The holes on Steelers roster? Blame them on the Class of 2008
April 21, 2013 8:00 AM
Running back Rashard Mendenhall wasn't quite a bust, but he was the centerpiece of the 2008 draft and now he's no longer a Steeler.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In the true sense of the word "infamous," the 2008 class stands alone among a generation of Steelers drafts. It disappeared from their roster faster than any previous class back to 1985.
Free agency had something to do with this one, whereas there was no such system in place for players to leave 28 years ago -- they left on demerit rather than being lured by other teams. In comparison, the draft of 1985 was much worse for many reasons and it included 13 players while there were just seven in 2008.
Still, hoist a glass to the fast disappearing '08 Seven! Without them, the Steelers would not have so many holes to try to fill in this week's draft. The last to go went via free agency in March, Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy, neither a bust, but gone nevertheless.
"Let me say it this way," said Gil Brandt, an NFL.com senior analyst after a 29-year career as personnel man for the Dallas Cowboys: "Guys who are left on teams from the '08 draft, those are the guys who play for playoff contenders now."
Ouch. The not-so-great of 2008 had a mixed start because while they quickly disappeared, many of them picked up Super Bowl rings before they left. Even their two biggest busts, second-rounder Limas Sweed and third-rounder Bruce Davis, made it through their Super Bowl-winning season as rookies.
Davis was cut before the 2009 season and Sweed has become a punchline in Pittsburgh, gone after two seasons of seven catches, perhaps as many drops, two fumbles and just as many injuries. He never stuck with another team, joining some of the Steelers' more infamous second-round picks that go way back to the late 1970s and by the 1980s became known as their "jinx" pick.
Davis had 25 1/2 sacks in his final two seasons at UCLA and looked like a bargain in the third round. He remains a reason they're still looking for that outside linebacker.
"I remember Bruce Davis,'' said NFLDraftScout.com senior analyst Rob Rang, laughing at his recollection. "UCLA. I watched him and I didn't like him that much."
Same with Brandt.
"I wasn't a big fan of Limas Sweed or Bruce Davis -- I thought he looked stiff. I remember Sweed being a one-stride kind of a guy. He was tall, could run, but I didn't see a lot of fluidity out of his breaks. ... I want a guy more versatile than that."
Tackle Tony Hills, their fourth-round pick, hung around the practice squad and was on the roster in 2010 and played some in Denver and Indianapolis after that. The Colts turned him into a tight end last season, but he's a free agent now.
Quarterback Dennis Dixon, their fifth-round pick, had some promise but after four seasons as a backup with the Steelers, he's now on the roster of the Philadelphia Eagles.
They had two sixth-rounders: Linebacker Mike Humpal never played a down, and Mundy was a good special teams player and backup safety until he signed with the New York Giants in March.
As for Mendenhall, he was a success after his broken shoulder early in his rookie season. He rushed for 1,108 yards in 2009 and 1,273 in 2010. He wasn't as productive in 2011 with 928 yards and then his ACL was torn in the season finale. The Steelers let him walk in free agency this year to sign with Arizona after yet another injury last season combined with him walking out on the team for a game.
Had their top three picks been productive and signed second contracts, the Steelers might not be looking so desperately now for a starting halfback, a wide receiver or an outside linebacker. Still, that draft class looks like 1974 compared to their 1985 picks, the last time one of their entire draft classes vanished after five years.
The only one from that 1985 class that even lasted five years was punter Harry Newsome, an eighth-round choice who actually earned the team's rookie of the year because of the dreadful picks around him.
Those picks included perhaps their worst ever combined in the first three rounds -- defensive end Darryl Sims, tackle Mark Behning and cornerback Liffort Hobley, the latter cut before training camp ended. They included tight end Oliver White, who quit the team during camp.
The Steelers did find one big success in that 1985 draft. Linebacker Greg Carr played four seasons and then quit to pursue a more noble career, to become a medical doctor. He is now an orthopedic surgeon in his native Birmingham, Ala.
Perhaps one of the '08 Seven will some day make their mark off the field as well.