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NFL Draft

Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: Defensive Line

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We’ve looked at every one of the Steelers offensive and special teams draft picks from the 21st century, AKA the Kevin Colbert era.

Steelers draft picks in the 21st century series: Running Backs | Wide Receivers | Tight Ends | Offensive Line | Quarterbacks | Special Teams

Now we’re onto defensive side of the ball.

It’s not a coincidence that in the Steelers’ Super Bowl appearances from 2005-2010  the team was top five in both yards and points allowed. And although being in the upper echelon in both categories hasn’t always translated into a Super Bowl appearance (see 2001, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2019) but it has meant playoffs in four of those seasons and included two additional AFC championship appearances.

At the heart of those defenses was a stalwart defensive line. Anchored by Colbert picks like Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, the Steelers run defense was exemplary, and their play helped open up lanes to the quarterback for the team’s linebackers Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Lamar Woodley, and James Harrison.

In recent years, the team has once again relied on Colbert draft picks to keep things locked down upfront. Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave have all been key cogs in the defense, with Heyward making two All-Pro teams in recent years.

2000: 3rd round, Kendrick Clancey, DT, Mississippi; 6th round, Chris Combs, DE, Duke
2001: 1st round, Casey Hampton, NT, Texas; 6th round, Ronald Bailey, DE, Ohio St.

The man known as “big snack” would make 5 Pro-Bowls with the Steelers, starting 164 games throughout his exemplary tenure with the team. Hampton didn’t put up flashy numbers, he only had 9 career sacks, but his ability to absorb offensive lineman made things a lot easier for the rest of the defense and was one of the best run stoppers in football.

2002: 7th round, Brett Keisel, DT, BYU

Maybe the best late round pick in recent Steelers history (not named Antonio Brown), Keisel would team up on the defensive line with Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Kimo von Oelhoffen to help lead the team to three Super Bowl appearances and two wins.

2003: None
2004: 5th round, Nathaniel Adibi, DE, Virginia Tech; 7th round, Eric Taylor, DT, Memphis
2005: 7th round, Shaun Nua, DE, BYU
2006: 4th round, Orien Harris, DT, Miami
2007: 4th round, Ryan McBean, DT, Oklahoma St.
2008: None
2009: 1st round, Ziggy Hood, DE, Missouri; 6th round, Ra’Shon Harris, DT, Oregon

Ziggy Hood wasn’t a bust, but he never lived up to his 1st round selection. He ended up playing five years with the Steelers, but only started full time for two years before leaving in free agency. As recently as July 2019 he was still in the NFL, but he currently finds himself out of football.

2010: 4th round, Thaddeus Gibson, DE, Ohio St.; 7th round, Doug Worthington, DT, Ohio St.
2011: 1st round, Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio St.

The Steelers struck 1st round gold with Cameron Heyward and he’s been paying big time dividends for much of the past decade. Solid if unspectacular for the first part his career, it wasn’t until 2017, his age 28 season, that he started being recognized as one of the best D-linemen in the NFL, being selected as a First-Time All-Pro twice and making three Pro Bowls in the past three seasons. He was named by PFF as the second best defensive lineman in the NFL this season.

2012: 4th round, Alamada Te’Amu, DT, Washington
2013: 7th round, Nick Williams, DT, Samford
2014: 2nd round, Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame; 6th round Daniel McCullers, DT, Tennessee
2015: 6th round, Leterrius Walton, DT, Central Michigan
2016: 3rd round, Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina St.

Throughout the 10’s, the Steelers have been adept at spending their early draft capital on linemen. Between Heyward, Tuitt and Hargrave, the team was able to piece together a strong, homegrown defensive line, which allowed them to spend their free agency dollars elsewhere.

2017: None
2018: 7th round, Joshua Frazier, DT, Alabama
2019: 6th round, Isaiah Buggs, DT, Alabama

2000-2020 defensive line draft breakdown

Total selections: 23
Years selecting DL: 17/20

Selections by round:

1st round: 3
2nd round: 1
3rd round: 2
4th round: 4
5th round: 1
6th round: 6
7th round: 6

Selections by conference:

SEC: 5
ACC: 3
Big 12: 2
Big 10: 4
PAC 12: 4

Power 5: 19
Group of 5: 4

Notes:

The Steelers have had great success early but almost nothing from rounds 4-7 have worked out. … A notable exception was 2002 7th round pick Brett Keisel. … Colbert drafts Big 10 defensive linemen from Ohio State or nowhere at all. … Cam Heyward has the 2nd most sacks of any player drafted by the Steelers in the Colbert era with 54. Lamar Woodley is the leader with 58. … Casey Hampton is the Steelers defensive leader in starts since 2000 with 164 amongst players drafted by Colbert. Bret Keisel is 6th. … Cam Heyward is only one of three Steelers draft picks since 2000 to be selected to the All-Pro First-Team.

NFL Draft

Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks

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Instead of trading for a proven running back like Leonard Fournette, the Steelers simply drafted a rookie with their 4th round pick. That rookie is Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland. To fully explain what McFarland brings to the table, Mike Asti was joined by Adam Zielonka, who is a sports reporter for the Washington Times. Zielonka also touched Antoine Brooks, the other Maryland product drafted by the Steelers.

Click here to also watch Mike and others discuss if the Steelers should have instead traded for Leonard Fournette on Pittsburgh Sports Live.

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2020 NFL Draft

Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft

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Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.

“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”

With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.

Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.

Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.

“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.

“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”

Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.

It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.

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2020 NFL Draft

Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show

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It was eat, sleep, draft coverage, repeat for Mike Asti and the Steelers Now crew this past week. And now that the draft is over, Mike Asti evaluates each pick and gives his thoughts on some moves he says the Steelers should have made.

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