People talk about the '08 and even the '09 drafts when assigning blame for consecutive 8-8 seasons, but what's rarely discussed is how -- if those drafts had been more productive -- were they going to re-sign that talent anyway?
Regardless, with the flow of championship veterans leaving the team by their choice or otherwise, there have been holes to fill, and some remain because of the following personnel mistakes made in the last couple of years:
1. Not Re-signing Keenan Lewis -- Steelers brass wrongly believed Cortez Allen could provide the turnovers Lewis hadn't been. But I just didn't see the turnovers Allen created in two games at the end of 2012 as reason to believe he would be a better replacement. If over the course of 16 games Allen had been creating multiple turnovers, then it would have made sense. But it wasn't, and it didn't.
To tell the truth, watching Lewis shut down DeSean Jackson in the playoffs was sickening. In watching the Saints while Lewis was in the game, as opposed to when he was out with a concussion, the difference was extremely clear -- clear to me -- that he was the main reason, from a personnel standpoint, for the turnaround in their defense.
The Steelers meanwhile decided that it was best to pay a 33-year-old corner more than what Lewis would make in his best year of his current deal, as well as tie up the equivalent average in Lewis' contract in Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Emmanuel Sanders.
Lockdown corners don't grow on trees. It was a huge mistake that the Steelers now have to fix high in the draft and then take a couple of years to develop in a complex system. The nail in the coffin of the scheme versus personnel debate is that Lewis led the Saints in INTs, but with the Steelers could only get one in his career.
2. Passing on Lavonte David for Mike Adams in second round of 2012 draft -- I never thought David would be there but I really wanted him with that pick and I was pissed off when the Steelers passed. I tried to make sense of it afterward, but after watching David get selected first team All-Pro in just his second season with Adams still riding pine frustrated me to no end. The Steelers still have a major question mark inside next to Lawrence Timmons.
In most drafts I usually have guys I would like at a spot, or I have a pretty good feel for whom the Steelers are going to take. The 2012 draft was unique because instead of two, maybe three guys I had targeted for them, I had only one in each round. My ideal prior to that draft looked like this:
1. David DeCastro OG
2. Lavonte David ILB
3. Bobby Massie OT
4. Josh Chapman NT
5. Marvin Jones WR
6. Tom Compton OT
7a. Derek Moye WR
7b. A defensive end from Michigan whose name slips me right now
7c-d. I didn't list guys, I just wanted them to get a CB with one and they took Terrence Frederick.
That brings me to:
3. Taking Chris Rainey over Marvin Jones in 2012 -- I loved Jones when I saw him in the Holiday Bowl. I had hoped they would target him later in the draft. He was there in the fifth round, as I'd hoped, and they passed on this 6-2 WR for a smurf RB with character issues.
Jones (who just beat someone deep for a 49-yard pass in a playoff game as I'm typing this) has been a big part of the Bengals' red-zone success, including a 4-TD game against the Jets earlier this season.
Had they drafted Jones instead of Rainey, the Steelers most likely would've allowed Sanders to walk to the Patriots, and that third-round comp pick becomes Shamarko Thomas. So they still could've replaced Sanders with Markus Wheaton and still had their third-round pick in this year's draft -- and they wouldn't have to still worry about drafting a wide receiver.
With David and Lewis and Jones, I think this team would've made the playoffs this season, no doubt, and they would be drafting later this year. In this draft, they could be looking to fill other needs with NT Louis Nix, FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, or even a tight end to complement and eventually replace Heath Miller, and this team is now becoming real strong in a real hurry with studs like David and Jones producing on cheap contracts as young help on the way.
It's frustrating, even maddening, because there are more holes the Steelers need to fill than there should be.