Best, worst 1st-round picks of Kevin Colbert’s Steelers tenure
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 coverage leading up to Thursday’s start of the draft, we’ll look back at Colbert’s three best — and three worst — picks in each round over the years.
Perhaps more than any other isolated factor, the Steelers’ sustained success over the past quarter century-plus can be attributed to a consistent ability to “hit” on their first-round picks.
It was 1996 (Jamain Stephens) the most recent time the Steelers completely whiffed with their first draft choice. Even first-round picks that most would say the Steelers have “missed” on have at least produced short-term starters.
And the “hits,” wow. During the Colbert regime, no fewer than four first-round picks so far are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Most would say Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu are locks. As perennial Pro Bowlers and All-Pro honorees, if Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro have long careers, they will be in the conversation for Canton, too.
Bottom line: When either DeCastro or Pouncey must be left off a top-three list, and when a player with 142 career NFL games over 10 seasons such as Ziggy Hood is debated as one of the three “worst” of 19, it’s a sign the Steelers have been strong in the first round.
A quick look:
Three best first-round picks
1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, 2004, 11th overall
After the big, strong-armed quarterback from Miami (Ohio) fell out of the top 10 of the draft 15 years ago, team president Dan Rooney stepped in and ensured the Steelers didn’t pass him up. It’s a pick that perhaps is second only to the drafting of Joe Greene as the most important in franchise history.
2. Troy Polamalu, S, 2003, 16th overall
Polamalu is an eight-time Pro Bowler, six-time All-Pro (four of those on the first team) and two-time Super Bowl champion. He’s one of the most popular players in Steelers history, uniquely talented and one of the most entertaining players in NFL history.
3. David DeCastro, G, 2012, 24th overall
It’s almost impossible to choose between DeCastro and Pouncey here. DeCastro is the choice because he represents better value at No. 24 overall than Pouncey at No. 18 overall (two years earlier). When healthy, each can be penciled in to an All-Pro team before every season even begins.
Three worst first-round picks
1. Jarvis Jones, OLB, 2013, 17th overall
Despite some poor measurables, Jones was coming off a college season in which he led the nation in sacks. The Steelers hoped he could be their next great edge rusher, but Jones had six sacks in four seasons. The Steelers declined his fifth-year option, and Jones never played an NFL game again.
2. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, 2008, 23rd overall
Despite a stellar 13-touchdown, 1,273-yard 2010 season, Mendenhall largely isn’t remembered well in Pittsburgh. Two of his five seasons with the Steelers were marred by injury, and his critical fumble late in Super Bowl XLV was a significant factor in the Steelers’ loss. Mendenhall wasn’t terrible by any means, but his tenure came before most teams learned to de-value running backs in the draft.
3. Artie Burns, CB , 2016, 25th overall
This seems unfair to Burns, whose Steelers tenure isn’t even over yet and still has a chance to redeem himself. It was only about 20 months ago he was looked at as a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. But Burns lost his confidence — and his job — last season, and signs point to this being his final year in black-and-gold.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .