Sports Magazine

Draft : Why "The Steelers Refuse to Play Rookies Argument" Boils My Blood.

By Kipper @pghsportsforum
Mayhaps this be my first blog? My first opinion-oriented piece? Could be! I had mentioned this briefly in another post, but I will go more in-depth here, as I believe this topic deserves it's own thread and it's own dedicated responses.
The GeoBear Sports Network, a proud subsidiary of the Pittsburgh Sports Forum (those of you in the Pens GDT's will know this one!) apologizes ahead of time for the upcoming wall of text, but my blood pressure rises every time I hear about this subject, and this is the only way I can alleviate it without medication or a stroke :panic:
I believe the whole idea of the Steelers coaching staff refusing to play rookies is a little skewed, and quite frankly, I don't see it, believe it, or agree with as blindly as a lot of others seem to.
Now, I may not be seeing this the same way as most, so bear with me here. Where is the evidence to back this claim up? I have asked several of my friends and co-workers this same question whenever they make this statement, and I have never, ever been given any sort of legitimate answer. I am only met with stammering, a blank, zombie-like stare, and/or someone tossing out some obscure rookie name that was drafted in the 7th round of 2008 that never saw the field and is now bagging groceries or washing cars.
I am not writing this to incite a riot. I am simply curious. I pose this question to all the Steelers fans here at the Pittsburgh Sports Forum. I was not a member of this forum until March of this year. However, I have read almost every post concerning this upcoming Steelers season that you all have made and contributed to. Some things I agree with, some I do not, but I respect all those who voice their opinions and at least try and back up their claim. I have seen this "no rookies allowed" point brought up numerous times, by numerous members. I will respect your statements if they are based on facts and opinions, but a plain statement with nothing to back it up, to me, is just that: nothing.
Now to the nitty gritty!
Very rarely do the Steelers have such a season that garners a high draft pick of a player expected to be a franchise guy in his first year. Hell, the last time we had the first OVERALL pick was when we landed Terry Bradshaw, and that was a coin flip between the Steelers and the Bears. A coin flip! The "high profile" rookies, those are the guys that are most likely going to a team that needs them to start and begin producing at a high level right away. And not all of those guys pan out and produce like they are expected to - for every superstar drafted in the first round, there are 5-6 busts. For every Peyton Manning, there is a Ryan Leaf. For every Calvin Johnson, there is a Charles Rogers. For every Adrian Peterson, there is a Ki-Jana Carter. (Yeah, I know...he got injured before he got a chance...but he was drafted by the Bungles, so who's to say he wouldn't have stunk anyways? And this is coming from a Penn State fan, by the way :D)
To the Steelers credit, they don't draft that early because they are consistently winning. They might not win the Super Bowl every year, but for the most part they are competitive, in the hunt, and a team with high expectations of both the fans and the media. There are very few NFL teams with that sort of track record, and there are more than quite a few teams who would give anything to be in that position.
If you are relying on a fifth round draft pick to get significant playing time, then to loosely quote Chuck Noll regarding former RB Sydney Thornton , "you have problems, and they are many." The Steelers, in my humble opinion, are not at that point.
For sake of shortening the list down, and to include the end of Cowher's regime and the beginning of Tomlin's (since Tomlin is singled out more than Cowher ever was for this being a problem), let's start in the year 2000.
There have been only two first round picks since the 2000 draft that haven't been opening day starters in their rookie year, or at least saw significant playing time. That would be Ziggy Hood in 2009 and Cameron Heyward in 2011.
The rest of the list? Plaxico Burress, Casey Hampton, Kendall Simmons, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall, Maurkice Pouncey.
All of them were either opening day starters, became starters as the season progressed, or played significantly enough with the time they did play to earn a starting spot the next season. And remember, last year David DeCastro was slated to be the opening day starter at guard before he was injured and missed most of the season. That doesn't strike me as a team that never plays rookies. That's a better track record for first rounders than most teams.
There are also a good handful of second, third, etc. round draft choices that have panned out quite nicely for the Steelers. And there have been some busts. There have been late round picks that are now solid contributors and/or starters to this team. And there some that are on the practice squad, in the CFL/Arena League, been released via free agency/traded away, or just plain out of football.
The same time frame, from 2000 to present, here is the list of players drafted after the first round that have started or played significantly in their rookie years, in no particular order:
Antwaan Randle El, Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Chris Hope, Lamarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, William Gay, Jonathan Dwyer, Daniel Sepulveda, Keenan Lewis, Mike Wallace, Marvel Smith, Bryant McFadden, Clark Haggans, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Kendrell Bell, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, Cortez Allen.
Do you still believe that the Steelers do not play rookies? I believe that a lot of the rookie playing time goes unheralded and unnoticed because most are not household names to begin with, but these are all names that Steelers fans should know. And guess what - they ALL played as rookies.
If you look across the NFL as a whole, it's the pretty much the same way. Sometimes you hit a home run with a draft pick that you thought would be great and he was, sometimes you are surprised at a guy who fell down the board and he steps it up and makes an impact, and more often than not, the guy you draft is going to fade into obscurity in 3-4 years...sometimes less. For every guy drafted in a late round that blossoms into a superstar, there are 100+ other guys who you never heard of, and never will again. That's the nature of the business and the sport.
This year's draft? Jarvis Jones is a great talent. There is a gaping hole at LB this year, with Harrison gone (it was time), Woodley up in the air (I believe he's going to bounce back this year) and Worlids not panning out the way they expected him to (I expect that to stay the same.) I firmly believe Jones will be the opening day starter at LB, and will be given every opportunity to do so. Le'Veon Bell was a guy that the Steelers were salivating over and targeting heavily, and they got him. His competition at RB is extremely thin now that Mendenhall is gone, and I expect him to start and play well. Markus Wheaton is coming to a team that does not have a clear-cut #1 receiver, with Mike Wallace off to Miami. Burress and Cotchery are older, possession-type receivers at this point in their career. Brown and Sanders have talent, but they really truly thrive when there is someone lining up on the other side to take some heat off of them. Unless Wheaton pulls a Limas Sweed or a Troy Edwards, he too will be given every opportunity to contribute right away, and he has the tools to do so. Shamarko Thomas, if not this year, should be starting next year depending on what we do with Ryan Clark. And there will be injuries, mark my words. There always has been, and always will be. The rest of the draft choices made this year are players that are not as polished and may need some work, which befits where they were drafted.
In closing, I ask again - where is the evidence that the Steelers refuse to play rookies?

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