A Blast from the Past: First Round Picks, Part 1
Strictly speaking this should actually be Part 2, because I jumped the gun last week and spent a fair bit of time reviewing the Jarvis Jones pick. We will now return to chronological order and consider the 2010 first round pick, Maurkice Pouncey.
This is, in retrospect, a difficult pick to categorize. Want to call Pouncey a bust because of all the time he’s missed due to injuries? Well, what about his Pro Bowl level play when he is in the lineup? All you have to do is compare it to that of his predecessor, Justin Hartwig, to remember why it was that pretty much everybody was mocking Pouncey to the Steelers.
Want to say the Steelers hit a home run with this pick? Well, what about all the games he’s missed due to injury? It doesn’t do you much good to have a Pro Bowl center if he spends all his time in the training room.
Obviously the truth more nuanced. Here’s the history:
He started all 16 games in 2010, despite the assumption on the part of most everyone, even, I believe, the Steelers’ coaching staff, that he would spend at least part of his first year learning the position. And in fact he actually started 18 games that season. The only rub was, he injured his ankle in the AFC Championship game and was unable to play in the Super Bowl. He was also unable to play in the Pro Bowl, to which he was elected despite his rookie status.
In the 2011 season he started 14 regular season games, and 15 in 2012. The 2013 season was the bad one—he was injured in the opening game of the season and missed the entire season. 2014 was the best season since his rookie year, as he started all 16 games and also the Wild Card game, which the Steelers lost.
In 2015 he didn’t even make it as far as the season opener, as he broke his fibula in the pre-season. He was placed on the IR with designation to return list, but complications kept him from ever returning to the field.
So in other words, out of 103 games he could have started (including playoff games) he has played in (not necessarily finished) 65 of them. Is this a situation the Steelers could have anticipated?
Not at all. As far as I can tell, he didn’t miss a single college game in his three years, and started all but two of them, something essentially unheard of in Florida’s program. Furthermore, his NFL injuries seem to have been fluke accidents, such as 2013, when his own inexperienced guard executed an apparently overly enthusiastic chop block on him instead of the opposing defensive lineman. It doesn’t appear that any of the injuries could have been prevented by better conditioning or what have you.
But the fact remains, he has missed almost a third of the games between the time he was drafted and now. Which is obviously not optimal. So while I don’t think it is rationally possible to consider him a bust, I think the argument could be made (although I wouldn’t make it) that this pick has not been entirely successful.
The Steelers picked Pouncey, as far as I can tell, for a couple of reasons—his intelligence and his athleticism. The intelligence was demonstrated at his interview with the Steelers, when, according to, I believe, either Tunch Ilkin or Craig Wolfley, Bruce Arians drew up a couple of plays on a whiteboard, erased them immediately, and asked Pouncey to talk about them. He was apparently able to do so with ease, at a non-superficial level.
The athleticism was perhaps something the Steelers were storing up for later. Pouncey was not only a center but the centerpiece, as it turned out, of a complete rebuild of the offensive line which would hopefully eventually lead to a change in scheme. Because of injuries to Pouncey and others and the time needed to draft and develop most of his line mates, the new scheme has mostly had to be tabled. I’m hoping this is the year we finally see it come to fruition.
Here’s a stunner as well:
Least-pressured QBs last season:
1. Ben Roethlisberger, 27.2% of dropbacks
2. Drew Brees, 28.7
3. Andy Dalton, 28.9 pic.twitter.com/OeJvDhXE6t
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) July 24, 2016
What’s stunning about this is how much less Ben was pressured than the next two QBs on the list. And if the line was this good without Pouncey (and make no mistake, PFF also thinks Cody Wallace is absolutely dreadful) just imagine how good it can be with Pouncey at center. Here’s sincerely hoping he anchors the position, relatively injury-free, for another six years or so!