Friday, November 02, 2007

Bob Sanders? ... or Ricardo Colclough?? Hmm ... tough decision.

Admittedly, it’s easy to look back, second-guess draft picks in the NFL and take potshots at decisions made that in retrospect appear downright boneheaded. So, let’s get right to it and not waste any more time!

Let’s revisit the Steelers’ 2004 draft. It’s timely because, after all, conventional wisdom says it takes probably three years to evaluate draft picks. And it’s especially timely this week, as we consider today's subject: Ricardo Colclough, whose lamentable three-year career in Pittsburgh ended on Tuesday when the Steelers finally cut him after he once again failed to properly maintain lane responsibilities in kick return coverage.

In retrospect, it seems unbelievable that … “With the 38th pick of the 2004 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select Ricardo Coclough, defensive back, Tusculum.”

With those words, then-commissioner Paul Tagilabue foreshadowed days of fumbled punts, missed assignments and botched coverages. Never mind that “Tusculum” sounds like some kind of intrusive gynecological implement. Colclough simply couldn’t play. Still can’t, as his new team, the Cleveland Browns, will soon discover.

Just think about that for a second. The 38th pick of the draft! the sixth pick of the second round ... AND the Steelers traded up to get him. If you’re a Steelers’ fan, be prepared to get a little sick, if you choose to continue reading.

Are you ready?
Six picks later, with the 44th overall pick in the draft, Tagliabue announced, “With the 44th pick of the 2004 NFL draft, the Indianapolis Colts select Bob Sanders, strong safety, University of Iowa.”

You threw up in your mouth a little bit there, too, eh?

Today, the tough, savvy Sanders is a play-making Pro Bowler who is the heart and soul of the Super Bowl champions’ defense. If you’re a Steelers fan, that’s bad enough.

What makes it even harder to take is that the Colts selected Sanders with, yup, you guessed it, the pick they received from the Steelers when the Steelers traded up to select Colclough. With the other pick the Steelers surrendered (a fourth-rounder), the Colts took an outside linebacker from Florida State, Kendyll Pope, who appears to have faded into oblivion. (Makes you wonder about outside linebackers from Florida State, not that we're referring to Alonzo Jackson or Lawrence Timmons).

Anyway, as you watch Sunday’s matchup between the Colts and Patriots, keep in mind that the ball-hawking, sure-tackling Bob Sanders could just as easily have been in a Steelers uniform as Ricardo Colclough … even if that thought does make you a little nauseous. The coincedental fact that Sanders wears number 21, same as Colclough, is no comfort.

All right, all right, we’ll let it go. After all, maybe it’s a little unfair to compare Colclough and Sanders, who play (slightly) different positions.

A more equitable comparison might be, well, in Round 4, with the 110th pick of the draft, the Chicago Bears selected Nathan Vasher, cornerback, University of Texas: Pro Bowler. Aaaargh. Oh, and for what it’s worth, fifth round: RB Michael Turner, Northern Illinois: Pick No. 154 to the San Diego Chargers

But that’s piling on at this point.

Can You Imagine What This Team Would Look Like Today, if ... ???
Thankfully, April 24, 2004, will be remembered as the day the Steelers brought quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into the fold.

Remember how that scenario played out? Pre-draft speculation had Bill Cowher absolutely in love with quarterback Philip Rivers, who hailed from Cowher’s alma mater, North Carolina State. As the draft approached, however, it became clear that Rivers would be selected well ahead of Pittsburgh’s first choice, which was No. 11 overall. Sure enough, he went to San Diego with the fourth pick as part of the trade that sent Eli Manning to the New York Giants number one overall.

When it became clear that Rivers would not be available, pre-draft media reports shifted focus elsewhere, reporting that Cowher had locked in on guard Shawn Andrews out of Arkansas. In fact, that Saturday’s morning edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette displayed a huge photo of Andrews accompanied by a big headline heralding him as the player the Steelers’ would choose with their first-round pick. Ed Bouchette said so, citing concerns about the level of competition Roethlisberger faced at Miami of Ohio.

