Revisiting the Draft Classes of the Steelers and Packers

As readers are well aware based on my previous posts, I’m fascinated by the NFL Draft. Both of this years’ Super Bowl teams built their squads almost entirely through the draft. Neither team has made anything close to a free agent splash in the last several years. You have to go back to the Packers’ signing of Charles Woodson in the 2006 offseason for the last big free agent signing.

I decided to look back at the last ten NFL drafts for each team. Although both teams built through the draft, they took different routes to get there. The Steelers dominated the early half of the decade, knocking several drafts out of the park. Meanwhile, the Packers struggled in the first half of the decade and have built their team through successful drafts in the latter half of the decade. The Steelers have tended to nail the first picks of each draft while the Packers have struck gold in the later rounds.

A comparison of the drafts from 2001 to 2010:

2001 –

Green Bay: 6 picks (0 still with team)
1st pick – Jamal Reynolds, DE, Florida State (10th overall)

Best pick: Robert Ferguson, WR, 41st overall pick. Ferguson is the best of a weak Packers draft class. He contributed for five years with the Packers as a #3 or #4 receiver before the team cut him in 2006.

Worst pick: Reynolds. Many thought the undersized defensive end was a reach with the tenth overall pick in the draft. They were right. Reynolds never cracked the starting lineup and languished behind 2000 fifth round pick Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila for three years before the Packers cut him.

Other contributors: Not much. Only Ferguson, SS Bhawoh Jue (71st overall), and TE David Martin (198th overall) lasted more than three years with the team, and all were gone by 2006.

Pittsburgh: 7 draft picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Casey Hampton, NT, Temple (19th overall)

Best pick: Hampton, by a mile. The five-time Pro Bowler has been the anchor of the Steelers’ front line for the past decade. Hampton is a proverbial “destructive force” and is instrumental in the success of the Steelers’ feared defense.

Worst pick: T Mathias Nkwenti (111th overall). Sure, the Steelers probably weren’t expecting a ton of production from a fourth round project. However, they probably were expecting more than eight games and zero starts in three seasons.

Other contributors: LB Kendrell Bell (39th overall). Bell was a Pro Bowl linebacker and had three productive seasons with the Steelers before injuries prematurely ended his career. Besides that, a pretty dry draft for the Steelers.

2002 –

Green Bay: 6 picks (0 still with team)
1st pick – Javon Walker, WR, Florida State (20th overall)

Best pick: Aaron Kampman, DE (156th 0verall). The fifth round draft pick anchored the left side of the Packers’ defensive line for most of the 2000s. Kampman had 54 career sacks for the Packers and made the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007 before he signed with the Jaguars in the 2010 offseason.

Worst pick: Marques Anderson, SS (92nd overall). The third round pick wins the worst pick by default. The Packers did not have a pick between Walker and the third round, so Anderson was the second pick of the Packers in this draft. He only played two seasons for the Packers and, according to Wikipedia, is currently coaching football in Norway.

Other contributors: Walker; RB Najeh Davenport (135th overall). Walker was a Pro Bowl receiver and potential star in the making before an ugly contract dispute in 2005. Najeh “Poopy Pants” Davenport was a decent but injury-prone backup running back for the Packers for four years.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (3 still with team)
1st pick: Kendall Simmons, G, Auburn (30th overall)

Best pick: Brett Keisel, DE (242nd overall pick) with honorable mention to LB James Harrison. This was a great draft for the Steelers, but surprisingly, the best pick goes to seventh round pick Kiesel. Kiesel rode the bench for several years before he entered the starting lineup in 2006. Since then, he has been a mainstay on the Steelers line and made the Pro Bowl for the first time in 2010. Honorable mention goes to four-time Pro Bowler and 2008 NFL Defense Player of the Year James Harrison, who inexplicably went undrafted, so I can’t give him the best pick award. Currently Harrison is perhaps the most feared defender in the NFL. Any time you can get two Pro Bowlers in the seventh round or later, that’s a solid draft.

Worst pick: None. Although none of the Steelers’ picks became stars outside of Keisel and Harrison, there wasn’t a single bust in the group.

