The common theme among football analysts is that it takes three years to truly assess a draft class, and that sounds about right. How many times have we seen a rookie flash and then disappear? And, at the same time, on how many occasions have we seen a player take two or even three years to finally break into the lineup and become a star?
There's also this: The average NFL career lasts 3.3 years. So some of those players who are three years in might not be around much longer because of injury or ineffectiveness.
Draft grades overall have some issues, as well. If you're picking in the top-10, you'd better get an A for your draft. At the very least, you should score a B. But depth in a draft should matter, as well.
For example, the Steelers in 2010 not only landed a perennial Pro Bowl player at pick 18 with Maurkice Pouncey, they also selected future Hall of Fame receiver Antonio Brown in the sixth round with the 195th selection. Of course, had they realized Brown would turn into what he did, they would have taken him much earlier.
"If a player who lasts into the sixth round becomes a star, it was our mistake because we should have taken him earlier," Kevin Colbert has said about that.
But that 2010 draft also netted the team a future team sacks-leader in linebacker Jason Worilds — albeit in a career that was cut short — and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. That has to earn it an A rating, though it had misses, as well, such as Thaddeus Gibson in the fourth round when Geno Atkins was selected four picks later by Cincinnati.
Point is, it's much easier to look at a draft in proper perspective the farther you get away from it.
So let's double down on that three-year career time frame and take a look at the 2012 draft, now six years removed from when it happened and see where the Steelers went right and where they went wrong.
Round 1, David DeCastro, G, Stanford: Though his rookie season was wrecked by a knee injury, DeCastro, the 24th player selected, has turned into one of the best guards in the league. It's hard to argue with this pick, even though there were some good players selected after him in the first round — Donta Hightower, Whitney Mercilus, Kevin Zeitler and Harrison Smith among them. Thumbs Up.
Round 2, Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State: Adams wasn't as bad as some might think. He just wasn't the left tackle the Steelers envisioned. When he played on the right side, he was OK. Injuries derailed his career or he might still be playing, though not with the Steelers. But there were some other great options available, notably Lavonte David, who would look good in a Steelers uniform, or cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Trumaine Johnson. Defensive lineman Vinny Curry was available, as well, but wouldn't fit the Steelers' scheme. Thumbs Down.
Round 3, Sean Spence, LB, Miami (Fla.): Spence was Ryan Shazier light before the Steelers took Shazier a couple of years later. And he looked like he would be that linebacker with the ability to both cover and play the run until a severe knee injury wrecked his career in the preseason. It took him a couple of years to come back from that and he was an effective player for the team after that before leaving in free agency, later returning after Shazier was injured last season. But the knee injury robbed him of being what he could have. Had the Steelers taken Lavonte David in the second round, they wouldn't have needed to make this pick. But things worked out as they did. For a third-round pick, Spence was a serviceable player after the injury. The Steelers could have selected Nick Foles, taken two picks later, but would have hit a home run with T.Y. Hilton, who was selected six picks later. Running back Lamar Miller was still available, as was Kirk Cousins. Thumbs up, slightly.
Round 4, Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington: Ta'amu was big and physical. He also had a screw loose, something everyone should have realized when he walked to the Wal-Mart in Latrobe and suffered a foot injury that kept him out of practice. The big nose tackle then got himself into hot water with the law by going on an ill-advised drunken drive through the South Side. Interestingly enough, Ladarius Green, signed by the Steelers as a free agent in 2016, was the next pick in that draft, and Coty Sensabaugh, who is currently on the Steelers' roster, was taken six picks later. Brandon Boykin, a player the Steelers traded for in 2015, also was available. More importantly, Green Bay took Pro Bowl defensive end Mike Daniels with a compensatory pick in that round. Big thumbs down.
Round 5, Chris Rainey, RB, Florida: This is what can happen when you trust a player, in this case Pouncey, to vouch for a player. It worked with Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, so the Steelers went back to the well and took Rainey, who had already had legal issues in college. In this case, those issues followed him to the NFL. Rainey was released by the Steelers in a one-strike-and-you're-out situation after having an altercation with a woman regarding a cell phone. He has bounced around the NFL and is currently playing in the CFL. He had talent, but the off-field drama that surrounded him was too much. Cincinnati selected Marvin Jones and George Iloka with back-to-back picks after Rainey was taken. Thumbs down.
Round 7, Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado; David Paulson, TE, Oregon; Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M; Kelvin Beachum, OT, SMU: The Steelers had three compensatory picks in the seventh round and they hit gold with Beachum, who would eventually become the team's starting left tackle — ahead of Adams — despite being the 248th player selected. He later left as a free agent and helped net the Steelers a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, which they used on James Conner. Only three more picks were made after that. Paulson played a couple of seasons for the Steelers, while Clemons kicked around the league for a few years after being signed off the Steelers' practice squad. Frederick still plays in the CFL. That's really good value out of the four picks. Thumbs up.
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