Collier: Steelers' '02 draft was super

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The three months of speculation leading up to the NFL draft have yielded to the three months of speculation on the relative impact of the NFL draft, and at no time during either period will speculation itself be subject to anything resembling public criticism.

The jump-the-shark moment for speculation, at least in its non-pejorative NFL life, came during a broadcast of "Monday Night Football" many years ago, when then play-by-play man Frankie Lee Gifford, observing an injured player, barked:

"It might be a knee; we won't speculate."

But see Frank, ya just ... never mind.

With draft speculation having grown into its own industry, any attempts at prudence have been sorely compromised, as when Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' personnel chief and star of The Colbert Report, mentioned the other day that his personal analysis of last week's draft won't be fully useful for two or three years.

Two or three years?

Thanks for checking in from the assisted living center.

It was all over the Internet in less than 24 hours -- instant analysis of the 2007 NFL draft -- the winners, the losers, the domestic abusers.

But if Colbert is a bit out of touch with the attention span of the modern draft consumer, I'm even worse. My own common response to the whadduya-thinkudda-draft question is "ask me in five years."

"Ask me in five years" has been so useful in this regard that I've long since expanded it into other areas -- stretched the rhetorical field vertically, if you must -- much to the frustration of many.

"Dad, can I have gas money?"

"Ask me in five years."

Toward that end then, I'm telling you here today that I think the Steelers' draft was a phenomenal, inspired, destiny-changing tour de force by Colbert and his staff of scouts and coaches, bringing to Pittsburgh a formidable drive blocker, a game-breaking special teams ace and wideout, a promising safety, a linebacker/tackling machine, a versatile third-down back, a fleet return man, a game-changing defensive lineman, and, of course, LaVar Glover.

I'm talking about the Steelers' draft of 2002.

It has been five years, so now it can be fully analyzed, no speculation necessary. It's all there in rich documentation, needing only the reliability of hindsight, and remember, as I think it was Walt Harris who said, "Hindsight is 50-50."

Coming off another disagreeable engagement in the AFC championship game, the 2002 Steelers were drafting a disadvantageous 30th and had only four of the first 128 picks. The first rounder was Henry Alexander Kendall Simmons, and the next three were Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope and Larry Foote. Not Swann, Lambert, Stallworth and Webster (1974), but not bad.

Simmons has started 29 of the Steelers' past 32 regular-season games and all four of the assignments in their postseason ramp up to the Super Bowl, where he helped the run game amass 181 yards and spring Willie Parker on the longest such ride in Super Bowl history.

Randle El, who threw the only touchdown pass by a wideout in Super Bowl history, and Hope, who started on that Super defense, played well enough in their first four seasons that the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans wound up handing them a combined $48 million in free-agent swag.

Without Foote, the fulcrum of Dick LeBeau's menacing defense, the Steelers might have found somebody else to make those 8,000 tackles, but they might never have found someone to say of LeBeau, "It's a chess match out there, and he's always ahead of the eight ball."

The fifth pick of that 2002 draft was Verron Haynes, a highly serviceable third-down back ever since, or at least right up until the moment that Colbert killed him.

"Obviously, we terminated Verron and that was really for some salary-cap issues that was actually to his benefit," Colbert said at the club's formal pre-draft news conference April 23.

I'm hoping Colbert meant he'd terminated Haynes' contract. Subsequent reports have it that Haynes is alive, working out, and hopes to be ready for training camp with a rehabbed knee.

Lee Mays, who has been on and off the organization's special teams ever since, was the sixth-round pick and, with the first of their two seventh-round choices in 2002, the Steelers took Glover, a defensive back out of the University of Cincinnati and the only one of the eight picks that year with which they flat missed. Glover was released in training camp, signed and released by Denver and Detroit, played in the arena league, played in the Canadian Football League, and for all I know played Cecily in the Vancouver Public Theatre's production of "The Importance of Being Earnest."

But with their second pick in the seventh round, the 242nd selection of the draft, the Steelers anointed Brett Keisel, now a stalwart of their defensive line after an AFC title game performance in Denver that included four solo tackles, two sacks for 10 yards in losses and a forced fumble.

In eight selections that spring weekend in 2002, the Steelers, in a poor draft position, took four players who would eventually start on a world champion and a fifth (Keisel) who would be starting by the next season. They passed on Antonio Bryant to pick Randle El, but also passed on Deion Branch. They passed on Najeh Davenport, for the moment, to draft Haynes seven picks before him. Moreover, it was not a terribly distinguished field to begin with. Notable quarterback busts David Carr and Joey Harrington were at the top of the board. The 15th pick was Albert Haynesworth. Dwight Freeney, Ed Reed and Lito Sheppard, all top defensive players today, were gone by the time the Steelers picked Simmons.

As for Lawrence Timmons, et al., I don't know, but that 2002 draft was just tremendous.

Gene Collier can be reached at or 412-263-1283.


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