Now that we are less than a month away from the 2012 NFL Draft, speculation is running wild on what players the Pittsburgh Steelers will be targeting when the draft begins on Thursday, April 26. After an offseason of massive changes on both sides of the ball, the Steelers are in a position where they need a good draft to fill depth that has been lost over the last few months.
In order to understand where we are heading, it is imperative that we understand the past. Over the next few weeks here at NPC, I will be reviewing the past five Steelers draft classes in detailed fashion. Then, as we hit draft week 2012, I will give my predictions for the 2012 Steelers draft class. Pittsburgh has always been a team that has used the draft to build from within, as opposed to the teams that build through free agency. The strategy has worked well, leading to more Super Bowl victories than any other franchise in professional football. However, even the Steelers are not above criticism when it comes to the inexact science that is NFL drafting. We will start tonight by reviewing the 2007 Steelers draft class – a class that produced no less than three defensive starters, along with a Tight End who contributed to the Steelers Super Bowl XLIII win and a Punter that for a short time was considered one of the best in football.
The 2007 Steelers draft was the first for head Coach Mike Tomlin, and set the tone for his very successful first five years in the Emperors Chair. The Steelers were coming off an 8-8 season in Bill Cowhers final season as head coach, as speculation was that massive changes would be in store for the team under their new head coach. That speculation was squashed when Tomlin announced that longtime Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau would be retained, allowing the team to continue utilizing the 3-4 defense that had been so successful. The offense was handed over to new Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians, who had served under former OC Ken Whisenhunt and seemed to have a desire to maintain consistency on that side of the ball as well. The Steelers would head into the 2007 Draft looking to enhance a team that had Pro-Bowl talent all over the field and was looking to return to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers had the 15th pick in Round One of the 2007 Draft, a relatively high pick for a franchise used to picking in the final five picks year after year. The stage was set for an exciting draft for the Steelers, and fans anticipated the possibility of Pitt CB Darrelle Revis becoming the next great Steelers defensive back. The New York Jets would end that dream when they traded up to the 14th overall slot with Carolina to select Revis. Without a defensive back on the board that they felt was worthy of the 15th overall pick, the Steelers went to their roots and selected the best linebacker available.
Round One – 15th Overall – Lawrence Timmons – Linebacker – 6’3″, 232 lbs. – Florida State
Possibly one of the most athletic players in the 2007 Draft, Lawrence Timmons would become the first draft pick of the Tomlin era when the Steelers selected the Florida State product with the 15th pick of round one. Timmons would begin his Steelers career as a backup to the ILB combination of James Farrior and Larry Foote. In his rookie season, Timmons played in all 16 games for the team, recording 13 tackles. After another season as the backup and winning a Super Bowl ring in 2008, the stage was set for Timmons to take over for Foote in 2009. The Steelers made that move official when they released Foote in May at the veterans request, and Timmons went into the season with his first starting role on the team. After a 2009 season full of highs and lows for Timmons, he firmly established himself as a key piece of the Steelers defense in 2010 – leading the team with 135 tackles and adding 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. The team rewarded his progress in August 2011 with a six-year, $50 million contract extension.
Lawrence Timmons has proved to be a valuable player for the Steelers. Besides a natural ability to get to ball carriers, Timmons has spent considerable time in his career playing in pass coverage against athletic tight ends and running backs. While accolades have been short in his five-year run, Timmons has played in two Super Bowls and established himself as a perfect fit in the Steelers 3-4 alignment. Still just 25 years old, the best could very well still lay ahead for Timmons.
Round Two – 46th Overall – LaMarr Woodley – OLB/DE – 6’2″ 265 lbs. – Michigan
With the 46th pick in the draft, the Steelers landed perhaps their best value draft pick of the Tomlin era. With defensive ends such as Jamaal Anderson, Jarvis Moss, and the late Gaines Adams off the board in the first round, the Steelers were able to steal LaMarr Woodley in the second round. Sticking to a tradition that had worked for the franchise so many times in the past, the team viewed Woodley – primarily a defensive end at Michigan – as a perfect candidate to move into the outside linebacker slot in the 3-4 alignment.
After playing in 13 games and recording four sacks in his rookie season, Woodley secured a starting slot opposite James Harrison to begin 2008 – creating one of the most prolific outside linebacker combinations in NFL history. He immediately established himself as one of the premier pass rushers in the league with 11.5 sacks in his sophomore campaign. In 2009, Woodley earned a Pro Bowl nod with a 13.5 sack season – the second of his three consecutive double digit sack seasons. In his five years with Pittsburgh, Woodley has accumulated 48.0 sacks, 4 interceptions, 7 forced fumbles, and 3 defensive touchdowns.
One of the most popular Steelers players both on and off the field, LaMarr Woodley has been nothing short of integral to the Steelers dominating defense. The team rewarded him in 2011 with a six-year $61.5 million contract extension.
Round Three – 77th Overall – Matt Spaeth – TE – 6’7″ 270 lbs. – Minnesota
The Steelers dove right back into the Big Ten Conference pool in round three, selecting huge tight end Matt Spaeth from the University of Minnesota. With Heath Miller firmly established as the teams starter and longtime backup Jerame Tuman on the roster, Spaeth was considered a luxury pick for a team that had few legitimate needs in terms of depth. The 2006 winner of the John Mackey Award as the top college tight end, Spaeth made his presence felt on his first professional reception – a 5-yard touchdown pass from QB Ben Roethlisberger in a week one victory over the Cleveland Browns. Once Tuman was placed on injured reserve, Spaeth took over as the Steelers primary backup to Miller – a spot he would fill for the next four seasons. Spaeth would leave the team as a free agent after 2010 to sign with the Chicago Bears, closer to his home in St. Michael, Minnesota.
