PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers’ second consecutive 8-8 season kept them out of the playoffs, but it did come with a sliver of upside: They are now positioned fairly well in a draft that is exceptionally deep.
The Steelers are not accustomed to picking as high as No. 15 – the last time they did so was in 2007 – and they should have plenty of options with that selection assuming they don’t try to trade down and collect some extra picks.
It is too early to tell who will be available at No. 15 though the Steelers will benefit from teams in front of them taking quarterbacks and pushing more highly regarded players down the board.
Three quarterbacks – Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel – figure to go before the Steelers make their first pick. Given how desperate some teams are to find a quarterback, another one might sneak into the top 14, perhaps Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
History could provide a guide as to the caliber of player that the Steelers will select in the first round, and this is the first of three installments looking at the last 15 players taken with the 15th overall pick in the draft.
2013 -- Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints: The former Texas standout had a solid rookie season, starting the Saints’ 14 games before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury. Vaccaro joined the 49ers’ Eric Reid as the safeties on the Pro Football Writers of America’s (PFWA) All-Rookie team after recording 92 tackles and an interception. The Saints look like they hit with this pick though it’s still early.
2012 Bruce Irvin, DE, Seahawks -- Seattle made one of the most surprising decisions early in the draft, taking a player who hadn’t been widely projected as a first-round pick. Irvin justified the pick as a rookie, recording eight sacks as a situational pass-rusher. Irvin missed the first four games last season after serving a suspension for use of a banned substance and moved to outside linebacker where he started 12 games and registered 40 tackles and two sacks. Irvin still appears to be in Seattle’s long-range plans.
2011 -- Mike Pouncey, C, Dolphins: The Steelers would have loved to draft Pouncey and play him next to his twin brother, Maurkice, on the offensive line. They never had a shot at him picking 31st in 2011, and Pouncey has developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber center in Miami as well as the anchor of the Dolphins’ offensive line. Pouncey was cited in the Wells report as one of three Miami players involved in locker room harassment, and he could face discipline from the NFL. He still appears to be in the Dolphins’ long-range plans even with his reputation taking a hit in the aftermath of the bullying scandal in Miami.
2010 -- Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants: Had a monster second season when he recorded 16½ sacks in 2011 and was a main reason why the Giants won the Super Bowl that season. Pierre-Paul has produced just 8½ sacks since then and offseason back surgery as well as a shoulder injury hampered him in 2013. Based on what he did in helping the Giants win a Super Bowl, this pick has to rate as a hit – and it will get better if Pierre-Paul starts tormenting quarterbacks again in 2014 as he has vowed to do.
2009 -- Brian Cushing, LB, Texans: He has excelled as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense and as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, displaying the all-around skills that make him one of the top players at his position when healthy. Cushing had to overcome a suspension for use of a banned substance early in his career. Now he has to come back from injuries (torn ACL and broke fibula) that have limited him to 12 games in the last two seasons. If Cushing can stay healthy this selection will rank as one of the best first-round picks in the 2009 draft.