Blast from the Past: Seventh Round Part 2

photo from Steelers.com

In Saturday’s post I covered the seventh round picks from 2010 and 2011. Here’s 2012 and 2013.

Bill Barnwell’s recent offseason grades for the AFC North discussed the Browns’ 2016 draft. Numerous trades throughout the draft combined with the first-round trade resulted in the Browns an obscene number of picks in this draft. (They will also have quite a few extra picks in the next two years.) Barnwell commented:

I’ve written about Cleveland’s strategy at length, both in regards to the Carson Wentz trade and its series of trades during the draft. The Browns rightly believe that teams are overconfident when it comes to scouting and identifying talent and thus quantity of draft picks is more important than quality. They also see future draft picks as an undervalued asset class.

The cumulative return they got for their moves, then, was pretty staggering. Even after making the Wentz deal before the draft, they traded down four times during the draft weekend, taking advantage of teams that felt like they were smarter than the rest of the league. Five times! They ended up making 14 selections, including eight picks across the fourth and fifth rounds, and have a staggering amount of capital set up in the years to come.

The Steelers’ 2012 draft gives some credence to the “quantity rather than quality” idea. In 2012 the Steelers had four seventh-round picks, picking up two guys who ultimately didn’t make it onto the roster (Toney Clemens and Terrence Frederick), a guy who made the 53-man roster, although he was ultimately a disappointment, (David Paulson), and a guy who turned into a stud (Kelvin Beachum.) I’m guessing nobody saw that coming. I seem to recall a great deal of excitement about Terrance Frederick and little being said about Beachum, except by me. I was impressed that he had obtained a master’s degree and was valedictorian. (As usual, I left the footbally stuff to the others.)

The question is, if the Steelers only had one seventh-round pick, which of the four would they have taken? One has to presume it would have been Toney Clemons, since they chose him first. (The order was Clemons, Paulson, Frederick, Beachum.) Here’s some of what was being said:

Neal Coolong wrote on May 10th of 2012:

Frederick’s 29 pass break-ups rank 6th all time at Texas A&M, and is the 2012 continuation of the Steelers’ stockpiling of young pass defenders. They’ve taken at least one cornerback in their last four drafts.

This is ironic on so many levels. The Steelers did indeed stockpile young pass defenders—the only problem was, they mostly weren’t very good. Mike Mayock graded the Steelers class, saying how much he liked the whole thing:

“I liked every player the Steelers drafted,” Mayock said. “They got two players that were first-round picks with David DeCastro and (second-rounder) Mike Adams for their biggest position of need, offensive line. I love Sean Spence. (Alameda) Ta’amu is a big need at nose tackle. And Chris Rainey … I mean, LaMicahel James, Isaiah Pead … Chris Rainey is in that conversation.”

We’ll get into the higher round players later, but the general feeling, both among the pundits and the fan base, was that the Steelers had done themselves proud with that class.

So what did happen to the other guys? David Paulson, after leaving Pittsburgh, knocked around the league a bit and is currently a “free agent.” Toney Clemons spent time on four different practice squads—the Steelers, the Jaguars, the Chargers, and the Panthers. He’s currently also a free agent. (Clemons was actually on the Jacksonville roster for a month or so, as they signed him off the Steelers’ practice squad. They cut him after training camp the following summer.)

Clemons was another player a lot of people were excited about—even Ed Bouchette suggested the Steelers should pick him up prior to the draft. Which just goes to show how important the stuff they currently can’t measure is.

David Paulson actually started nine games for the Steelers, five in 2012 and four in 2013. That’s actually pretty good for a seventh-round pick. He does not have any statistics after 2013.

Fredericks was picked up off the Steelers’ practice squad by the Giants. After they cut him the Browns picked him up, but the Saints signed him off their practice squad, and he started three games for them in 2014. After that he became the dreaded “free agent.”

And finally there was the mostly unheralded offensive lineman, Kelvin Beachum. It’s interesting to note that he and Mike Adams were drafted in the same year, and to give credit where credit is due, the Steelers were willing to give playing time to a seventh-round pick over a second-round one. (Beachum beat out Adams before the stabbing/back injury.)

He’s a great example of “hearts and smarts,” as Kevin Colbert et al calls it. I walked in a 10k charity event chaired by Tunch Ilkin in May of 2013, and I asked Ilkin who he thought might surprise people in camp that year. He unhesitatingly mentioned Beachum, noting that he worked very hard, was a really smart guy, and had come to Tunch for extra coaching in the off-season. While it seemed obvious one should take Tunch’s assessment with a grain of salt, given that one is always going to be favorably biased towards someone who comes to you for help, but the next season it was clear Tunch was correct.

