At the bottom of his Sunday notebook in the Post-Gazette, Ed Bouchette asked if the lack of success from former Texas Longhorns Tony Hills and Limas Sweed would make the Steelers hesitate to use a top draft pick on cornerbacks Aaron Williams or Curtis Brown, two players that also spent their college days in Austin.
But even if Harris is gone and it looks as though Williams is the obvious choice, would the Steelers hesitate because of their experience with Longhorns?
Two Longhorns drafted by them in the 2008 season have done little in three seasons — wide receiver Limas Sweed, their second-round pick, and tackle Tony Hills, drafted on the fourth round.
They have had great success with Casey Hampton, but he came from a different Texas culture when they drafted him in the first round in 2001. Another veteran Texas player, Jonathan Scott, helped save them at left tackle last season.
Vince Young also has been a major disappointment in the NFL and it has prompted many to wonder if there is not a certain culture that has enveloped the Texas program that inhibits some Longhorns as pros.
At first glance the idea that the success or failure of past players would alter a teams draft strategy seems a little silly. Aaron Williams should be judged and picked (or not picked) based only on the merits of Aaron Williams. The development of a past player from the same school shouldn’t have anything to do with the development of another player. They’re different players and different people with different personalities and different motivations.
Look at this way: should the Steelers have selected Lawrence Timmons in the first round of the 2007 draft after they received nothing from past Florida State players Willie Reid and Alonzo Jackson? Should the Steelers take whatever defensive lineman from BYU is available because Brett Keisel and Chris Hoke have been success stories in the NFL? Does any of this matter? Whether or not it’s a legitimate reason to avoid a player it’s clearly on the mind of fans and media at this time of year. Just look at how long running backs from Penn State were viewed (and still are viewed) as poison in the draft because Blair Thomas, Ki-Jana Carter and Curtis Enis were complete flops in the NFL.
The issue that Bouchette points out, and one that was repeated by the folks at Pro Football Talk when they passed along the story, is the “culture” (soft and pampered, as PFT put it) at Texas and whether or not it hurts some of their prospects once they turn pro. The Longhorns put a ton of players into the NFL (since 2000 they’ve averaged between five and six new players per year); some of them turn out to be productive players, others do not.
If we’re going to hold past Texas players and the culture against Williams and Brown, it might make more sense (and even this isn’t perfect) to not look at Hills and Sweed, but to instead look at what impact (if any) it’s had on other Texas defensive backs. Going back to 2004, for example, the Longhorns produced the following defensive backs: Earl Thomas, Tarrell Brown, Michael Griffin, Aaron Ross, Cedric Griffin, Michael Huff, Nathan Vasher. Some good, some bad.
At the end of the day the decision should come down to Williams and Brown and whether or not they’re worthy picks. The Steelers sent their entire defensive coaching staff to Texas’ pro day, and it’s unlikely they would do that if they didn’t like what they saw from these guys on film and wanted to learn more about them and get an up close look at them and legitimately consider them.