Luck Seems To Shine Steelers Way Again In First Round

If you’re a Steelers’ fan, you probably don’t have a whole lot to complain about how the Steelers are run. They hire a top-notch coach every 15-20 years or so, they draft first-round picks that succeed year after year, and more years than not, they are in the conversation when experts talk about potential Super Bowl contenders.

Credit to that goes to everyone in the Steelers’ organization from the coaching staff to the players to the front office to the Rooneys. But it would also be fair to say that the Steelers have gotten lucky a time or two, especially when it comes to the first round.

Most Steelers fans are walking around wearing giant frozen grins on their faces this morning as we realize that somehow Stanford guard David DeCastro ended up being a Steeler. It was the pick many/most Steelers fans and experts wanted to see, but one that coming into the draft seemed so preposterous as to be labeled as wishful thinking.

Most draft experts had DeCastro pegged as somewhere between the sixth and 10th best player in this year’s draft. In a draft that was lacking in franchise-type players, one could argue that DeCastro was one of the small group of elite prospects in this year’s draft. Because he’s an offensive guard, there was a legitimate hope that he could fall in the mid-teens despite his glowing scouting reports, but no Steelers fan and very few draft experts projected that DeCastro would be around at pick No. 20, much less the Steelers’ pick at No. 24.

But that’s exactly what happened as a run on quarterbacks (four were taken in the first 22 picks) and defensive end/outside linebackers meant that when the Lions picked at pick No. 23, only one offensive lineman was off the board (USC’s Matt Kalil).

It’s a perfect storm that gave the Steelers a top 10 talent, one that has a long history of success at a major college program, at a position of dire need. While basking in the glow of a first-round that went way better than Steelers fans could have hoped for, it also isn’t hard to think how this appears to be another case of the Steelers getting very, very lucky.

Rewind to 1987 and the seeds of the Blitzburgh teams of the 1990s was set in place when the Steelers got lucky to land future Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson. The Steelers entered that year’s draft knowing that they had to fix the secondary that had gotten old and slow in recent years. Woodson was undisputed to be the best cornerback in the draft class, but picking a pick No. 10, the Steelers had no expectation that he would make it to their pick.

Let me emphasis, there was no Plan B at cornerback in the first round. If one of the nine teams ahead of the Steelers had taken Woodson, Pittsburgh would have had to look at another position–no other defensive back was taken in the first round that year.

When the Browns shocked everyone by taking linebacker Mike Junkin with the fifth pick, things started to fall into place. The Cardinals added another surprise by taking quarterback Kelly Stouffer. All of a sudden, Pittsburgh needed only one more surprise to get a chance to nab Wooodson. But Buffalo, picking No. 8, had been linked to Woodson in the month before the draft. The Bills chose linebacker Shane Conlin instead, and Pittsburgh all of a sudden had a chance to nab a Hall of Famer. Even at the time, it was clear the Steelers had granted a miraculous gift.

In 2004, a similar string of events had to happen for Pittsburgh to have a chance to land its franchise quarterback. Thankfully for Steelers’ fans, Pittsburgh rarely drafts in the top half of the draft, which makes it especially important that when they do, they land a top talent. In 2003, the Steelers’ Tommy Gun offense fell apart, as the Steelers put together one of their most disappointing seasons of the past two decades. But even then, Pittsburgh took the Ravens to overtime in the final game of the season before losing. A win in that game, as nice as it may have appeared at the time, would have meant the Steelers would have drafted at No. 13 at the best and No. 15 at the worst. Instead, Pittsburgh picked 11th. When the Giants and Chargers worked out a deal that put Eli Manning in New York and Phillip Rivers in San Diego, Steelers fans could start dreaming that Ben Roethlisberger would fall to No. 11. No one moved up ahead of the Steelers, and Pittsburgh landed its franchise quarterback. But remember, if Pittsburgh had managed to beat the Ravens in Week 17 in 2003, they would have picked behind the Bills. Needing a quarterback and shut out of the Manning/Rivers/Roethlisberger trifecta, Buffalo selected J.P. Losman instead.

If Pittsburgh hadn’t landed Roethlisberger in 2004, it’s fair to wonder if they would have gotten another shot at a franchise quarterback for years to come. Just a year later Pittsburgh landed the final piece of a Super Bowl winning team by picking Heath Miller with the 30th pick of the first round. Once again luck was involved. Miller was undoubtedly the top tight end in the draft, and the Steelers biggest need was at tight end. But a sports hernia injury that limited Miller during the pre-draft workouts caused him to slide down draft boards. The injury hasn’t bothered Miller since, but teams’ concerns about it at the time helped ensure he was available at pick No. 30.

Now with DeCastro Pittsburgh has gotten lucky again. He may not turn out to be a Roethlisberger, Woodson or Miller, but if he comes close to matching the production of any of those three, he’ll help extend Pittsburgh’s past two decades of success into a third.

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  • Drobviousso

    I still have no earthly idea how so many teams passed on DeCastro.  It’s not even like a defensive lineman where maybe only half the teams have a scheme that fits him.  Every team plays with 2 guards every down.

    Crazy.  Lots to look forward to in the second round.

  • Rob D

    YOu can’t really look at this pick as anything but historic. I find the Woodson and Big Ben and Heath comparisons very apt. 

    The fact is…all the guy has to be is above average and he’ll shine like the sun for most Steeler fans. WE got used to mediocrity and it’s time to change that.

