Steelers Final 53: Not Much to Complain About

I was all set to hoist myself up on the soapbox and sermonize about why Jonathan Dwyer had no business on the final 53-man roster if it meant the practice squad or worse for some other promising young player.

I have gone into great detail as to why Dwyer probably wouldn’t — and didn’t deserve to — avoid the Turk. He then proceeded to go nuts in the final two preseason games, and more than that, the 11 guys who were cut really were expendable. Unlike past preseasons, when fan favorites got pink-slipped and it led the torch-and-pitchfork crowd to mobilize (online, anyway), I’m hard-pressed to find anything to whinge about today. And that includes Dwyer.

We all know where I stand on running backs, so I was excited about the idea of finding a young Fast Willie replacement on the cheap. So too were the coaches, who fell in love with Dwyer during OTAs only to see him swell up over the summer and show up in Latrobe fat and sassy. After two horrific preseason efforts, Dwyer flashed against the Broncos and Panthers, and now he’s a member of the 2010 Steelers.

If there was a surprise, I guess Joe Burnett was it. He’ll forever be remembered as “The Guy Who Dropped That Pick,” but that’s not why he was cut. Crezdon Butler and Anthony Madison were. Butler was impressive in August, and Madison is a critical special teams cog, and I’m all for the Steelers a) getting younger and b) doing whatever it takes to avoid the annual special teams train wreck.

Most of us agreed that Kraig Urbik might be a victim of roster math and that’s exactly what happened. That no doubt led to eye-rolling from Kevin Colbert critics, but look at it this way: the other young o-linemen — Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Tony Hills — improved enough to warrant Urbik’s release. Hey, the draft involves a lot of educated guesses, and sometime you whiff. It happens. The worst thing a team can do is delay the inevitable and keep a kid on the roster because he was overdrafted. That creates two problems (taking up a spot and keeping another more deserving player off the team) instead of solving one (dropping the dead weight).

The Steelers drafted 10 guys in April. Eight are on the team (Chris Scott is on PUP, and Doug Worthington got axed). The last time so many members of a Pittsburgh draft class graduated to the regular season? Eight years ago when Kendall Simmons, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Larry Foote, Verron Haynes, Lee Mays and Brett Keisel survived training camp and preseason.

Looking at the seven drafts between ’02 and ’10 yields a mixed bag:

2003: Troy and Ike are still starters. Alonzo Jackson’s legacy: if a young Steelers linebacker struggles he will inevitably be compared to Jackson.

2004: Big Ben and Max Starks worked out. Everybody else — including second-rounder Ricardo Colclough — did not.

2005: Not a bad haul: Heath Miller, Bryant McFadden, Trai Essex and Chris Kemoeatu are starters. Fred Gibson — the next Plax (and my argument for why tall receivers are overrated) — didn’t make it out of camp.

2006: Maybe the worst draft in recent history: Santonio was well worth the first-round trade-up, and Willie Colon finally grew into right tackle last season, but Anthony Smith, Willie Reid, Orien Harris, Omar Jacobs and three other late-round picks didn’t work out.

2007: Nobody wanted Juan Timmons in April 2007 but he’s about to commence a Wreakin’ Havoc tour and I can’t wait. Woodley, Spaeth, Sepulveda and Gay were also taken, as was Ryan McBean (now starting in Denver).

2008: Rashard Mendenhall was a no-brainer at the time and he’s worked out well. Limas Sweed is apparently cursed and Bruce Davis was cut after one season. Tony Hills and Dennis Dixon are still around, however.

2009: Coaches and teammates are high on Ziggy Hood (even though he didn’t appear to do much during preseason), Urbik’s already gone, but the Steelers got a first-round talent in third-rounder Mike Wallace. Keenan Lewis had a great training camp and three good preseason games, and David Johnson made the team as a backup tight end.

It’s too early to start high-fiving Colbert for this year’s haul since we have no idea what the hell these kids can do. For now, though, it’s a nice change from the usual meme we hear from the “This team sucks when it comes to evaluating late-round talent” faction.

And that reminded me of this: Saturday, as teams were jettisoning players that had never lived up to their potential or who were now on the downsides of their careers, I saw a few names that a lot of Steelers fans (me included) really, really wanted the team to draft back when these guys were coming out of college. Enjoy … and remember: there’s a reason we’re not scouts.

