The making of Super Bowl champions

Drafting remains an inexact science. But team's experiments had better be right more often than they're wrong to be successful.

Consider 2004 the draft that changed a franchise.

It had been more than 20 years since the Pittsburgh Steelers had selected a quarterback in the first round of the NFL draft before they finally broke down and took Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

Everyone knows by now how fortunate were the Steelers that Roethlisberger not only was available to them with the 11th selection in 2004. But they should also know just how fortunate the Steelers were that Roethlisberger has proven to be the player that he is.

In the past 15 years, 11 quarterbacks who entered the draft as underclassmen have been selected in the first round of the draft. Of those 11, only Roethlisberger has proven to be an immediate star. In fact, of those 11, only two - Roethlisberger and Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers – would be considered solid starters.

Teams considering selecting one of the top three quarterbacks in the first round of this year's draft – Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman – should consider that.

Of course the Steelers could have gone some different ways in the 2004 draft and still had things work out.

As most Steelers fans know, there were some in the organization who wanted to select massive offensive tackle Shawn Andrews instead of Roethlisberger.

That wouldn't have been a horrible move. Andrews was selected to Pro Bowls in 2005, 2006 and 2007 before missing the entire 2008 season with a back injury after holding out in the preseason in a contract dispute.

He still has a bright future.

But Andrews is just one of 15 players selected in the first round in 2004 who have been to the Pro Bowl - including Roethlisberger.

That's a pretty impressive number.

Add in another 10 Pro Bowl players from that draft selected after the first round and you have an amazing 25 players who are considered among the best at their positions.

By comparison, the 2005 draft, when the Steelers took tight end Heath Miller with the 30th pick, has produced just seven first-round Pro Bowl players and 18 overall.

© Remember how fans hated the Steelers' 2006 draft?

Turns out, they were right.

Of the nine players selected by the Steelers in that draft, just two remain on the roster. That's right two.

Both, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and offensive tackle Willie Colon, are starters, but the Steelers can't afford another draft like that.

Then again, the 2006 draft wasn't exactly star-studded.

It has produced just 16 Pro Bowl players, seven of which were taken before the 32nd selection, which the Steelers held after winning the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh traded up to select Holmes with the 25th selection due to a need at wide receiver and that seems to have worked out.

Of the 33 wideouts selected in that draft, only Greg Jennings, taken in the second round by Green Bay, and Brandon Marshall, a fourth-round pick by Denver, and Marques Colston, a seventh-round pick by New Orleans, have produced.

It could be argued that the other three have produced - at least in part - because the team's they are on throw the ball a lot. And Marshall has more baggage than the Greater Pittsburgh Airport.

© As bad as the 2006 draft was for the Steelers, the 2007 draft had as much to do with them winning the Super Bowl again as getting Roethlisberger in 2004 did.

First-round pick Lawrence Timmons, second-rounder LaMarr Woodley, tight end Matt Spaeth and fifth-round compensatory selection William Gay were all key contributors in 2008. Punter Daniel Sepulveda, a fourth-round pick, is a solid player who missed the entire 2008 season with a knee injury.

You can have a bad draft – though in my book getting two starters as the Steelers did in 2006 earns more of an average grade than a failing one – but you'd better follow it up with a solid one if you want to stay on top.

The Steelers did that in 2007.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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