The Big Ben curve: Give '04 draft an A+


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Flipping channels last weekend I inadvertently stopped at the NFL draft on ESPN, at least I think I did, because if the Discovery Channel was at that moment showing the cockpit of the space shuttle, it could have been that, too.

Either way, my failing 37-inch Toshiba was jammed with numbers and lists and meters and crawls. Either the Packers were on the clock or the astronauts were about to enter hyperspace.

There was a clock in one corner, a 40-yard-dash timer, a round number, a number identifying the overall pick, something that looked like an altimeter, another thing apparently monitoring Chris Berman's blood pressure, a list of Mel Kiper's best available athletes, and, I think, on the left screen border, a list of Mel's top unavailable athletes, starting with Jim Thorpe and O.J. Simpson.

Don't know if you saw it but ESPN, on a very special SportsCenter, awarded itself a Golden Cliche upon the one trillionth utterance of "on the clock" on Day 2 of the draft. One female anchor said breathlessly Saturday morning, "We're literally on the clock."

Literally?

That can't be comfortable.

In any event, it is time again for this column's peculiar brand of draft analysis, using a revolutionary process seen in no other medium. It's our exclusive, patent-pending method known as waiting to see how things turn out.

Sure, NFL general managers say you have to wait five years before you know the real impact and authentic value of any draft, but who actually does that?

Nobody.

Draft analysts don't wait five years. Five minutes maybe, tweaks notwithstanding.

Do you think Art Rooney Jr., a pretty fair draft analyst, walked out of his Three Rivers Stadium bunker one day in 1974 thinking he'd just selected four Hall of Famers?

"No, no, no, no, no," he said yesterday. "We all knew they were exceptional players, but Webby [Mike Webster] didn't have great measureables and he was only 225 pounds; [Lynn] Swann had made big plays in big games, but he'd also run 4.65s and as one of our coaches put it, 'he's small, but he's slow'; [Jack] Lambert was kind of a chicken-chested guy, not a lot of upper body growth potential, and [John] Stallworth, who Chuck Noll wanted to take in the first round, was still available in the fourth, so we had a lot of questions."

That right there is the rhetorical evolution of the draft. Where once even guys who might know what was unfolding acted like they didn't, now guys who really don't know pretend to know everything.

Not to be critical.

But hey, let's get started. It's five years later, and that 2004 Steelers draft isn't going to analyze itself.

Five years ago this week, Bill Cowher was in the draft room pondering the 11th pick, oblivious to the notion that his preference for massive Arkansas guard Shawn Andrews, had it held sway, might have driven the franchise over a cliff. Fortunately, a possible future ambassador to Ireland happened to be in the building, and in his practiced unobtrusiveness, Daniel M. Rooney somehow managed to steer the discussion toward the quarterback at Miami of Ohio, whose name you might since have heard.

After the Steelers took Ben Roethlisberger in the first round (moments after Houston shrewdly selected cornerback Dunta Robinson), they could have turned off the lights and left for the weekend because this draft was made. Two Lombardi Trophies later, the second coming on an impossible Roethlisberger pass with 35 seconds left, the 2004 draft could not have failed in spite of itself.

Not that it couldn't otherwise.

The second pick was Tusculum's Ricardo Sanchez Colclough, a bust by any definition but especially when you consider the Steelers traded up six spots to get him when they could have stayed where they were and taken Bob Sanders, a future NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Colclough lasted parts of three Steelers seasons and is hanging on with the Kansas City Chiefs, in whose media literature he is characterized as "an athletic performer with an ability to return kicks."

Which is true, if only he didn't have to catch them.

Max Starks, a tackle out of Florida, came in the third round, and proved to be the rare athlete the Steelers enjoyed paying even more than they enjoyed playing. Much more. Even at that, Starks started two victorious Super Bowls at two different positions, and he remains part of the foundation of the hyper-criticized offensive line.

After that, however, few human endeavors have been a greater waste of time than the 2004 Steelers draft.

Four of the remaining five picks -- Nathaniel Adibi, Bo Lacy, Drew Caylor and Eric Taylor -- never played a down for the Steelers. Lacy and Adibi never played anywhere, so it was a good thing the Steelers passed up running back Michael Turner to take Adibi. Taylor played one game with Minnesota the next year and didn't play again.

The fifth, Penn State tight end Matt Kranchick, caught one pass in parts of two seasons, turned up on the roster of the New York Giants briefly and hasn't played since.

Overall 2004 Draft Grade: A+. (Did I mention Roethlisberger?)

No need to thank me.


Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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