A Blast from the Past: Sixth Round, Part 1

imageI recently began a series looking at the picks from the drafts we can reasonably begin to evaluate—2010 through 2013. The earlier posts will be linked at the end of the article if you missed them.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect to me is the enthusiasm (or lack thereof) with which the players were greeted at the time they were drafted compared to how well they have actually done in the NFL. It’s probably not true, but there almost seems to be an inverse relationship between the two. And it is certainly true that many of us subconsciously expect each and every draftee to make a significant contribution, when the reality is almost certainly different.

The Steelers chose two players in the sixth round in 2010—RB Jonathan Dwyer with their normal pick, at No. 188, and WR Antonio Brown with an extra pick, at No. 195.

There is no need to compare these two picks. Only the most engaged Steeler fans probably remember much about Jonathan Dwyer, and even the most casual NFL fan has heard of Antonio Brown. This again leads to the speculation of what would have happened if the Steelers hadn’t had the extra pick?

You have to assume that Dwyer was higher on their board than Brown, and that they felt at least a slightly more pressing need at running back than wide receiver, at least for a development project to eventually replace Mewelde Moore. After all, they had Hines Ward, Mike Wallace was looking like the downfield threat they needed to take some of the attention off of Ward, and they had just drafted Emmanuel Sanders in the third round. They also still perhaps had some hope for Limas Sweed, and they had Antwaan Randle El. It seems likely that, had they only had the one pick, Dwyer would have been it. Had Brown still been on the board at No. 242, I suppose they would have taken him instead of Doug Worthington, but 46 picks intervened (the Steelers didn’t have their “normal” 7th round pick that year) and Brown might well have been gone.

And why did the Steelers even have this selection in the first place? I suppose you could say it was because Ben Roethlisberger got into trouble in Georgia. It’s a bizarre sequence of events, really. Had Ben not just made everything Steelers newsworthy, in all the wrong ways, the team might have given Santonio Holmes one more chance when he had his own little issue. But Ben did, and the Steelers couldn’t deal with yet another public black eye. So they traded the 2008 Super Bowl MVP to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick. The Jets had this pick because they traded a couple of their picks…you know what, it’s so complicated, I can’t even follow it. Suffice it to say, the Jets gave the Steelers a pick they acquired from Philadephia for Holmes. We all know how that worked out for them.

The Steelers then parlayed that pick into CB Bryant McFadden, which they re-acquired from Arizona, and Arizona’s 6th round pick, which they used on Brown. This just goes to show, it’s an ill wind that blows no good. Two events which probably led to many writing the Steelers off as a contender—Ben’s suspension and the loss of Holmes—ended in a Super Bowl appearance that season.

But much more importantly in my opinion, it led Ben Roethlisberger to examine his life, return to his roots, and stop the path of self-destruction he was on. And incidentally it traded out Santonio Holmes, a gifted receiver but one who came with some unattractive problems, for Antonio Brown, currently considered the best wideout in the league by many.

I was curious whether anyone even had much to say about AB at the time. Dwyer was another matter—he had dropped a good bit from where many thought he should be drafted, and thus got more attention than an undersized receiver from a small school.

Here’s what was written in Bleacher Report immediately after the draft about Dwyer:

I’m absolutely elated with this pick. It just may very well be my favorite pick of the draft. I’d of preferred Stanford runner Toby Gerhart, but I’ll take Dwyer without complaining. There’s no doubt in my mind that he makes the team and I’ll tell you why. The Steelers not only needed depth at the running back position, but they also needed someone who would be willing to lower their shoulder and pick up that tough yard. Not to mention it gives the Steelers an extra weapon with Ben Roethlisberger being suspended and whispers of Dennis Dixon at the very least having a chance to start it could spell trouble for opposing defenses that choose to over pursue. With Dixon’s speed and knowledge of a spread offense and Dwyer’s experience in the triple option offense, Steelers fans could be in store for some ‘old school’ football.

Article author TJ Jenkins shared my love for Toby Gerhardt, which presumably goes to show that neither of us should be evaluating running backs in the NFL.

He wasn’t so enthusiastic about AB:

I don’t like his chances of making the team to be perfectly honest. With Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, Antwaan Randle El, Limas Sweed and Sanders nearly assured to make the cut there’s simply no room for him, though in the off chance that the coaching staff has decided it’s time to give up on the Sweed experiment, then he may well have a shot.

According to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com, Bruce Arians wanted to send AB to the practice squad at the end of training camp, but Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert disagreed. Had they not overridden Arians, I wonder whether they would even have made it to the Super Bowl that year.

It can be difficult to find what people were actually saying in 2010, but here was Mel Kiper’s grade:

What the Steelers did had some subtlety, and you have to consider their system and needs when you evaluate it. Smart to take Maurkice Pouncey and shore up the interior of that offensive line. Pittsburgh targeted athletic OLB types such as Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson and Stevenson Sylvester. Yes, the Steelers like to develop these guys in their 3-4, but in the meantime, those are the guys who can help shore up what was a disastrous special-teams unit in 2009. That’s one area to keep in mind. A trade with Arizona to reclaim Bryant McFadden probably pleased fans. Not an amazing draft, but Pittsburgh got the type of guys the Steelers like. Don’t sleep on Jonathan Dwyer, the last player taken in the draft who had cracked the Big Board at one time. He’ll be coming to camp with a lot to prove.

And my BLA sixth round pick for 2010?  There wasn’t one, as I only did a five-round draft. Whoever I had chosen, though, I think it is fair to say I couldn’t possibly have outdone the AB pick by the Steelers, either for looks or production. Well done, MT and KC…

For the seventh round picks in 2010-11, click here; for 2012-13 click here.

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