Other contributors: Simmons, Antwaan Randle El (62nd pick), Chris Hope (94th pick), Larry Foote (128th pick), Verron Haynes (166th pick). Simmons was a five-year starter at guard, including the Super Bowl-winning 2006 season. Randle El has never put up big numbers, but the college quarterback-turned-wide receiver seems to pull off at least one gadget play every game. Hope was a solid safety for the Steelers, but didn’t become a Pro Bowler until he left for the Titans in 2006. Foote was a starter at linebacker for six years and now provides backup support off the bench. And Haynes was a fun third down back for several years.

2003 –

Green Bay: 9 picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Nick Barnett, LB, Oregon State (29th overall)

Best pick: Barnett. Although not without his faults, Barnett has anchored the Packers’ linebacking corps for most of the past decade. He started fifteen games as a rookie and hasn’t relinquished his starting role since then. Unfortunately, he was hurt in the fourth game of this season and will miss the Super Bowl.

Worst pick: Take your pick. The rest of the Packers’ draft is littered with the names of players that most Packers fans don’t remember: Kenny Petersen, James Lee, Brennan Curtin, Chris Johnson (the cornerback), DeAndrew Rubin, Carl Ford, and Steve Josue. None lasted more than two seasons with the Packers. Fifth round pick Hunter Hillenmeyer has had a decent career with the Bears after the Packers cut him in the 2003 preseason.

Other contributors: Cullen Jenkins, DE, Central Michigan (undrafted). The injury-prone Jenkins is still contributing for the Packers. He was an average defensive end for his first several years in the league, but has come into his own under Dom Capers’ 3-4 scheme. He had a career-high seven sacks in just eleven games this season.

Pittsburgh (5 picks, 2 still with team)
1st pick: Troy Polamalu, S, USC

Best pick: Polamalu. Only five picks in 2003, but the Steelers still knocked it out of the park. If Harrison isn’t the most feared defender in the NFL, then Polamalu certainly might be. Six Pro Bowls, three First Team All-Pro selections, and one Defensive Player of the Year Award, and my only thought when I looked that information up was: “he only has three first team selections?” Enough said.

Worst pick: Alonzo Jackson, LB (59th overall). Jackson never started a game in two seasons with the Steelers – a rare miss at the linebacker position from the Pittsburgh front office.

Other contributors: Ike Taylor, CB (125th overall). Taylor has started at cornerback for the last six seasons for Pittsburgh and has helped the team win two Super Bowls. Amazing to think that the Steelers only got two producers out of five picks and they STILL had one of the best drafts of any team in 2003.

2004 –

Green Bay (6 picks, 1 still with team)
1st pick: Ahmad Carroll, CB, Arkansas, 25th overall

Best pick: Scott Wells, C (251st overall). I promise, future drafts get better for the Pack. Wells is the only pick still with the team and is one of the stalwarts of the sometimes porous Packer front line. He started all 16 games for the team this season.

Worst pick: Carroll. Hands down the worst cornerback I’ve ever watched on a consistent basis. Carroll had a knack for a) getting burned and b) picking up a lot of penalties. Not the ideal characteristics you want in a cornerback. Carroll was abruptly cut after Week 4 of the 2006 season after he was beat for two long touchdown passes.

Other contributors: None. I suppose you could make an argument for sixth round draft pick Corey Williams’ four seasons as a backup defensive end and undrafted fullback Vonta Leach’s three productive seasons. But I won’t. Another crappy draft for the Pack.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (2 still with team)
1st pick: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (OH)

Best pick: Roethlisberger. Another no-brainer. Two Super Bowl wins plus another appearance this season…all before he turns 30.

Worst pick: Ricardo Colclough, CB (38th overall). Colclough never started a game in four seasons with the Steelers. Although you can’t say that the Steelers don’t learn their lessons: they have yet to draft another cornerback from Tusculum University. So that’s something.

