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Steelers insider: Steelers' inconsistency linked to draft duds

| Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, 12:07 a.m.
Steelers Ricardo Colclough against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium Oct. 2007. Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review file

There are 186 days until the NFL Draft. That's six months to watch college games, read draft reports, monitor the NFL Combine and figure out what name Roger Goodell should announce as the Steelers' first-round pick.

If the first 13 drafts conducted by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert are any indicator, it's a day that could alter team history — one way or another.

By the way, that first Colbert draft occurred 4,572 days ago — about one day for every projected yard that 2004 first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger might throw for this season.

That 2004 draft perfectly illustrates the ups and downs of drafting, an art form at which Colbert often excels.

The Roethlisberger pick was clearly the gem of his picks, but the next one — second-rounder Ricardo Colclough — was arguably his worst.

While Colbert (and coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, who have a say in the matter) enjoyed a string of first-round successes in Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, he has struck out, too. That's no different than every other NFL general manager.

The ups and downs of this season's unpredictable Steelers are reflected in those up-and-down drafts. One year, the picks are Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown; another year, they are Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis and Tony Hills.

So, let's do what Colbert can't: Turn back the clock, rewrite history and redraft. This isn't to suggest what Colbert should have done, but to look back at what he could have done.

2004: Colclough, second round, No. 38 overall.

Maybe the Steelers should have stopped after taking Big Ben, but they traded with the Colts to move up and get a player Cowher loved. The first red flag should have been his college (tiny Tusculum); it proved to be a case of little school, big bust. The Colts used the Steelers' pick to grab future Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.

2005: Fred Gibson, fourth round, No. 131.

Gibson, a wide receiver, got into trouble at Georgia for selling his SEC Championship ring. But that was nothing like his bill of goods someone sold the Steelers. Gibson was cut at the end of training camp and later landed in the NBA D-League. They could have had Josh Cribbs or defensive tackle Chris Canty, who went to the Cowboys on the very next pick.

2006: Anthony Smith, third round, No. 83; Willie Reid, third round, No. 95.

Perhaps the worst single round in Steelers draft history. Smith was best known for ill-advisedly guaranteeing a win over the unbeaten Patriots; Tom Brady torched him then taunted him. Reid was more of a punt returner than a receiver, and he did neither well in a seven-game Steelers career. The Steelers could have had receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive end Elvis Dumervil.

2008: Limas Sweed, second round, No. 53; Bruce Davis, third round, No. 88.

They badly needed a receiver. Instead they got, well, a bad receiver in Sweed. Two picks later, Ray Rice went to Baltimore. And even Adam Dunn hasn't struck out like the Steelers did with the nonathletic Davis, a linebacker; the Lions grabbed sack machine Cliff Avril four picks later.

2010: Jason Worilds, second round, No. 52.

Worilds leads the Steelers with three sacks, and he isn't close to being a certifiable disappointment. But there was considerable debate whether the Steelers should have grabbed Penn State linebacker Sean Lee of Upper St. Clair. Lee is now one of the NFL's leading tacklers.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at arobinson@tribweb.com.

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