Editor’s note: This NFL Draft will be the 20th under Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. His two-decade tenure has produced two Super Bowls and a consistent playoff contender. His drafts mostly reflect that. Like all NFL personnel men, though, he has had some picks he would like to have back. In conjunction with the Trib’s daily positional previews leading up to the April 25 start of the draft, we’ll look back at Colbert’s three best and three worst picks at each position.
During about a decade from the early 1990s to early 2000s, the Steelers built one of the NFL’s best defenses, in part, by being one of its most unique.
They were zigging by running a 3-4 while the majority of other teams were zagging with a 4-3. As such, the Steelers exploited the market on draft day by almost having their choice of college defensive ends who were undersized by NFL defensive-line standards.
It’s how they found mid-round outside linebacker gems such as Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon and Joey Porter, all of whom became standouts in Pittsburgh. Eventually, the rest of the NFL evolved and started targeting those types of players, too, closing the hole in that market inefficiency.
To punch back, the Steelers needed to draft their outside linebackers earlier. That phenomenon is reflected by where their best and worst edge rushers have been selected over the past two decades.
1. LaMarr Woodley
2007, second round, 46th overall
It might not be hyperbole to say through five NFL seasons, Woodley had the look of a potential Hall of Famer. Including the playoffs, he had 55 sacks over his first 77 games (60 starts). But his body began to break down at age 27, after which he appeared in just 40 games and had just 10 sacks.
2. Clark Haggans
2000, fifth round, 137th overall
After a virtual redshirt year followed by three years as a backup, Haggans earned a second contract and was a solid starter for some good Steelers teams for four years. He won a Super Bowl ring with them and lasted 13 NFL seasons.
3. T.J. Watt
2017, first round, 30th overall
The book isn’t complete in telling the tale of Watt’s NFL career, but the early chapters have been encouraging. Watt has 20 sacks through two seasons, but to borrow a favorite phrase of coach Mike Tomlin, he’s no one-trick pony, either. Watt is good in the run game and in coverage, too.
1. Alonzo Jackson
2003, second round, 59th overall
Confident and productive during a college career at powerhouse Florida State, the Steelers were hoping they had their next great edge rusher when they nabbed Jackson with the pick after they took future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu. Jackson played in only nine regular-season games for the Steelers, though, and much of his time came on special teams.
2. Bruce Davis
2008, third round, 88th overall
Davis did not record a tackle, appeared in only five regular-season games for the Steelers and was cut before the start of his second season. Along with Jackson, Davis was a cautionary tale on converting college defensive ends to 3-4 outside linebackers.
3. Jarvis Jones
2013, first round, 17th overall
Jones was the rare first-round miss for the Steelers, regardless of position. He might be the best evidence for those who make the argument that combine/pro day measurables trump college production. Jones had six sacks in four NFL seasons after having 28 his final two seasons in the SEC for Georgia.