Pat White. Man, that experiment barely lasted a year. I pegged White as the next Randle El but it sounds like he wanted to be a quarterback and not much else. I remember watching him going off at the Senior Bowl to the point that Mike Mayock couldn’t say enough good things about him. And now he’s out of work.

(By the way, am I the only one who finds it weird that we’ve collectively been looking for the next ARE pretty much since he was drafted and we haven’t found him? It’s one thing to find the “next Jordan,” but apparently, finding short college quarterbacks-turned-NFL-wideouts is just as difficult. Who knew.)

Michael Robinson. Penn St. quarterback built like a safety. Robinson was another hybrid player who, at least in my mind, would compliment the offense nicely because of his versatility. Turns out, just because you’re an athletic college QB doesn’t necessarily translate to valuable jack-of-all-trades at the next level. Why? Because there’s only one ANTWAAN RANDLE EL, that’s why.

Matt Jones. I don’t even want to bring it up but if I don’t I’m sure somebody else will. After Jones ran a 4.3-something at the 2005 combine, I was convinced he’d be worth the Steelers’ 30th-overall pick. His 6-6 frame coupled with his speed — not to mention his ARE-like versatility (sigh) — made him an intriguing talent. Turns out, Jones wasn’t much into hard work, liked coke, and now he can add “cut by the Bengals” to his resume. Thank god for Jack Del Rio. And Heath Miller.

Chad Jackson. I learned my lesson with Matt Jones. So when Jackson busted out a 4.2-someting at the combine in ’06 I remained unimpressed. Coming out of Florida made it even easier to hop on the Santonio weedwagon. Thankfully, the Pats traded up into the second round to take Jackson before cutting him a year later.

Demetrius Williams. As Gretz pointed out, Williams was the Ravens’ Willie Reid. Lose-lose for everybody.

James Hardy. Also via Gretz: Hardy was the Bills’ Limas Sweed. Again, lose-lose.

Bobby Carpenter. It seems that Steelers fans are automatically in love with Ohio St. and Penn St. linebackers. That’s mostly geography, I think, but whatever, it means that guys like Carpenter and A.J. Hawk, and Sean Lee and Paul Posluszny are always “potential first-round targets.” Up till the moment the team drafts somebody else (and they always do).

Tim Shaw. Another Penn St. guy who actually had success as an NFL special teamer before the Bears cut him Saturday.

Ko Simpson. Remember the weeks leading up to the 2006 draft? Chris Hope had bolted for the Titans and the Steelers were in the market for a young free safety (despite signing Ryan Clark). At the time, it seemed like the draft was teeming with talent at the position. Instead, just about every safety taken that year has underachieved. Darnell Bing, Mike Huff, Daniel Bullocks, Anthony Smith, Pat Watkins, Greg Blue … and the list goes on. (Some pleasant surprises: Dawan Landry, Antoine Bethea, and Donte Whitner if you’re willing to overlook the fact he was the eighth-overall selection.)

Jarron Gilbert. He jumped out of a pool. He was also released yesterday. It would appear that there’s no correlation between aquatic tricks manhandling offensive linemen. Weird. He was the Bears’ third-round selection in 2009, taken 16 spots ahead of Mike Wallace.

Just sayin’ … it could be worse.

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  • Anonymous

    Kordell Stewart was also an athletic college QB turned NFL wideout and jack of all trades. It’s been a while, but I recall him being pretty impressive in his versatility in that he actually succeeded most of the time… just not when starting at QB.

  • Anonymous

    Kordell Stewart was also an athletic college QB turned NFL wideout and jack of all trades. It’s been a while, but I recall him being pretty impressive in his versatility in that he actually succeeded most of the time… just not when starting at QB.

  • ryan

    Oh god, Reggie McNeal. Another guy I loved coming out of college.

  • Gretz

    Stefan Logan claimed by the Lions.

    • ryan

      The Reverse Colbert Pipeline has finally been completed.

  • Cols714

    Yep. I’m a believer that we bitch way too much about Colbert’s drafts. The only one that has sucked was 2008, and that’s because Sweed forgot how to catch between college and pros.

    So yeah, some third rounders get cut some times. It sucks, but some UDFA’s make the longest run in Super Bowl history.

    The consistency of Steelers means that they are doing it right. Except for the OL of course….

  • GlennW

    All critiques of individual draft picks and draft classes aside, the bottom line is the quality and depth of the current squad. Are we in good shape moving forward? I’m far from convinced of that. (Granted, it’s at least a small disadvantage selecting low in the draft in most seasons…)