Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have been conspiring on drafts since 2010.

The 2021 draft may be as important as any draft they have been together for. The direction of the Pittsburgh Steelers hangs in the balance. A team rich in playoff success has succumb to failure in the playoffs.

Mike Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season in Pittsburgh, but the Steelers organization has always graded itself by Super Bowls and playoff victories. If that is the case, then Tomlin, Colbert, and the gang would be receiving F’s on their most recent report cards.

The Steelers enter the 2021 draft with a beaten up, aging quarterback, no NFL quality starting running backs, and an offensive line with more question marks than exclamation points. The defense has a chance to be stingy, but still another edge rusher, linebacker, or cornerback wouldn’t hurt.

That’s a lot of holes to fill for an organization who prides itself on not rebuilding, but reloading. I’m not sure that can be accomplished in one draft. Maybe we should look at 2021 as a refurbishing.

Before we get in to the particulars of this year’s draft, let’s look at how much success Tomlin and Colbert have had during their time plotting together.

2010

  • Boom: Markese Pouncey(1), Emmanuel Sanders(3), Antonio Brown(6)
  • Bust: Thaddeus Gibson(4)

Obviously Pouncey became the latest in a long line of great Steelers centers. He is a fringe Hall of Fame player.

Sanders has stood the test of time. He had a solid career in Pittsburgh, and has latched on with three other teams. At 33 he is still very productive for the New Orleans Saints.

Crazy AB. Well, we didn’t know he was crazy in 2010. Actually, we didn’t think anything of him considering he was drafted late in the sixth round. On the field he may be the best sixth round pick this side of Tom Brady. Despite the crazy off the field—which Tampa seems to have gotten in check—he is a Hall of Fame wide receiver.

Thaddeus Gibson was a rare Buckeye bust. He was supposed to pair up with second rounder Jason Worilds to be a one-two punch of edge rushers. Gibson suited up for four games, not in Pittsburgh. Worilds wasn’t a bust. He was finally coming into his own, ala Bud Dupree, when he suddenly retired from football for religious reasons.

2011

  • Boom: Cam Heyward(1)
  • Bust: Marcus Gilbert(2), Curtis Brown(3)

Other than Heyward, this was an “eh” kind of draft.

Heyward has been the picture of stability. Great on the field. Great off the field. His tires are getting slightly worn, but he seems eager to keep rolling down that road. 

Marcus Gilbert had some good moments in Pittsburgh, occasionally looking like a dominant NFL tackle. Unfortunately, one suspension for steroids and numerous trips to the IR derailed his career.

Curtis Brown, out of Texas, never lived up to the Texas pedigree. He was a total flame out. 

The Steelers got modest production out of Chris Carter and Cortez Allen from the 2011 draft but again…”eh”. 

2012

  • Boom: David DeCastro(1), Kelvin Beachum(7)
  • Bust: Everyone else in between

David DeCastro is a perennial Pro Bowl player. He has been slowed by injury, but remains mostly productive. The Steelers have been fortunate to have him anchor the right side of the offensive line for nearly a decade.

Beachum is one of those amazing stories. He won’t make the Hall of Fame. He isn’t a Pro Bowler. All he does is start football games. Since 2014, Beachum has started every game—four different teams—he has been healthy for. Astonishing for a late, late seventh round pick.

Another Buckeye bust Mike Adams, undersized Sean Spence, not as shifty as thought Chris Rainey, and the rest of the suspects from this less than stellar draft class were duds.

2013

  • Boom: Le’Veon Bell(2)
  • Bust: Jarvis Jones(1), Markus Wheaton(3), Shamarko Thomas(4)

Yes, Steelers fans, Bell was a stud while in Pittsburgh. Obviously he should have stayed in Pittsburgh because it’s been right off a cliff for him ever since. He sure was fun to watch in a Steelers uniform.

Just when you thought you were done watching Vince Williams, they pull him back in again. It would have been a stretch on my part to put Williams in the boom category. However, you can’t deny the number of quality, if not spectacular, snaps he has played as a Steeler. 

Jarvis Jones is the poster child for Steelers first round busts. I think the quote, “Look like Tarzan, play like Jane” fits here.

Markus Wheaton kept tempting fans to think he would become the next great Steelers wide receiver, and then he would find his way back to the bench.

Fans were waiting for Shamarko Thomas to crack into the lineup every summer. Then fall came along and he was invisible.

2014

  • Boom: Ryan Shazier(1), Stephon Tuitt(2)
  • Bust: Dri Archer(3), Martavis Bryant(4), and truly everyone else in this draft.