As it turned out, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fell to the Steelers at number 11, and the Steelers had the good sense to take him.

There have been reports since then that Cowher pushed hard, adamantly and vehemently, for the Steelers to take the guard, Andrews, with the team’s first pick (Andrews went to Philadelphia at number 16 overall). Cowher was known to have the last word on draft picks – but team owner Dan Rooney supposedly stepped in and over-ruled him, exerting a rare show of authority (as is his prerogative) in player personnel decisions of that magnitude. Rooney has always rued the day the Steelers passed on Dan Marino, and supposedly, he was determined not to allow the team to miss on the opportunity to draft another franchise quarterback.

We suppose we’ll never know for sure whose decision it was to draft Roethlisberger — but we sure as hell know whose decision it was to bring in Colclough, and who insisted on sticking with him through botched coverages, muffed punts and missed assignments: Cowher.

Spiderman Is Catching On
Speaking of Cowher … speaking of his questionable draft-day decisions, pet projects and problematic talent evaluation acumen … Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola made an interesting point on the radio last evening: Remember Willie Reid? Yeah, another draft-day reach, in April 2006, and another of Cowher’s pet projects. Labriola said that there were strong opinions in the Steelers’ draft room about taking one particular wide receiver over another. Labriola brought this up because the “other” wide receiver in that discussion will be playing for Baltimore on Monday night. That would be Demetrious Williams, whom the Ravens drafted in the fourth round (111 overall) of the same 2006 draft that saw the Steelers take Reid in the third round (95th overall).

Initially projected by many as a second round pick, Williams was no secret coming out of the University of Oregon. Tall, rangy and with sprinter's speed, Williams was one of the best receivers in Oregon history, with 162 career receptions and 2,660 yards. Williams' 11 games with 100 or more yards receiving remains an Oregon record, and his 20 career TD catches rate fourth all time. Williams’ nickname is “Spider Man,” for his sticky hands and fluid moves on the field.

Last evening, Labriola made the point that Williams is emerging as the Ravens’ deep threat. Last year, his rookie season, Williams averaged a whopping 18.0 yards per catch and had two touchdowns, including a 77-yard TD against Cleveland. Tellingly, he also converted 18 catches into first downs, including 11 on third down.

This year, Williams picked up where he left off: 19 receptions, 285 yards, a 15.0 yards per catch average, and an eye-popping 15 first downs. Face me Ike?

By comparison, Reid has three catches for 48 yards and one first down this season.

Looking back, Looking Forward
NFL draft-day maneuvers inevitably have a ripple effect. If the Steelers had drafted Bob Sanders instead of Ricardo Colclough, they probably wouldn’t have then drafted Anthony Smith, who looks like a fine player, in the same 2006 draft-day trade with Minnesota that also brought Willie Reid to the Black ‘n Gold. For what it’s worth, Minnesota used the pick they received from the Steelers, the last pick of the second round, to draft quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. That deal’s not working out so well for the Vikings.

Anyway, it will be interesting to watch how the respective careers of Bob Sanders, Anthony Smith, Willie Reid and Demetrious Williams play out.

Ricardo Colclough? We think we know already.

Et tu, Lawrence Timmons? We shall see.


Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Class:

  1. 11th pick of Round 1 (11th overall): Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio.
  2. 6th pick of Round 2 (38th overall): Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum
  3. 12th pick of Round 3 (75th overall): Max Starks, G, Florida
  4. 13th pick of Round 5 (145th overall): Nathaniel Adibi, DE, Virginia Tech
  5. 12th pick of Round 6 (177th overall): Bo Lacy, T, Arkansaa
  6. 29th pick of Round 6 (194th overall): Matt Kranchick, TE, Penn State
  7. 32nd pick of Round 6, (197th overall): Drew Caylor, C, Stanford
  8. 11th pick of Round 7 (212th pick overall): Eric Taylor, DT, Memphis

Of those eight selections, only Roethlisberger and Starks are with the Steelers today, just three years later, and Starks won’t be here next year.

Article Link

Big Ben’s Long Wait” - From Sports Illustrated, Sunday, April 25, 2004: