Draft series: A look back

Forty years ago, during the 1964 NFL Draft, the Steelers pondered a pair of two-way All-Americans at the 10th spot in the pecking order. Of the two, the Steelers opted for the local guy, Paul Martha, a running back-defensive back from Pitt.<br><br> Martha lasted six years with the Steelers before bouncing to the Denver Broncos and then proceeding with his life's work. The guy the Steelers passed on, of course, did much better.

Paul Warfield, a running back-defensive back from Ohio State, was chosen by the Cleveland Browns with the 11th pick and went on to catch 427 passes and win two Super Bowl rings before being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1983.

J-u-u-u-s-t a bit outside, as they say.

The Steelers did much better on the opposite end of a similar situation in 1992. Sitting in the 11th slot, the Steelers needed an offensive tackle, but so did the Seattle Seahawks, and they were picking 10th.

There were two All-Americans at the doorstep, and the Seahawks chose Virginia's Ray Roberts, who had a decent career before retiring in 2001.

The Steelers were left with Leon Searcy, who was their right tackle in the 1995 Super Bowl before becoming their first great loss in free agency. Searcy went on to play in two Pro Bowls for the Jacksonville Jaguars before injuries ended a too-short but brilliant career.

That was the only year the Steelers chose 11th, but they're aligned to do so again in little more than three weeks. Coincidentally, the Steelers are still looking for a right tackle. They've been scrambling for one ever since Searcy left town.

The Steelers also need a cornerback and an edge pass rusher, and guess what? So do the Houston Texans, who are picking 10th.

As our brief history lesson shows, it just might behoove a team to allow the guys picking 10th to make the mistake.

Historically, offensive tackle and defensive back have been the most popular picks at the 11th spot. Six players have been picked at each position since the NFL and AFL first came together to draft in 1970.

Tackles such as Searcy, Dennis Harrah, Brad Budde, Keith Van Horne and Tra Thomas have enjoyed distinguished if not outstanding pro careers.

The cornerbacks taken 11th haven't fared so well. Perhaps the most talented of the six, Tim Lewis, played three fine seasons before a neck injury ended his career. Cornerbacks such as Donnell Woolford (1989), Alex Molden (1996) and Michael Booker (1997) were average at best. Perhaps Marcus Trufant, drafted 11th last year by Seattle, can reverse the recent trend.

Trufant, defensive end Dwight Freeney, linebacker Dan Morgan, running back Ron Dayne, quarterback Daunte Culpepper, Thomas, Booker and Molden have been the last eight players chosen 11th. A case can be made that the last eight picks made from the 44th spot - where the Steelers currently sit in the second round - form a better group.

Last year, receiver Taylor Jacobs was chosen 44th by Washington. Chosen in preceding years were guard LeCharles Bentley, defensive tackle Kris Jenkins, offensive tackle Chad Clifton, tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, and cornerbacks Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison and Tory James.

The Steelers have picked 44th three times since 1970, and, if history is an indication, they like their chances of landing an outstanding player this year.

In 1981, the Steelers drafted cornerback Anthony Washington. He spent only two years with the team and was the dud of the trio.

In 1988, they drafted guard Dermontti Dawson 44th. He moved to center, played in seven consecutive Pro Bowls starting in 1993 and is destined for the Hall of Fame.

In 1993, with the 44th pick, the Steelers chose linebacker Chad Brown, who made the Pro Bowl in 1997 before leaving for Seattle, where he played in two more Pro Bowls.

If history is the guide, the Steelers might want to lean to tackle instead of cornerback in the first round, and sit tight and wait for a sure-fire starter, perhaps even a Hall of Famer, in the second.

(Today's was the first of an 11-part series leading up to the NFL Draft on April 24-25. Next up: quarterbacks.)

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