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

      If you look at the DeCastro pick on its own merits, you can feel very good about the pick.  The thing that has me really excited is that the offensive line is more than just the sum of its parts.  Since the offensive line has to function as a group, putting two really good players next to each other (Pouncy/DeCastro) has the potential to drastically improve the overall play of the line.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    JJ, this is great stuff.  The run downs of Woodson and Ben are terrific.

    And here’s a link to a summary of a bunch of (all glowing) reviews of the DeCastro pick…
    http://blogs.sites.post-gazette.com/index.php/sports/blog-n-gold/34002-the-book-on-david-decastro

  • GlennW

    I would point out that (as opposed to the others) there was still plenty of media opposition to the selection of Roethlisberger at #11.  The Waterhead may have even been among the dissenters as I recall.  And I remember very little “rejoicing”– maybe just some relief– and I know I sure as hell didn’t know if it was the “right” pick.  Not like this DeCastro selection, that’s for sure.

    • DJAnyReason

      I was furious at the Roethlisberger pick, at the time.  But, then again, leading up to it the NFL had a LONG string of Super Bowls without prototypical 1st round franchise QBs (McNair made it and lost in ’99, Elway won a couple at the end of his career, but then you’ve got to go all the way back to Aikman).  Since 2004, the only Super Bowl winners who haven’t been the prototypical 1st round franchise are Brady (who is clearly a franchise QB) and Brees (who was 1st pick in the 2nd round, though I’d DQ because he’s on his 2nd team).

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      Haha, Waterhead got a name check! I’d have to go check the HSS archives for the exact chronology, but I do know that I wanted the Steelers to take a CB with 1.11. I think I was afraid that Philip Rivers might’ve been the apple of Cowher’s eye and I didn’t want him.

      • DJAnyReason

        Rivers was definitely the guy linked with.the Steelers, and while I also desperately wanted a CB, and thought a QB was idiotic, I had managed to reconcile myself to Rivers, convincing myself he’d be a special player. When he went at the top of the draft, and the Steelers took the athletic underclassman from the small school, I was very pissed.

        I wonder if I had bought my HSS membership yet at that time – I don’t think so, but I have some memory of ranting about it online somewhere.

        • DJAnyReason

          For shiggles, I went and took a look at the 04/04 HSS archives. The first post was entitled “What if Roethlisberger starts in ’04″, which is funny in hindsight, but not quite as funny as Ryan writing “Roethlisberger is a gamble, but who isn’t outside of Robert Gallery?”

          • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

            Note to self: delete HSS archives.

          • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

            Your post must have made me nostalgic because I went back to look at the archives, too.  Sadly, all of the comments evaporated into the ether.  Now all we have to laugh at are Ryan’s thoughts and not the rest of ours.

            I was amused that there were a couple of more recent comments.  Specifically one from Jan lamenting the loss of HSS because SL was dying.  If “guest” thought this place was dying in January, they must have read this site its last rites in March.

  • Drobviousso

    Two more thoughts:

    1)  This guy seems to be the opposite of Kemo, speaking in terms of skill set, not overall quality.  A controlled puller, on-field smarts (saw him calling out protection on youtube clips), but without Kemo’s caveman-like strength, not that he’s a wimp based on his combine results.  It’ll be refreshing if he can do the little things right, like not give up a sack on every stunt.

    2) This’ll likely put Legursky back into a backup role.  I like this alot.  I love him as a backup for the 3 interior spots and as a goal-line blocking back.  He’s the epitome of JJ’s not very good, but in a good way! analysis of our O-line.  

    3) Maybe we can run screen passes again.  That’ll be different.

    • DJAnyReason

      I’ve read reports that suggest DeCastro has the frame to add strength.  As polished as some NCAA programs are, I tend to think NFL franchises have better strength/conditioning programs than do colleges – not to mention not having to deal with being a student and/or the NCAA’s restrictions on time you can spend working on team activities.

      • Drobviousso

        “The frame to add strength” is one of the most overused cliche’s in sports.  Every college player can “add strength” just due to the fact that they aren’t done growing.  Even freaks like Timmons, who looked like a comic book character at the combine, has “added strength”

        It’s not really a knock to say he’s not a strong as Kemo.  He’s plenty strong enough to do what he has to do.  Frankly, the best guards are rarely the Strongest One There Is.

  • DC in ATL

    Some additional Decastro love from John Czarnacki at Foxsports:
     
    “DeCastro was very impressive at the Scouting Combine. Whenever he was interviewed, he was able to go up to the white board and draw up the Stanford offense like he was quarterback Andrew Luck.”

    Up Next0
    Round 1 Recap: Steelers
    Brian Billick and Charles Davis on the Steelers taking David DeCastro.
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    Round 1 Recap: Steelers Brian Billick and Charles Davis on the Steelers taking David DeCastro. Date 13 hrs ago, Duration 2:02, Views 34922 Video by:  Fox Sports  |  FOXSports.com on MSN     Watch latest sports news and highlights     More FOXSports.com video    

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” one head coach told me. “He drew up all of their favorite plays and explained what Luck was looking at on every play.”

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  • Hoffstra323

    I like the look of some of our new linemen. Notice that he and Maurkice are both big guys but they look solid. No fat on these guys… Decastro is going to be one of the best guards in the game for a long time.