In terms of the service provided to the Steelers, Spaeth gave the team a reliable backup to Heath Miller, caught five touchdown passes, and played on a Super Bowl winning team in 2008. Playing behind Miller – arguably the best tight end in team history – did not offer many opportunities to stand out. Considering the lack of talent the third round of the 2007 draft produced, Spaeth was a solid selection for the Steelers.
Round Four – 112th Overall – Daniel Sepulveda – P – 6’3″ 230 lbs. – Baylor
The Steelers shocked many of their fans when they selected Sepulveda – a highly-decorated college punter – in the forth round. Sepulveda was considered one of the top collegiate punters in the country, a winner of two Ray Guy Awards (2004,2006) and a first-team All American. A former walk-on linebacker to the Baylor football team, he had earned a scholarship after a switch to punting – despite having not played the position since his junior high school days. In his first NFL training camp, he won the Steelers job by beating out veteran Mike Barr.
While it is extremely hard to value a punter on statistics alone, the difference Sepulveda brought to the team was evident right away. His ability to boot the ball downfield with ease was a sight for sore eyes in Steeler Nation and his athletic ability kept opposing teams on their toes with the potential for fake punts. In Week 16 of his rookie season during a game in St. Louis, Sepulveda completed a 32-yard pass to RB Najeh Davenport, helping the team to a 41-24 victory. His solid rookie season would be the highlight of his Steelers career, as injuries limited him to only 221 punts over his five-year stint with Pittsburgh.
Round Four – 132th Overall – Ryan McBean – DT – 6’5″ 305 lbs. – Oklahoma State
Despite having on the top defensive lines in football, the Steelers continued to spend mid-round draft picks in an attempt to build – resulting in such draft failures as Nathaniel Adibi (2004) and Orien Harris (2006). The team went after another defensive lineman with their second pick in the forth round, selecting Ryan McBean from Oklahoma State. McBean would have a short career in the Steel City, playing in only one regular season game before being released during the final round of preseason cuts in 2008. He would re-emerge with the Denver Broncos in 2009, becoming a starter at left defensive end and playing in 14 games. He has remained with Denver and played in all 16 games in 2010 and 2011, recording 54 tackles and 4.0 sacks.
McBean was arrested in October 2011 for allegedly stalking an ex-girlfriend. This past March, it was announced that he had been suspended for six games in 2012 due to a failed drug test. The status of that suspension remains in question due to a lawsuit filed by McBean and a fellow teammate D.J. Williams over the manner in which the urine samples were collected.
Round Five – 156th Overall – Cameron Stephenson – OG – 6’3″ 326 lbs. – Rutgers
The Steelers made an attempt to build offensive line depth with the selection of Stephenson, the only player in the teams 2007 draft class to never suit up for a regular season game with the franchise. Stephenson was released during training camp of his rookie season. He has since been part of practice squads in Green Bay, Philadelphia,and New Orleans. He played in two regular season games with Jacksonville in 2008. Stephenson is currently out of football.
Round Five – 170th Overall – William Gay – CB - 5’10″ 190 lbs. – Louisville
The selection of Gay would round out a defensive draft that would include three future starters for the team. Primarily used on special teams and occasionally in nickel coverage during his rookie season, Gay started four games for the team in 2008, contributing to the Super Bowl winning Steelers. He would take over the role opposite CB Ike Taylor in 2009, replacing the departed Bryant McFadden. Despite losing his starting job to the returning McFadden in 2010, he played in all 16 games. He would once again emerge as the starter in 2011, his final year with the Steelers. Overall, Gay tallied 193 tackles, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles in his Pittsburgh career.
A polarizing player that has been both criticized and praised during this time with the team, Gay was signed as a free agent by Arizona on March 25.
Round Seven – 227th Overall – Dallas Baker – WR – 6’3″ 206 lbs. – Florida
With their final pick in the 2007 Draft, the Steelers opted to select a player with a solid big-college resume. Dallas Baker had been such a major piece to the Florida Gators 2007 BCS National Championship team that he was nicknamed “Dallas Baker, Touchdown Maker” by the ESPN College Football analysts. A big game player, his senior season included touchdown catches in wins over rival Florida State, as well as a score in the BCS Title game rout of Ohio State. All told, he tallied 151 catches for 2,236 yards and 21 touchdowns in his four-year college career. With the Steelers in need of a large receiver in the passing game, it was hard to argue with the selection of Baker in the seventh round.
As many players have proven over the years, college statistics are not always indicative of professional results. Baker played in eight games for the Steelers, catching one pass. He failed to make the active roster in 2007, but was signed to the practice squad – where he spent the majority of his black and gold career. After his final release from the team in September 2009, Baker spent time in both the Arena Football League and Canadian Football League. He is currently on the active roster for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the CFL.
2007 Draft Summary
The first Mike Tomlin-led Steelers draft included three future defensive starters, a tight end who contributed to four playoff teams, and a punter who was considered one of the best in football before injuries sidelined his career. While containing some obvious misses, only three picks in this draft failed to make an impact with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The choices of Timmons and Woodley were integral to two AFC Championship winning teams and the teams sixth Lombardi Trophy. Although this draft could not be considered one of the top all-time classes for the team, there is no doubt that it can be considered a success.
Follow Jeff Snedden on Twitter @jeffsnedden
Follow Nice Pick, Cowher on Twitter @nicepickcowherC
Be sure to get the best Steelers coverage year-round here at Nice Pick, Cowher.
Tags: 2007 NFL Draft Ben Roethlisberger Dallas Baker Dan Sepulveda Kevin Colbert Lamarr Woodley Lawrence Timmons Matt Spaeth Mike Tomlin Nfl Draft Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers Blog Steeler Nation Super Bowl XLIII William Gay