Later selections can catch big roles
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The New York Giants won Super Bowl XLII, in part, because their offense had two productive running backs, one of whom was rookie Ahmad Bradshaw. He was drafted in the seventh round.
The New Orleans Saints had the most dramatic turnaround of any National Football League team in 2006, in part, because of a passing game that featured rookie receiver Marques Colston. He also was drafted in the seventh round.
Monday: Best things in life are free (agents)
Tuesday: Steelers have no seventh-round pick. No problem, you say? Think again.
Wednesday: Nineteen years ago, the Steelers selected Tim Worley in the first round
Thursday: First-round busts have become part of NFL draft lore. ... Not one for the Steelers.
Friday: Pitt's Jeff Otah could go early. ... And a look at other local players.
Saturday: Ed Bouchette's best guess at Steelers' picks and his annual mock draft of the first round.
• Steelers' seventh-round selections
Here's a look at who the Steelers have drafted in Round 7 since the NFL draft was reduced to seven rounds in 1993:
At least four members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were seventh-round draft choices, including 2006 inductee, former Dallas Cowboys tackle Rayfield Wright.
Even the Steelers have been able to find a few starters in the seventh round of the NFL draft, beginning with defensive end Brett Keisel but also including former kicker Kris Brown and linebacker Carlos Emmons.
"If those guys turn out to be starters, then credit goes to them and to their coaches for exceeding what we thought they could do," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations.
The Steelers enter the NFL draft this weekend with only six picks, which would be their fewest since they had only five in 2003, the year they traded up to get Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.
They do not have a seventh-round pick because they traded that away to get kick returner Allen Rossum, who was released after the season.
That may not seem like a big deal because the Steelers only have had three seventh-round picks develop into starters since the draft was shortened to seven rounds in 1993 -- Keisel, Brown and Emmons. They have that many starters on their current roster who weren't even drafted, including Pro Bowlers Willie Parker and James Harrison.
More often than not, their seventh-round picks have consisted of players such as Eric Taylor (2004), J.T. Wall (2003), Chris Taylor (2001), Antonio Dingle (1999) and Chad Kelsay (1999).
Nonetheless, Colbert said yesterday it is an "inviting option" for the Steelers to trade down in the first round and pick up an extra draft choice or two to take advantage of what he said are "players in rounds two, three and four that could help this team." But that also means the Steelers could be adding later picks, as well, especially to replace the one they don't have in the seventh round.
For every whiff in the final round, there is always an unknown commodity such as Colston and Bradshaw, waiting to be discovered.
"The more picks we can get in any of those areas, the better off we are going to be," Colbert said.
Four years ago, the Steelers had one of their worst second-day drafts in history, taking four players who did not make the roster and only one, tight end Matt Kranchick, who actually spent time on the 53-man roster.
Part of the problem was that several players were drafted either on potential or to play other positions, including Kranchick, linebacker Nathaniel Adibi, tackle Bo Lacy and center Drew Caylor.
Since then, the Steelers have tried to use the later rounds, even the seventh round, to get players who fit specific needs.
"We will stay with the board," Colbert said. "It is developed that way, and a lot of times, the guys that we are picking in the fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh [rounds], they may have second- or third-round grades on them. Hopefully that is the situation.
"It doesn't mean that we have them evaluated correctly, but it means that we are picking guys that we like. We hope that is the case. Sometimes, defensive linemen that have to convert to linebackers, there are some unknowns in there. We have evaluated them, we have worked them out and just tried to gauge whether they can do it. That is part of it as well."
Still, finding players in the seventh round is a precarious endeavor, at best. The Giants drafted Bradshaw with the 250th overall pick and he became one of their most important players in the final five games, rushing for 359 yards on 63 carries and complementing Brandon Jacobs. Bradshaw largely was overlooked in the draft because of his size (5 feet 9, 198 pounds) and because of two arrests in college.
Two years ago, Colston was the 252nd overall pick because he played at Hofstra. But he used his size and athleticism to catch 70 passes for 1,038 yards and 8 touchdowns as a rookie, teaming with quarterback Drew Brees to help lead the Saints to the NFC championship game.
That's where you make your money," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "When you hit on some of the guys late in the draft, then you're doing something."
First Published April 22, 2008 12:00 am