rainey does have talent as a returner and his speed offers big play ability at running back, but the character concerns may be career threatening–if he gets another chance it won’t be with Pittsburgh.

  • 7th Round, 24th pick: Colorado WR Toney Clemons

Clemons was considered a developmental pick when Pittsburgh selected him, as he’s got size (6’2″ 210 lbs), speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and exhibits both ability to run after the catch and block well for a receiver. However, Clemons also exhibited problems with drops and ended up on the Steelers practice squad as a result. As Jacksonville signed Clemons off the squad, Pittsburgh saw no return for this pick.

  • 7th Round, 33rd pick: Oregon TE David Paulson

Paulson made a name for himself at Oregon as a pass-catching H-back type player, with a remarkable 10 touchdowns in 67 career receptions as a Duck. With a H-back in David Johnson on the roster and Heath Miller starting at tight end, Paulson made the team as a reserve tight end and special teamer in 2012. In parts of all 16 games he managed seven catches for 51 yards and was on the field very little. The current rumor out of Pittsburgh is the Steelers may be looking at Paulson to start in 2013 while Miller recovers from ACL and MCL surgery–which would be good news for Paulson and likely bad news for Pittsburgh as a whole.

  • 7th Round, 39th pick: Texas A&M CB Terrence Frederick

There’s little to say about Frederick other than he didn’t make it through final cuts and ultimately ended up with the Giants. Frederick is just one more wasted draft pick in Pittsburgh’s 2012 draft class.

  • 7th Round, 41st pick: SMU OT Kelvin Beachum

A tackle at SMU, Beachum was predicted to have to move inside as a pro due to his size (6’2″ 302 lbs) and lack of strength for the tackle position in the NFL. Beachum impressed the coaching staff in camp, and was one of the main backups heading into the season–Beachum’s versatility allowed him to play all five line positions if Pittsburgh found themselves in a pinch. That’s exactly what happened in 2012, as injuries forced Beachum into the starting right tackle position for five starts (seven games). Beachum didn’t grade out favorably in his time on the field, but he wasn’t a dramatic downgrade from fellow rookie Mike Adams. Beachum’s versatility will likely lead to a role as a swing guard or tackle even if he can’t gain a starting role at left guard moving forward.

2011 NFL Draft:

  • 31st overall: Ohio St. DE Cameron Heyward

Although Heyward has seen action in every game since he was drafted, Heyward’s selection was clearly a pick up for the future. Through two seasons, Heyward talled 31 tackles and 2.5 sacks as a rotational backup behind veteran Brett Keisel and 2009 first-round pick Ziggy Hood. Pittsburgh has been grooming Heyward to be a successor at end for two seasons now, and with Keisel’s contract expiring after the 2013 season, Hood possibly losing his starting job after another disappointing season (and his rookie contract is expiring too) and the possibility that Hood could be moved inside, there’s a chance Heyward could be given a chance to start. Steve McLendon is also in the mix, so until camp starts it’s unknown where Pittsburgh will go with the defensive line.

  • 2nd Round, 31st pick: Florida T Marcus Gilbert

Gilbert was drafted with the intention of making him a starting tackle. Since his selection, Gilbert has started at right tackle when healthy–which has been a problem, having played only five games in 2012 and 14 in 2011. Gilbert has performed well since his selection, and the Steelers seem prepped to move Gilbert over to left tackle this offseason, letting 2012 second-rounder Mike Adams man the right side. If Gilbert can stay healthy, he’s a solid starter for Pittsburgh.

  • 3rd Round, 31st pick: Texas DB Curtis Brown

Brown was a player heavily overrated in the media, with some mocks listing him as a potential first-round pick. Brown was considered to be best on special teams, and was only Texas’ nickel back behind Aaron Williams and Chykie Brown. With only two picks in his career at Texas, Brown was counted by Pittsburgh’s scouts as the best cover corner of the trio–which would explain why he came up with so few interceptions since supposedly quarterbacks wouldn’t throw his way. Brown’s rookie season was unremarkable, with 11 tackles recorded on special teams and not a single down played on defense prior to landing on injured reserve. Expected to challenge for slot corner duties in his sophomore season, Brown overcame the competition and played 15 games before landing on injured reserve and missing the final game of the season. He tallied 28 tackles and two pass breakups, with the coaching staff criticizing his play at times and ultimately being pulled from nickel duties late in the season versus San Diego. Brown is likely heading back to a reserve role in 2013 following the re-signing of veteran corner William Gay and emergence of Cortez Allen as a starter opposite Ike Taylor.

  • 4th Round, 32nd pick: Citadel DB Cortez Allen

While Allen may have been the second corner taken in the 2011 draft class, Allen has had more of an impact in his two-year career than Curtis Brown. Allen played mostly special teams as a rookie, tallying 15 tackles. Allen started towards the end of his sophomore campaign after Ike Taylor went down with an ankle injury, and would have started the final four games of the season if not for injury forcing Allen from playing in week 15 against the Cowboys. He finished the season with 55 tackles, 10 deflections, two interceptions and three forced fumbles. It’s likely Allen will start at corner opposite Taylor in 2013 now that Keenan Lewis has signed with New Orleans, although veteran free-agent signee William Gay could make a bid for the job.

  • 5th Round, 34th pick: Fresno St. LB Chris Carter

It was curious to many why Carter fell so far in the draft, as reportedly many teams had graded him as a third-round talent. Carter’s rookie season saw him make the transition to 3-4 outside ‘backer following his career at Fresno St. at 4-3 end. Carter bulked up a bit to play special teams and tallied only three tackles prior to being placed on injured reserve halfway through the season. Heading into 2012, Carter practiced with special teams ahead of 2010 second-round pick Jason Worilds as James Harrison recovered from knee surgery. Carter ultimately started the first three games of the season prior to Harrison’s return during the week 4 bye–after which Carter served as the primary backup and played on special teams until an abdominal injury landed him on injured reserve once again. Carter managed only eight tackles and a pass deflection in his eight games in 2012, and the departure of Harrison may mean Pittsburgh is going to bring in a rookie to compete with Worilds and Carter for the starting spot in 2013.

  • 6th Round, 34th pick: Nebraska OG Keith Williams

Williams is yet another example of a Pittsburgh pick never having an impact on the field for the Steelers. A good-sized mauler in the run game, Williams didn’t develop as a pass-blocker enough for Pittsburgh, and was cut loose with final cuts. Williams later latched on with the Bills.

  • 7th Round, 36th pick: Texas Tech RB Baron Batch

Batch was thrown into a crowded backfield in 2011, and might have escaped roster cuts due to a torn ACL that landed him on injured reserve. Considered a camp warrior in his rookie season, Batch came back and was in consideration for a third-down role prior to a groin injury that kept him out late in preseason and early on in the 2012 season. Batch struggled to make a role for himself in his sophomore campaign and was even waived at one point prior to being signed once again. He only managed 25 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown prior to suffering a broken arm in week 16. Not being able to make a mark in Pittsburgh’s poor backfield in 2012 makes Batch’s prospects of future success dim.

And with that, the Steelers are done. Next up for NFL DR is the very first NFL Draft Reports Mock Draft feature, followed by a foray into the NFC East’s Past Drafts features.

Stay tuned!

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