Other contributors: T Max Starks (75th overall), RB Willie Parker (undrafted). The 6-foot-8 Starks has been a starter at tackle for the better part of the last seven years. Fast Willie earned two Pro Bowl nods and was the main running back on both of the Steelers’ Super Bowl-winning teams in the 2000s. Funny how the Steelers tend to go boom or bust in these drafts. With Roethlisberger and Parker, this was another rousing success for the team despite the fact that four of the team’s eight picks never even played a down for the Steelers.

2005 –

Green Bay: 11 picks (4 still with team)
1st pick: Aaron Rodgers, QB, California (24th overall)

Best pick: Rodgers (duh!). The first of several strong draft classes for the Packers. Three players are starters on the Packers’ Super Bowl team: Rodgers, Pro Bowl FS Nick Collins, and LB Brady Poppinga. Still, the obvious pick is stud young quarterback Rodgers. As an aside, as Joe Posnanski pointed out today, drafting quarterbacks is a crapshoot. The Packers and Steelers are set for years to come because they were one of the lucky teams to draft a star QB in the first round.

Worst pick: Marviel Underwood, SS (115th overall). This award probably should go to second round pick Terrence Murphy. Murphy’s career unfortunately ended with a broken neck suffered in the first game of his second season. I can’t bring myself to put Murphy as the worst pick, so the honor goes to Underwood. Underwood actually had a productive first season, but missed his second season with an injury and was cut in the preseason before his third year.

Other contributors: Collins (51st overall), Poppinga (125th overall), C Junius Coston (143rd overall), DE Mike Montgomery (180th overall). Collins and Poppinga have anchored the Packers’ defense since they were drafted. Coston and Montgomery were decent backup contributors for a few seasons for the team.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (4 still with team)
1st pick: Heath Miller, TE, Virginia (30th overall)

Best pick: Miller. For the third year in a row, the Steelers knocked their first round pick out of the park. The Pro Bowl tight end has been an integral part of the Steelers’ offense, starting all but six games since he entered the league.

Worst pick: WR Fred Gibson (131st overall). The fourth round draft pick out of Georgia never played a down for the Steelers.

Other contributors: CB Bryant McFadden (62nd overall), T Trai Essex (93rd overall), G Chris Kemoeatu (204th overall), WR Nate Washington (undrafted). McFadden was mostly a backup for his first four seasons with the Steelers before joining the Cardinals in 2009. He was traded back to the Steelers in 2010 and started every game this season. Essex was shifted to guard after he was drafted. He was a full-time starter in 2009 but has been mostly a backup since then. Kemoeatu turned into a decent steal – the sixth round pick has stared for the Steelers for the last three seasons. Washington earned two Super Bowl rings as the Steelers’ slot receiver before the Titans overpaid for him in 2009.

2006 –

Green Bay: 12 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: AJ Hawk, LB, Ohio State (5th overall)

Best pick: Greg Jennings, WR (52nd overall). Another solid draft for the Packers. Perennial Pro Bowler Jennings might have been one of the steals of the draft. Drafted 52nd overall out of Western Michigan, the sure-handed Jennings quickly established himself as a favorite of former QB Brett Favre. He has been the Packers’ best receiver for the last five years and led the NFL in touchdown catches this year. Perhaps even more importantly, his emergence allowed the aging Donald Driver to drop into the #2 receiver spot and gave the Packers one of the best receiving crews in the league.

Worst pick: Abdul Hodge, LB (67th overall). Count me as one of the many Packer fans who thought the team got a steal with Hodge in the third round. He only lasted one season with the Packers and is currently a backup for the Carolina Panthers.

Other contributors: Hawk, G Daryn Colledge (47th overall), G Jason Spitz (75th overall), DT Johnny Jolly (183th overall), CB Tramon Williams (undrafted). Hawk is not the star linebacker that the Packers hoped for, but he has been a starter for five seasons. Colledge was a bit of a mess for a few years but have since become better than average guards. Spitz has served as backup for pretty much every offensive line position. Jolly looked like a potential steal after he was a dominant force for the team for a few years. Then the NFL suspended him indefinitely after he was caught trafficking codeine. And Williams, who first signed with the Packers in November 2006, has been so good that he inspired me to write this post.

