Steelers fans around the world will tune in on Thursday, April 28 to see who the Steelers select at pick 20 in the first round of the NFL Draft. It could go anywhere. You’ve heard about Mike Tomlin taking this guy out to dinner and that guy out for lunch but it will all depend on how the prior 19 picks shake out. Pittsburgh isn’t in any unknown territory here though, usually picking anywhere from 20 to 30. The front office has had its share of good and bad picks, as most do, but who are some of the best first-round picks the Steelers have made in recent memory?
5. David Decastro – Pick 24 – 2012 NFL Draft
Decastro was a member of those awesome offensive line units in the Killer B’s era. He made six Pro Bowls in his career where he played all 125 games in Pittsburgh. Decastro was selected by players to the NFL Top 100 list in 2017 where he was #97 and in 2018 when he moved all the way up to 44. Decastro kept Ben Roethlisberger safe for the better half of a decade, crucial to Big Ben’s success.
4. Pick 18 – 2020 NFL Draft
Remember this pick? That’s right, a pick the Steelers didn’t use makes the list. This is the pick that was traded to Miami for Minkah Fitzpatrick. He made an instant impact on the defense and remains a core piece. In his 46 games with Pittsburgh, Fitzpatrick has 11 interceptions on 27 passes defended. Two pick-sixes including a 96-yarder against the Colts. But he’s not just a ballhawk, gathering 203 tackles with 144 solos. Fitzpatrick has been to the Pro Bowl twice as a Steeler in 2019 and 2020. This past year he slowed down on the interceptions but led the team in tackles with 124 total. He can do it all and is still young. He is due for an expensive contract, but Fitzpatrick has proved he is worth every penny.
3. Maurkice Pouncey – Pick 18 – 2010 NFL Draft
In 2010 the Steelers would find Ben Roethlisberger’s best friend. Pouncey kept Big Ben protected from 2010 the whole way to 2020 when he retired after the playoff loss. He played 134 games in the NFL, all for Pittsburgh, including nine Pro Bowls. Pouncey was also selected to the Hall of Fame’s All 2010’s team. He was also selected by the players as a Top 100 Player in 2012 when he was #49 and in 2015 he was at #83.
2. Cam Heyward – Pick 31 – 2011 NFL Draft
The 2011 draft had some pretty good defensive line pieces. Players like Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan, and Cameron Jordan. Somebody had to fall and lucky enough for the Steelers it was the Pittsburgh kid himself, Cam Heyward. Son of the legendary University of Pittsburgh running back Craig “Iron Head” Heyward made a stop in Columbus before coming home though. Cam went to Ohio State where he had a good four years. Amassing 80 solo tackles of his 163 total, 15.5 sacks, and one interception that he took 80 yards.
It was written in the stars for Cam to return to Pittsburgh and he hasn’t been disappointing. A six-time Pro Bowler that has played 166 games, all for Pittsburgh. In those 166 games in the black and gold, he has totaled 540 total tackles with 340 solos, 101 tackles for loss, and 153 quarterback hits. Cam loves getting home too, having 68 career sacks. To go with all his tackling stats, he has two interceptions on 42 passes defended.
1. TJ Watt – Pick 30 – 2017 NFL Draft
Obviously, it’s easy to look back now and wonder how 29 teams passed on Watt, but honestly, how could that happen? Only two linebackers were selected above Watt. Haason Reddick at 13 to the Cardinals and Jarrad Davis at 21 to the Panthers. Getting a Defensive Player of Year at pick 30 is highway robbery.
As you know, the man has been unbelievable. 77 games, all for the Steelers. 72 sacks, 216 solo tackles out of his 294 total. 22 forced fumbles with seven fumble recoveries. *catches breath* 80 tackles for loss, 150 quarterback hits, 32 passes defended, and four interceptions. The four-time Pro Bowler and 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt.
In 2021, Watt tied Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record with 22.5 sacks. Strahan did it in 16 games back in 2001 when he also won the Defensive Player of the Year award. Due to a nagging groin injury, Watt did it in 15 games in his 2021 Defensive Player of the Year award-winning campaign.
There have been some bad picks made by the Steelers as well, just like any team. But to keep things positive for the coming weeks we won’t discuss those here. Hoping Tomlin and Colbert have a plan, Steelers fans head into the unknown, The Post Big Ben Era.