The first day of the NFL Draft gets all the hype, and for good reason. That’s (usually) where you’ll find your superstar quarterbacks, your dominant linemen, you’re elite edge rushers and cornerbacks. But there’s plenty of value to discover on day two of the draft.
The Steelers have found a lot of great value in the second and third rounds of the Draft in the Colbert era. They may not be as sexy as the 1st rounders, but the Steelers have managed to find Pro Bowl quality receivers (Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, JuJu Smith-Schuster), running backs (Le’Veon Bell, James Conner), quality tackles (Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Marcus Gilbert) and other perennial starters (Stephon Tuitt, LaMarr Woodley).
From 2000-2019, the Steelers had 42 2nd and 3rd round selections. Of the 42, 12 never started for a full season and of those players, three were drafted in the last three seasons and are still on the team, with a chance to start in the future. Nine of the Steelers picks have made at least one Pro Bowl, but only one was named as a 1st team All-Pro (Le’Veon Bell).
So who are the best 2nd and 3rd round selections of the Colbert era? Let’s take a look.
(Honorable mentions: Marvel Smith, Max Starks, Chris Hope)
6. Emmanuel Sanders, 3rd round (82 overall), wide receiver, SMU
Sanders was the second member of “Young Money” to leave the Steelers after the team chose Antonio Brown to be their franchise receiver in 2014. Sanders has been a very solid number two receiver for a long time but never put up big time numbers until after leaving for Denver following the 2013 season. Sanders had 101 receptions for 1,404 yards in 2014 playing with Peyton Manning. Sanders won a Super Bowl in his time with the Broncos and made two Pro Bowl teams. Still productive, Sanders was traded to the Super Bowl runners-up, San Francisco 49’ers in 2019.
5. Stephon Tuitt, 2nd round (46 overall), defensive end, Notre Dame
Tuitt hasn’t quite had the career of some of the other names on this list, and even players who didn’t make the cut, but he’s been a five year starter and looked to be on the cusp of crossing the threshold from good to great before an injury cut short his 2019 season. There are some big things expected from Tuitt in 2020 and playing with Cam Heyward on the defensive line and T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree should provide him with ample opportunities to show off his full prowess.
4. JuJu Smith-Schuster, 2nd round (62 overall), wide receiver, USC
JuJu Smith-Schuster is still certainly a work in progress. But the upside he showed in his sophomore season puts him on the list. Smith-Schuster is in possession of the Steelers’ fourth highest single-season catch total (114) and fifth highest yardage (1426). Was it just a product of playing opposite Antonio Brown? That question hasn’t fully been answered as his 2019 was beset by injuries, Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges. Ask us about Smith-Schuster after 2020 and he could be off the list entirely, or well on his way into the top three.
3. Mike Wallace, 3rd round (84 overall), wide receiver, Mississippi
A fantastic deep ball receiver, Wallace was the first member of “Young Money”, the Steelers trio of young wide receivers that replaced Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle-El and Santonio Holmes. Drafted in 2009, Wallace only lasted four years with the Steelers, but put up over 750 yards each season, averaged 8 touchdowns per seaons and twice surpassed the thousand yard mark. Wallace continued to have success after he left the team following the 2012 season before retiring in 2018.
2. LaMarr Woodley, 2nd round (46 overall), linebacker, Michigan
Picked in the second round after the Steelers selected Lawrence Timmons with their first round pick, LaMarr Woodley was a stalwart at outside linebacker for the Steelers’ second Super Bowl win in 2008 and their appearance in 2010. Woodley teamed up with James Harrison to wreck havoc on opposing quarterbacks for seven seasons in Pittsburgh. Woodley made the Pro Bowl in 2009 and finished his career with 54 sacks in seven seasons, including double digits in 2008-2010.
1. Le’Veon Bell, 2nd round (48 overall), running back, Michigan State
It’s kind of depressing that the Steelers’ top middle and late round picks are no longer with the team (see also Antonio Brown, our choice of top Colbert late round selections.) But Le’Veon Bell’s body of work is too good to ignore. After an inauspicious rookie year, Bell flourished in year two as he put up over 2,000 yards of combined offense (1361 yards on the ground and 854 through the air). Injured in his third year, Bell bounced back with back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons and a second 1st team All-Pro selection in 2017. A patient runner without breakaway speed, Bell was equally adept at catching the ball out of the backfield and was a strong pass blocker as well. As much as his contract dispute sit out left a sour taste in the mouths of Steelers fans, there’s no denying Bell was one of the best running backs in Steelers history.
Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks
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.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
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.
Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show
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.