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.