Everyone knows Ryan Shazier’s story. Potentially on track for a Hall of Fame career, only to have it taken away with a devastating injury. His comeback to be where he is now remains one of the incredible stories in sports.

Stephon Tuitt is maybe a stretch here, too. He is really good when he can stay on the field. He will be a big part of this season’s Steelers defense.

Archer was going to be that change of pace back and punt returner and kick returner. Well, how about, no, no, and no.

Bryant flashed superstar skills. Ben Roethlisberger loved throwing deep balls to him. Unfortunately Bryant had trouble with the white lines, and not the white lines on the football field.

Three other draft picks in this class(Shaquille Richardson, Jordan Zumwalt, Rob Blanchflower) never played a down in the NFL.

2015

  • Boom: Bud Dupree(1), Jesse James(5)
  • Bust: Senquez Golson(2), Sammie Coates(3), Doran Grant(4)

Dupree took a while to finally become a boom type of player, but when he did it was a really loud boom! He boomed so loud that he became too expensive for the Steelers to afford. He was a great partner on the edge to go with TJ Watt.

Jesse James was a really productive tight end during his Steelers days. A free agent now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the ‘Burgh. His most famous play was the touchdown catch against New England. Wait, what? He didn’t catch it? Pffft…

Golson may have been a decent player. Nobody would ever find out because injuries never allowed him to get on the field.

Sammie Coates looked the part. He even had a moment or two while in Pittsburgh. Ultimately, though, he grossly underperformed for a guy that seemingly had all the physical tools.

Doran Grant was yet another Buckeyes bust. The Buckeyes have giveth to the Steelers, but have also sent some real duds Pittsburgh’s way.

2016

  • Boom: Javon Hargrave(3)
  • Bust: Artie Burns(1), Sean Davis(2)

Javon Hargrave wasn’t an earth shattering boom, but was very good for the Steelers. He was good enough to earn a big pay day from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Artie Burns is the one guy to rival Jarvis Jones for the biggest first round bust. Fans kept waiting and waiting and waiting. He just never got there.

Davis had some moments, especially as a hitter. That hitting also got him fined a few times. He seemed to actually get worse with time.

This draft did include Tyler Matakevich, who became a fantastic special teams player.

2017

  • Boom: TJ Watt(1), JuJu Smith Schuster(2), Cam Sutton(3)
  • Bust: Bottom half of the draft

This was a weird draft for the Steelers.

Unless you are living under a steel beam, you know what kind of player TJ Watt is. He is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, though it is far too early for that kind of talk.

JuJu, despite drawing the ire of many old people by showing youthful exuberance, has been anywhere from excellent to solid. He has one Pro Bowl to his record, and this year has a chance to prove he should get paid like an upper echelon wide receiver.

Cam Sutton keeps getting better. okay, so maybe he isn’t exactly a total boom…yet. He became good enough that the Steelers chose to pay him instead of incumbent starter Steven Nelson. It will be his chance to shine this year.

This draft also included James Conner. Conner, now a Cardinal, had some really good moments. He just gets hurt too much, plus had a couple of costly fumbles in his Steelers career. Therefore, he is not a boom or a bust. He just is, which describes his days with the Steelers perfectly.

The bottom half of this draft was a total bust. Aside from a few snaps from Josh Dobbs, who miraculously continues to maintain a roster spot, the Steelers got absolutely nothing.

2018

It is too early to judge this group, so I won’t list any booms or busts.

I certainly don’t think first round pick Terrell Edmunds is trending in the correct direction. He has struggled, mightily at times, in the early days of his career. 

James Washington has been a solid wide receiver, but hasn’t elevated to a starting role yet, so he doesn’t appear to be boom material.

Mason Rudolph might be your next starting quarterback, or he could end up on the scrap heap. He’s had moments that could lead you to think either way on him.

Chuks Okafor and Marcus Allen continue to rise on the depth charts. Okafor could become a full time starter this season, while Allen has become a Jack of all trades on defense.

Jaylen Samuels continues to be employed, and still sees the field occasionally. How and why I don’t know.

To date this draft class hasn’t done anything earth shattering either way. 

2019

The same goes for the 2019 draft class, although the top two picks sure seem like they could boom.

Devin Bush was showing all the qualities of a Ryan Shazier, sideline to sideline, type of linebacker before an injury ruined his 2020 season. I would bet on Bush going boom when he gets back on the field this year. Despite his limited size, Bush hits hard and covers well. This will turn out to be a really good pick.

