A Blast from the Past: Third Round Part 1

Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports

In this series we have been revisiting the Steelers’ draft picks from 2010-2013. Links for the previous articles can be found at the end of this one.

The third-round pick in 2010 was one of three pro-bowlers the Steelers chose that year. WR Emmanuel Sanders became part of a group who dubbed themselves “Young Money,” and they were correct. Mike Wallace disdained the money the Steelers offered him, correctly assuming he could make more in free agency. Emmanuel Sanders was allowed to walk by the Steelers because they already knew what they had in Antonio Brown (although perhaps even they didn’t foresee just how good he would get.) Sanders was able to command a nice contract with the Broncos, and ironically is the only one of the trio who has a Super Bowl ring.

But at first it wasn’t obvious what would happen. Although the Steelers clearly liked what they saw from the young Antonio Brown, they couldn’t dress them both, and Mike Tomlin famously declared there were “two dogs, one bone.” Sometimes AB won the helmet, and his first play in the NFL was a spectacular kick return for a touchdown on a trick play in which Mewelde Moore was the decoy.

But Sanders won the helmet a number of times as well, and for a while there was considerable discussion as to whether he or Brown was the better receiver. The stats for the trio in 2010 are worth a look:

  • Mike Wallace: 16 games, 60 receptions, 1257 yards, 10 TD (Wallace returned one kick his rookie year, for 26 yards, and has apparently never again attempted either kick or punt returns)
  • Emmanuel Sanders: 13 games, 28 receptions, 376 yards, 2 TD; 1 kick return, 13 yards; 4 punts returns, 60 yards
  • Antonio Brown: 9 games, 16 receptions, 167 yards; 17 kick returns, 397 yards, 1 TD; 19 punt returns, 110 yards

Just for kicks, let’s compare their 2015 regular season stats:

  • Mike Wallace: 16 games, 39 receptions, 473 yards, 2 TD
  • Emmanuel Sanders: 15 games, 76 receptions, 1135 yards, 6 TD; 25 kick returns, 628 yards; 17 punts returns, 103 yards
  • Antonio Brown: 16 games, 136 receptions, 1834 yards, 10 TD; 22 punt returns, 212 yards, 1 TD

Wallace appeared, to some extent at least, to be a product of the Steelers’ system and quarterback, and has never been as good as he was in his 2010 and 2011 seasons in Pittsburgh. It was interesting to note, however, that while the Dolphins didn’t get the receiver they paid for, Wallace wasn’t chopped liver, exactly, and had 10 touchdowns in 2014.

Sanders definitely justified his 3rd round slot, and I wish him well, except when he plays the Steelers.

The Steelers’ third round pick in 2011 was Curtis Brown. Although Brown led the team in special teams tackles during his rookie year, an injury shut his season down early. In 2012 he was part of the competition for the spot William Gay vacated after he signed with the Cardinals.

He sounded like a really good bet. Here is his some of his NFL.com draft profile:

Brown has great foot speed and enough size to develop into a quality starting cornerback at the next level. He has the long speed to blanket receivers on go routes and the hip fluidity to maintain momentum on double moves. He is effective on an island in man coverage and is well positioned in zone. He is a bit of a liability in run support, but he is a quick-twitched athlete that should not have a problem covering agile slot receivers in the NFL. Brown should be able to play immediately in nickel and dime packages and he will probably be a second day pick.

There was one little phrase which ended the “weaknesses” part which caught my eye:

Not a playmaker despite having good ball skills.

I presume that by “playmaker” they mean generating interceptions, forced fumbles and the like. Indeed, at least in defensive snaps (as opposed to special teams) Brown had two forced fumbles and no interceptions during the 34 games in which he played, and two passes defensed. In 2013, his final season, he played only seven games (and recorded six tackles) before tearing his ACL. The Steelers cut him the next August. The Jets picked him up briefly and cut him, and he is now in the CFL.

Brown struggled with loneliness and depression during his rookie season, and Mike Tomlin reached out to him, as he told Teresa Varley of Steelers.com.

“The walls were closing in on me,” said Brown. “Since I didn’t know anybody, didn’t really know the players and coaches yet … who do you have? It takes me a while to get used to anyone. I don’t just open up to people like that. I have always been a sheltered type dude.”

 

From somewhere inside himself, Brown knew he would have to open up and trust others, but it wasn’t easy. He turned to Coach Mike Tomlin and Ray Jackson, who works in the area of player development.

 

“That helped me a lot,” said Brown. “I found out everybody here wants to help you. They don’t want to harm you. It’s a family atmosphere. It’s good people here.”

If you have plenty of Kleenex handy, read the linked article. This young man went through a tremendous amount growing up. Here’s a sample:

A two-time all-state selection at Gilmer High School, Brown rose to be rated as the nation’s No. 2 cornerback by recruiting services. Naturally, colleges took notice, but Brown had his doubts. Gilmer High wasn’t exactly a hotbed for big-time college prospects, and he never expected to be the exception to that rule.

“I remember questioning it,” said Brown. “I thought, this isn’t for me. I can’t do it. Not many from my school even went to college, maybe three before me. I looked at them like heroes. But I wasn’t like them, they were good students, they weren’t from my neighborhood. They had family bases.”

One issue the college recruiters found difficult to understand was that lack of a family base. Normally recruiters spend time getting to know parents or whatever family a boy might have, but with Curtis Brown there really wasn’t anyone to get to know.

“I was bouncing from house to house. I didn’t have anywhere to go,” said Brown. “You’re in the 11th grade, and you still have nowhere to go.”

He was a young man I really hoped would succeed, not just for the sake of the Steelers but for his own sake. It’s so easy to look at the Steelers’ “failed” draft picks and see just a missed opportunity for the team. I hope we can all also look at the lives represented. Very seldom do these “failed” picks fail because they just don’t care, or aren’t trying. I very much hope Curtis Brown is happy and successful in the CFL, and that he is making a more stable life for his daughter than he had himself.

For the seventh round picks in 2010-11, click here; for 2012-13 click here. For the 2010 sixth round pick, click here, and for the 2011, 2012, and 2013 picks, click here. For the 2010 fifth round picks click here, and for the 2011-13 picks click hereFor the 2010 and 2011 fourth round picks click herefor the 2012 and 2013 picks click here.

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