3 best, worst Steelers safety draft picks in the Kevin Colbert era
Editor’s note: This NFL Draft will be the 20th under the eye of Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. His two-decade tenure has produced two Super Bowls and a consistent playoff contender. Colbert’s drafts mostly reflect that. Like all NFL personnel men, though, he’s had some picks he’d like to have back. In conjunction with the Trib’s daily positional previews leading up to Thursday’s start of the draft, we’ll look back at Colbert’s three best — and three worst — picks at each position.
Over the past two decades, safety has become an increasingly important position in the modern NFL. One of the best draft picks in Steelers history helped usher that in.
Troy Polamalu played safety like no one before him. The Steelers traded up to take the future Hall of Famer in the first round of the 2003 draft, and he held down their strong safety spot for more than a decade.
Perhaps in part because of that, the Steelers largely have ignored drafting safeties in the Colbert era as head of football operations. They only took four between 2000-2012, but in the four drafts since Polamalu’s retirement they taken four, including two last season.
The Steelers have drafted nine safeties over the past 19 drafts, making it difficult to identity six superlatives as “best and “worst,” particularly when it would be unfair to judge the young players currently on the roster. The story has yet to be told about Sean Davis, Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen.
It also should be pointed out that the Steelers have avoided abject failure with drafting safeties. The names on the “worst” list are a pair of final-day picks and another player who managed a six-year NFL career (hardly “bust” material).
1. Troy Polamalu
2003, first round, 16th overall
The Steelers believed Polamalu was so special, they made the uncharacteristic move of trading up 11 picks in the first round. In part, they did that because the cost was reasonable (third- and sixth-rounders). If the Kansas City Chiefs weren’t willing trade partners, how much would Steelers history have changed?
2. Ryan Mundy
2008, sixth round, 194th overall
A Woodland Hills alum, Mundy lasted seven seasons in the NFL, including five with the Steelers. He started 30 games, albeit only five for the Steelers, but he was blocked by Polamalu and Ryan Clark. All in all, Mundy carved out a nice career for a sixth-round pick.
3. Chris Hope
2002, third round, 94th overall
With “Incomplete” grades affixed to Edmunds and Davis (to differing degrees, each has a chance to ascend on this list), Hope stands out after he played 11 seasons in the NFL. Seven of those were as a starter, including 2004-05 with the Steelers. Hope was part of the Super Bowl XL champion defense, and he made the Pro Bowl in 2008 while playing for Tennessee.
1. Anthony Smith
2006, third round, 83rd overall
While Smith is infamous in Pittsburgh for his “guarantee” the Steelers would beat the undefeated Patriots in 2007, it is unfair to label a third-round pick who had a six-year NFL career as a “bad” pick. Smith getting the designation as the worst Steelers safety pick is a reflection of how the Steelers have avoided major gaffes over the past two decades.
2. Gerod Holliman
2015, seventh round, 239th overall
Typically, players taken 239th overall are such a crapshoot it’s difficult to criticize their selection. But Holliman was so underwhelming at his rookie training camp the Steelers cut him and saw no use for him on their practice squad. His regular-season NFL career consisted of five days on the Tampa Bay practice squad.
3. Shamarko Thomas
2013, fourth round, 111th overall
Thomas is still active: He’s on the Denver roster after playing six games for the Broncos last season. A six-year career for a fourth-round pick is commendable. Thomas’ downfall was the Steelers made him their handpicked successor for Polamalu, and he wasn’t equipped for that role.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .