The Steelers are back in the first-round of the NFL Draft after a self-imposed absence in 2020 due to the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. So what can we expect from Kevin Colbert and the team? Many of the professional mock drafts have the Steelers selecting a tackle, Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma is the popular choice or running back Najee Harris of Alabama (amongst others).
So how have the Steelers faired picking in the first-round? Since Colbert became involved in the draft process in 2000, the team has had 20 selections, and a great deal of them have been a success. As of last year, eight of those twenty picks were still contributing to the team on a high level. Since then, possible future Hall of Famer Maurkice Pouncey retired and Bud Dupree left in free agency after an injury shortened career year.
That leaves Ben Roethlisberger (2004), Cameron Heyward (2011), David DeCastro (2012), T.J. Watt (2017), Terrell Edmunds (2018) and Devin Bush Jr. (2019) as the six remaining first-rounders still on the Steelers roster. They will be joined by this year’s selection, making seven for the 2021 season.
Let’s take a look back at the rest of the Steelers picks since the 2000 season.
With the highest pick that Kevin Colbert and the Steelers have had to work with since 1989, the Steelers opted to go wide receiver in the first round, taking Plaxico Burress the 8th overall. Burress would play 11 years in the league, five with the Steelers before heading to the New York Giants. Burress had a good career, but had his biggest success with the Giants. Most notable was his Super Bowl 42 clinching touchdown catch with 35 seconds left in the game as the Giants stunned the undefeated Patriots.
With the 19th pick, the Steelers grabbed “big snack” nose tackle Casey Hampton from Texas. Hampton was a starter practically from day one and would play 11 years in the league, making five Pro Bowls and helping the team win two Super Bowls.
The Steelers had to wait until the 30th pick after a great regular season in 2001. They took Auburn guard Kendall Simmons, who started for the team for five years but never became a star.
Picking 16th, the Steelers struck gold with Troy Polamalu. Not much more needs to be said about this pick.
Going back-to-back Hall of Famers is why the Steelers have been as successful as they’ve been. Although he’s not in the Hall yet (because he’s still on the roster) the selection of Ben Roethlisberger at number 11 will forever be one of the best picks in franchise history. Two Lombardi trophies later, Roethlisberger will have at least one more year to add another.
After a loss to the Patriots in the AFC Title Game, the Steelers had the 30th pick. The used that on Virginia tight end Heath Miller. The franchise fan favorite would start 15 games his rookie year, which also coincided with a Super Bowl victory over the Seattle Seahawks.
After winning their first Super Bowl under former head coach Bill Cowher, the Steelers used their 25th pick on a future Super Bowl hero, wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
The first draft for Mike Tomlin was all about defense and the team took Florida State linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the first round. Timmons would have a very good 10 year career with the Steelers, racking up nearly 1000 tackles, 35.5 sacks and 12 interceptions.
The 2008 Draft saw the Steelers do something they hadn’t done since the ill-fated 1989 NFL Draft, pick a running back in the first round. Rashard Mendenhall became just the fifth running back selected by the Steelers in the first round, joining Franco Harris, Greg Hawthorne, Walter Abercrombie and Tim Worley. Mendenhall had a few good years with the Steelers, but was a lot closer to Worley, Abercrombie and Hawthorne than the legendary Franco Harris. A cautionary tale for the Steelers this year?
The Steelers won their second Super Bowl of the decade but did not enjoy the same level of success with their subsequent draft pick. Defensive end Evander Hood struggled early with the team before becoming a starter in year two. Hood would play five years in total with the club before leaving for Jacksonville in 2014.
The 2010 NFL Draft was the first of three consecutive home run picks for the Steelers. With the 18th pick, the team grabbed Florida center Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey would start from day one and helped the team reach the Super Bowl after the 2010 season.
Still contributing to the team at a high level, fan-favorite Cameron Heyward was the pick at number 31. A two-time First-Team All-Pro, Heyward has manned the defensive line for the Steelers since becoming the full-time starter in 2013. Despite a slow start to his career, Heyward has been one of the best defensive players in the NFL over the past four years, being named All-Pro twice and making four straight Pro Bowls.
The Steelers took a guard with their first round pick, snatching up Stanford’s David DeCastro at No. 24. DeCastro has made six consecutive Pro Bowls and was named First-Team All-Pro in 2015 and 2017.
Jarvis Jones was the Steelers first round pick in 2013. One of the biggest busts of the Tomlin/Colbert era. Nobody bats 1.000.
After taking an outside linebacker in 2013, the Steelers looked to the inside and took Ohio State’s Ryan Shazier. Shazier looked like he was on his way to superstardom before a tragic injury ended his career.
It took a while, but Bud Dupree, the Steelers 1st round pick from Kentucky, finally established himself as a premier pass-rusher in the league, teaming with T.J. Watt to terrorize quarterbacks in 2019 and 2020. Unfortunately his production (19.5 sacks over the last two years) also meant that he priced himself out of Pittsburgh. Dupree signed with the Tennessee Titans this offseason.
If Jones isn’t the biggest bust in recent Steelers draft history, it’s 2016 pick Artie Burns. The Miami cornerback seemed on his way to regular starter but was unable to stay on the field after a two year run. Burns hasn’t seen action in an NFL game since 2019.
After a bust (Jones), a tragedy (Shazier), and a late bloomer (Dupree) the Steelers needed to replenish their linebacker corps. Enter Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Watt. Despite his brother terrorizing quarterbacks and winning three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, the rest of the NFL decided to pass up on the Watt bloodlines, allowing the Steelers to snatch up T.J. at number 30. Two All-Pro selections later, it looks like the Steelers made the right choice. Watt has finished as the runner-up as DPOY the last two seasons and will look to finally break through in 2021. The only question seems to be can he repeat his success without Dupree on the other side.
The jury is still out on Steelers 2018 1st round pick Terrell Edmunds. He’s never been a fan favorite, but Edmunds has started nearly every game since being drafted. His continued growth this season will be key in his eventual future with the team.
Not content to wait for a linebacker to fall to them, the Steelers moved up in the draft to pick Devin Bush Jr. out of Michigan. Bush had a solid rookie year but a promising sophomore season was cut short after an injury against the Cleveland Browns. Bush looks to be on track for a full recovery in 2021.
The Steelers went against the grain by trading their first round pick to the Miami Dolphins for young superstar safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. So far so good.
Since Kevin Colbert joined the team, the Steelers have picked a defensive player 12 times with the first pick. The team has picked defense in each of the last seven years and have gone with linebackers with five of the seven picks.
The Steelers have picked offensive skill positions in only four instances and haven’t used first-round draft capital on one since 2008 (Rashard Mendenhall).
The Steelers haven’t drafted a tackle in the first-round since Jamain Stephens in 1996.
Half of the team’s first-round selections have made at least one Pro Bowl and five were selected as First-Team All-Pro.
|2019||10||Devin Bush Jr.||LB||0||0||0||12||21||20||Michigan|
|2018||28||Terrell Edmunds||S||0||0||3||16||47||43||Virginia Tech|
|2016||25||Artie Burns||CB||0||0||1||15||58||32||Miami (FL)|
|2014||15||Ryan Shazier||LB||0||2||3||29||46||41||Ohio St.|
|2011||31||Cameron Heyward||DE||2||4||8||77||149||114||Ohio St.|
|2007||15||Lawrence Timmons||LB||0||1||9||72||172||140||Florida St.|
|2006||25||Santonio Holmes||WR||0||0||6||47||112||91||Ohio St.|
|2004||11||Ben Roethlisberger||QB||0||6||16||128||233||231||Miami (OH)|
|2003||16||Troy Polamalu HOF||DB||4||8||10||94||158||142||USC|
|2000||8||Plaxico Burress||WR||0||0||10||69||148||138||Michigan St.|