<
>

Troy Polamalu was simply too rare for the Steelers to pass up in 2003

Breaking down one of the riskiest draft moves by the Pittsburgh Steelers over the past 25 years.

Round/overall selection: First, 16th

Did the risk pay off?: Two Super Bowl wins and a 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award later, yeah, it is safe to say the Steelers' decision to move up 11 spots in the 2003 draft paid dividends. Troy Polamalu is destined for the Hall of Fame after a brilliant 12-year career with Pittsburgh. But despite Polamalu's place as the best safety available that year -- and USC's most decorated safety since Ronnie Lott -- the Steelers were known as conservative with draft-day trades, especially in the first round. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pittsburgh had never selected a pure safety in the first round or moved up spots in that round. They wanted Polamalu that badly, giving Kansas City their first-, third- and sixth-rounders to get to No. 16. This was a gamble that set the tone for a playmaking defense for years to come. The secondary had some issues back then, so Polamalu injected life into that group.

Was there a safer move: The Steelers had options at No. 27 overall, and they've proven over time they can pluck instant starters from the late-first round. That year, many would have considered Penn State running back Larry Johnson, Kansas City's 27th overall pick, as an upgrade over the aging Jerome Bettis. But the Steelers still believed in Bettis' abilities, and he rewarded the faith with 20 rushing touchdowns over the next two seasons. Cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha was available. He could have helped a 20th-ranked passing defense. Those players simply weren't as attractive as Polamalu, who met a positional need but was also one of the draft's best players regardless of position.