The second round choice, Dionte Johnson, also has the makings of a boom type of player. Two things could prevent Johnson from going boom: injuries and drops. He must catch the ball consistently and avoid those nagging injuries. He has already become a prime target in the Steelers offense.

Benny Snell, Ulysses Gilbert, and Isaiah Buggs have all had limited production. Snell isn’t going to be a bust, but he probably won’t ever be “the guy” either. Gilbert and Buggs are more depth guys at this point.

Third round choice Justin Layne is the question mark. He seems like he could go bust. It seems to me that the coaches thought he would see the field more often. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that he can be trusted. With the loss of Nelson, more will be needed from Layne this season.

2020

This draft has the chance to be really solid, and has already provided a boom(sort of).

Let’s not forget that the Steelers traded their first round pick to Miami in return for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is a boom player, so that has to be taken into account.

In the second round the Steelers nabbed Chase Claypool. Claypool certainly should have the possibility to go boom. He is big, and he is fast. Early on, Claypool became a weapon in the red zone. Much like Smith-Schuster, maturity may be his biggest hurdle.

In the third round the Steelers chose edge rusher/linebacker Alex Highsmith. When Bud Dupree tore his ACL, Highsmith was center stage. He had a lot of really good moments. With Dupree off for Tennessee, the job is all Highsmith’s. He has, at least, a 50/50 chance of booming. 

In the fourth round the Steelers grabbed two players that may have solid futures.

Anthony McFarland is a running back that the Steelers don’t possess. He is shifty and fast. He most likely won’t be an every down back, but should turn in to a nice change of pace back. I hope we see much more of him this year.

The second player drafted in the fourth round was offensive lineman Kevin Dotson. Due to injury Dotson was thrust in to the starting lineup for a few games. He performed admirably. As a matter of fact, the Steelers looked better when Dotson played. He could be a key piece on a questionable offensive line this year.

Even sixth and seventh round choices, Antoine Brooks and Carlos Davis, saw a little action last season. 

This may have been one of Colbert and Tomlin’s most productive drafts, considering they had no first round pick.

Colbert and Tomlin are entering their twelfth draft together. They hit plenty of home runs, and as with any draft team, have struck out their fair share of times. Most teams have a mixed bag when it comes to drafting.

Antonio Brown, Markese Pouncey, and maybe TJ Watt are generational talents.

Cam Heyward, Emmanuel Sanders, Le’veon Bell, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Stephon Tuitt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Devin Bush, Dionte Johnson, and Chase Claypool, by anyone’s standards were really good picks. 

Others have been solid, too. We focus a lot on the likes of Jarvis Jones, Sammie Coates, and Artie Burns. Every fanbase has complaints, and those are at the top of the Steelers fanbase complaints. All in all, Tomlin and Colbert have done just fine. That is probably why the lack of playoff success is so frustrating.

So, what direction will the Steelers brain trust go in a very crucial 2021 draft?

Looking through the thousand or so mock drafts from all of the “experts”, it would seem that the Steelers will go with a running back, offensive lineman, edge rusher, cornerback, quarterback, or long snapper. Okay, so maybe some of the mock drafts haven’t been from experts.

It seems the Steelers want to go for it next year, in what you would think is Ben Roethlisberger’s last season. That, in my mind, means they need to protect their brittle quarterback. Obviously, that could mean they choose an offensive lineman with their first round pick. They could also try to fix the broken running game. That may mean choosing a running back like Najee Harris. If they view Harris as a can’t miss, stud running back then he may be hard to pass up.

I personally can’t see them going anywhere else with that 24th pick. Running back. Offensive line. Either/Or. Having said either/or, this little tidbit maybe should lead the Steelers in a certain direction.

Drafts are hard to predict. Maybe the Steelers pull a surprise. Maybe they will see a player at another position they feel they absolutely can’t pass on.

 In Tomlin and Colbert we must trust.

Steelers fans will cross their fingers that the dynamic duo of draft find another Pouncey, AB, or Watt. 

If, instead, they bring on another Jarvis Jones or Artie Burns then the Steelers could be looking down the barrel of a slide into mediocrity. An area where the Cleveland Browns won’t even be residing.

Two Cent Takes

NHL

~The Pittsburgh Penguins played the reeling Flyers once and the lowly Sabres twice this week. That is a possible six points to earn. The Pens got three. That is unacceptable for a team vying for the top seed in the playoffs.

~Luckily for the Pens, the Islanders and Capitals didn’t have stellar weeks either. The race for the top spot may come right down to the wire.

~Sidney Crosby on the grab and go for the score.

~The Flyers managed to rise to the occasion against the Pens. Even Carter Hart, who has looked more like a sieve most of the season, played lights out.

NBA

~The 76ers have a two game lead in the loss column over the Nets. Earning the top seed in the East is vital in order to avoid the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs.

~I’m rooting for anyone other than the Nets. I have several problems with the NBA, but none ranks higher than allowing teams to load up there roster.

~The mercurial Joel Embiid may just be on his way to an MVP. He is fun to watch. He reminds me of a bull in a China closet, which is a little old school.

College Football

~Great to see the Spring games looking more normal this year.

~Penn State seemed pleased with the production from their quarterbacks. That will need to carry over to the season.

~USC also had three quarterbacks perform well at their spring game. Unfortunately, the offensive line had them doing much of their damage on the run. That will need fixed if the Trojans are going to take a step forward.

~Alabama looked like Alabama during spring. Coach Nick Saban was already in regular season form.

Love him or hate him, Saban is entertaining.

College Basketball

~Seth Lundy is coming back to Penn State. I wonder if there wasn’t much interest out there for Lundy, or if Micah Shrewsberry was able to influence him. Lundy has a world of potential, but has shown no consistency to date. This has the potential to be a very good thing for Penn State.

~With the new transfer rule, keep your scorecard handy. Lots of dominoes have fallen, and lots of dominoes are yet to fall.

~Speaking of rules, the rules committee is debating going to six fouls. Don’t. Do. It. Why change what isn’t broke? If players don’t want to foul out, don’t do stupid things.

~Word is that Dan Dakich won’t be back to call games at ESPN next year.

The look on his face up there says it all. Good riddance.

MLB

~Here is a great message from a former great player.

I wish all current players would take it to heart.

~In that regard, I will give credit to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Manager Derek Shelton has this team playing hard. Apparently the players are sick of hearing guys like me criticize them. They run out every ground ball and bust it on the bases. Well, I assume Colin Moran is busting it.

~The Phillies pitching is off to a better than expected start, leaving Phillies fans with a glimmer of hope.

~Yankees fans are looking for a glimmer from their last place team, and the players on the team aren’t happy either. Gerrit Cole had this to say.

“You have to strap your boots on and wade through the mud a little bit,” Cole said. “If we stay in that mindset and we leave the field every day exhausted, good things are on the horizon. But I don’t have the magic wand; I don’t know when it’s going to turn.”

Geez, think how those of us who picked the Yankees to win it all feel.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

Last week Pine-Richland High School fired football coach Eric Kasperowicz. All he did as head coach is win 4 WPIAL titles, 2 state titles, and run up an 85-18 overall record. Plus, he got many, many players scholarships to play at the collegiate level.

No reports of player abuse, hazing, or other inappropriate behavior. Coaches at opposing schools have spoken out in his behalf. Apparently other coaches refuse to apply for the job as a show of solidarity. Kasperowicz did reapply, so this could get interesting.

Apparently a couple of administrators didn’t like how big the football program was becoming. They felt it was overshadowing academics.

Well, maybe they aren’t wrong on that one.

Too often administrators forget they work for the taxpayers. They let their personal agendas get in the way of common sense. Kasperowicz could not have done any more as a head football coach.

Just in the Pittsburgh area alone successful coaches have been replaced in recent years for not playing school board members kids, because parents went to the school board to complain, and now this.

Even at my local school district there are strange hiring and firing practices, and the athletic programs don’t ever win. Two of the most recent football coaches were fired. The first found out from a student in the hallway at the high school. The second was ousted after the team was given the option to have a vote on the coach in the middle of the season. Other coaches were run off or attempted to be run off by parents going to the school board to complain.

It doesn’t appear to matter if you have a winning program or a losing program. Parents and administrators have agendas. Those agendas almost never involve whether a coach has done anything bad enough to warrant being fired.

Whether it is Smalltown USA or a bigger locale like Pittsburgh, no area is immune to high school coaching turmoil.

You can win games or even titles. You can be a good leader. You can do everything by the book. The kids can like and respect you. None of that seems to matter when someone has an axe to grind or an agenda to have fulfilled. Eric Kasperowicz is just the latest to suffer through this nonsense.

Is it any wonder school districts have trouble finding qualified coaching candidates?

Just my two cents…