Pittsburgh: 9 picks (1 still with team)
1st pick: Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State (25th overall)

Best pick: Holmes. Yet another strong first round selection from the Steelers. Holmes was the top receiver alongside Hines Ward on the Steelers’ Super Bowl XLIII winning team. For his efforts in the big game, he was named Super Bowl MVP. The Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets in the 2010 offseason because of legal troubles.

Worst pick: Take your pick. Five of the Steelers’ nine picks never played for the team and a sixth, WR Willie Reid, caught only four passes in two seasons. If pressed, the award probably goes to third round pick Reid, as the five players who never played for the team were drafted later than the fourth round.

Other contributors: T Willie Colon (131st overall). Colon started 50 consecutive games at tackle between the end of the 2006 season and the 2009 season before tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2010 preseason.

2007 –

Green Bay: 11 draft picks (6 still with team)
1st pick: Justin Harrell, DT, Tennessee (16th overall)

Best pick: LB Desmond Bishop (192nd overall). The 2007 class didn’t produce any stars, but did produce some solid contributors. Bishop gets the nod as best pick with his clutch performance this season. Prior to this year, Bishop was viewed as an undersized backup; his emergence as a decent player led to the team waiving Hodge. However, this season, with the Packers’ linebacking corps decimated by injury, Bishop has stepped in to solidify the defense and help lead the team to the Super Bowl.

Worst pick: Harrell. Harrell was viewed as a reach with the 16th overall pick. He has done nothing to sway critics since then. Although he is still on the team (thanks to injured reserve), he has only started two career games for the Pack. With the emergence of B.J. Raji this season, Harrell is unlikely to have a role next season. Fortunately for him, he will likely get hurt in July so the Packers will be able to move him to the injured reserve.

Other contributors: RB Brandon Jackson (63rd overall), James Jones (78th overall), FB Korey Hall (191st overall), K Mason Crosby (193rd overall). The Packers didn’t end up with a single starter (other than Crosby) in this bunch, but all are still contributing to the team. Jackson has been decent as a rusher and Jones has given the squad a talented #4 receiver that allows the team to run their beloved four receiver set.

Pittsburgh: 8 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Florida State (15th overall)

Best pick: LaMarr Woodley, LB (46th overall). In just three seasons as a starter, Woodley already has a ridiculous 39 sacks. He finished third in the league with 13.5 sacks in his Pro Bowl 2009 season. Woodley gets the slight edge over the under-appreciated Timmons, who has been less dynamic but no less impressive in his two seasons as a starter.

Worst pick: None. Each of the Steelers’ top four picks in the draft are still key contributors. Hard to give a worst draft pick honor after that.

Other contributors: Timmons, TE Matt Spaeth (77th overall), P Daniel Sepulveda (112th overall), CB William Gay (170th overall). Spaeth is not the star tight end that Heath Miller is, but has still been solid for the Steelers. When he plays, Sepulveda is one of the best punters in football, averaging 43.4 yards per punt. Unfortunately, he has torn his ACL three times and his missed parts of two seasons. Gay sees plenty of game action as the Steelers’ nickel back.

2008 –

Green Bay: 9 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Jordy Nelson, WR, Kansas State (36th overall)

Best pick: Nelson (for now). The Packers did not have a first round pick in 2008 but still came up with solid role players. Nelson joined Jones as a slot receiver in the Pack’s four receiver sets. He figures to be a contributor in that role for years to come. He gets the best pick honor (for now) because fourth round pick TE Jermichael Finley emerged as a stud early this year before an injury ended his season early.

Worst pick: Brian Brohm, QB (56th overall). Funny how times change. The Packers drafted Brohm in the second round to challenge then-new starter Aaron Rodgers. Brohm couldn’t even beat out seventh round pick Matt Flynn for the backup job and was last seen throwing three interceptions for the Buffalo Bills as a spot starter in the 2010 season finale. And Rodgers…well, he turned out pretty good.