Beachum just got a nice contract, despite the uncertainty about his knee. He is the major success of that class after DeCastro (and in fact it took DeCastro as long or longer to put things together than it did Beachum.) And yet he would almost certainly have ended up somewhere else if the Steelers hadn’t had so many picks that year.

So who did I suggest the Steelers pick up? Despite their plethora of picks, I confined myself to a single suggestion for the seventh round. But first I gave a little promotional message for the idea of BLA drafting:

The Steelers have an impressive record in the first round of the draft since Kevin Colbert became the GM. In fact, according to Cold Hard Football Facts’ assessment of the draft between 2001 and 2010 they have the best record in the league. While the second round isn’t as impressive, they still draft relatively well in the second round.

However, the Steelers have not drafted particularly well in the later rounds. Although they have hit on a few major talents such as Brett Keisel (7th round) and Antonio Brown (6th round) their overall record is not impressive. (If you don’t believe me, watch this space for the final post of my serious draft series. It will be replete with graphs and charts and other nerdy stuff to demonstrate this.)

Which brings me to the point of today’s post. If the final result of all the scouting and visits and so forth is the worst record in the league for the 5th round, (really!), why not try BLA? After all, the Best Looking Player Available is just as easily cut at the end of training camp as the putatively Best Player Available, and provides a bonus in the meantime to the female fan base of which the Steelers are so justly proud.

It made sense to me. The player I suggested was not, perhaps, my finest choice ever. I mocked to them K David Teggert. Although the Bears gave him a tryout after the draft, that’s as far as he made it into the NFL. Oh well.

To be fair, though, BLA suffers from a lack of the sort of scouting support which the Steelers’ brain trust has. I’m usually getting pretty tired by the seventh round…

2013’s seventh-round class was considerably smaller in numbers, although the player they took was pretty large. I speak, of course, about Nick Williams, a 6’5″, 309 pound defensive tackle. Nick is one of the players who people point to when they illogically assume the entire NFL is waiting to pounce on the guys the Steelers waive and put on their practice squad. It seems very easy to forget that every other team has just waived some guys they wished they could keep as well, and aren’t looking to make matters worse by picking up someone else’s cast-offs.

However, teams who liked a particular player in the draft but didn’t, for whatever reason, get him, do often keep track of where they end up. You have to assume this is the case with Williams. He was injured and IR’d in 2013, but was on the practice squad in 2014. As Neal Coolong wrote for Behind the Steel Curtain:

Williams, an excellent athlete who was thought to be something of a project for the team, will join the Chiefs’ active roster immediately. He also becomes the second Steelers defensive lineman taken off their practice squad in the last three weeks. Arizona claimed 2014 undrafted free agent DE Josh Mauro earlier in November.

The Steelers had a deep developmental squad going for it in 2014, something we highlighted frequently this off-season. The fact multiple players are being taken elsewhere both confirms that and eliminates it. Williams and Mauro were both players we figured could get onto the field in 2015, but if they are now, it will have to be because they wanted out of Kansas City and Arizona, respectively.

It cuts both ways, of course. Ross Cockrell, who the Steelers had liked in the 2014 draft, was drafted by the Bills in the 4th round. When the Bills released him at the end of August in the following year, the Steelers were quick to snatch him up. But to return to Williams, the Williams in his draft who really excited people was Vince. Not a lot was written about Nick, at least at first. Here’s an item from Jim Wexell’s column on Scout.com:

Sound of Thunder

Standing alone while pondering that initial chat with [Ryan] Clark, I was interrupted by the sound of thunder from one of the defensive linemen who had just hit the sled.

I felt like I was at an opening-day practice with my old American Legion baseball team and had just heard a 90-mile-per-hour fastball explode into a catcher’s glove.

So imagine Paul Newman hearing Tom Cruise’s break on the pool table in Color of Money, and that was me turning to see that it was the rookie, Nick Williams, the seventh-rounder who’s supposed to be two years away, getting up under the nodding approval of coach John Mitchell.

Ka-BOOM.

I think it’s fair to say that a player poached off the Steelers’ practice squad who is playing (even if not starting) for a contending team was a good pick.

2013 was not a good year for me, mock-draft-wise. Actually, I think you will like some of the players I picked in the upper rounds (although none of them became Steelers, but I ran out of time and resources and only drafted through Round 4. As I said at the time:

Honestly, it’s too hard to get the proper visual evidence for the guys projected to go in the later rounds. But I’m sure the Steelers will pick up some RBs and ILBs and other sorts of footbally players. I just hope they give a thought or two to improving the view on the sidelines.

Always a worthy goal…

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