Other contributors: Finley, G Josh Sitton (135th overall). After years of wasting second and third round picks on guards, the Packers may have found their long-term solution in fourth round pick Sitton. He has started every game in the last two seasons. Four other Packers are still on the roster, but none have done much outside of special teams work.

Pittsburgh: 7 draft picks (5 still with team)
1st pick: Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Illinois (23rd overall)

Best pick: Mendenhall has been by far the best player of the Steelers’ weak 2008 class. He saw little action in his first season but has since become the running back that the Steelers expected when they drafted him. He entered the starting lineup for good in Week 4 of the 2009 season and has run for almost 2,400 yards since then.

Worst pick: Limas Sweed, WR (53rd overall). Sweed was a mess for his first two seasons and grabbed only seven career catches. He missed the entire 2010 season with an Achilles injury.

Other contributors: Not much. The Steelers grabbed a decent backup quarterback in the fifth round with Dennis Dixon and a backup strong safety with Ryan Mundy in the sixth round. Dixon has started three games and Mundy two games as spot starters.

2009 –

Green Bay: 8 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College (9th overall)

Best pick: Clay Matthews, LB (26th overall). This really was an amazing draft for the Packers. The obvious standout is Matthews. In two years, Matthews already has two Pro Bowl selections and finished runner-up this season for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Just a stud.

Worst pick: Jamon Meredith, T (162nd overall). Tough to name a worst pick this soon after the draft. Meredith wins by virtue of being the only Packer draft pick not still with the team.

Other contributors: Raji, T T.J. Lang (109th overall), FB Quinn Johnson (145th overall), LB Brad Jones (218th overall), P Tim Masthay (undrafted). Matthews and Raji are probably enough to make this an amazing draft for the Pack – anything else is just icing on the cake. Lang and Johnson are both valuable backups for the team and Jones could prove to be a steal based on his performances in spot starts over the last two seasons. Masthay has been only an average punter, but that undrafted looks a lot better when you remember that the Packers spent a third round draft pick in 2004 on a punter (B.J. Sander) who only played one season with the team.

Pittsburgh: 9 picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Ziggy Hood, DT, Missouri (32nd overall)

Best pick: WR Mike Wallace (84th overall). The third round draft pick had a breakout season this year after the Steelers traded away Santonio Holmes in the offseason. The deep threat caught 60 passes for 1,257 yards this season. His 21.0 yards per catch led the AFC.

Worst pick: T Kraig Urbik (79th overall). In what appears to be an ongoing theme for the Steelers, their second pick in the draft never played a game for the team. He was released after the 2009 season and currently plays for the Buffalo Bills.

Other contributors: Hood, TE David Johnson (241st overall). Hood cracked the starting lineup midway through this season and looks like the Steelers’ potential defensive end of the future. Seventh round pick Johnson started seven games this year at the tight end position. The remaining players still on the team have seen little action.

2010 –

Green Bay: 7 draft picks (7 still with team)
1st pick: Bryan Bulaga, T, Iowa (23rd overall)

Best pick: Bulaga. Another year, another great draft. Amazingly, four of the seven rookies that the Packers drafted started a game this season (Bulaga, S Morgan Burnett, TE Andrew Quarless, and RB James Starks). Two more undrafted rookies started games (CB Sam Shields and LB Frank Zombo). The best pick so far has been Bulaga, who struggled early, but has shown enormous potential in his first season.

Worst pick: TBD. The early favorite is second round draft pick DT Mike Neal, who didn’t contribute at all for the Packers this season. It’s early though.

Other contributors: See above.

Pittsburgh: 10 draft picks (8 still with team)
1st pick: Maurkice Pouncey, C, Florida (18th overall)

Best pick: Pouncey. The center emerged as a star in the making in his rookie season. He was one of only five rookies to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

Worst pick: TBD. Early favorite is DE Jason Worilds (52nd overall). The second round draft pick saw very little action this season.

Other contributors: WR Emmanuel Sanders (82nd overall), WR Antonio Brown (195th overall). Sanders had a great rookie season as the slot receiver, catching 28 passes for 376 yards. Brown only caught 16 passes, but made the biggest catch of the year for the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

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