The draft was vintage Pittsburgh Steelers.
"We followed our board to a tee," said director of football operations Kevin Colbert. "We had the McFadden thing in the back of our mind the whole time as the draft unfolded. We knew that was an option for us at some point. So, really, it came together very well. We just hope they can all play."
The Steelers went into Saturday's third draft day with center Maurkice Pouncey, outside linebacker Jason Worilds, and shifty slot receiver Emmanuel Sanders already in tow. So it came as a bit of a surprise when they drafted another outside linebacker, Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson (6-2, 243, 4.79), to open Day 3. It gave them two high picks to develop behind Pro Bowlers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
"They are big guys that can run," Coach Mike Tomlin said of the rookies. "We have a vision of these guys being competitive and adding quality depth not only at that position, but also big-time competition in the special-teams element."
Gibson went to Ohio State as a linebacker before moving to defensive end in their 4-3. But Ohio State changed to a 3-4 last season with Gibson, a junior, used as their stand-up pass-rusher and drop linebacker. He had only four sacks as his production belied his enormous athletic ability.
"What stood out to me, more than anything," said Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler, "was his improvement over the year. ... The more and more I watched him, the more and more he grew on me ... so we look for him to improve more than he did last year when he gets here."
Butler acknowledged that Gibson and Worilds were two of the most fluid hybrid prospects during linebacker drills at the combine. Gibson then showed up at his Ohio State Pro Day decked in black and gold. When asked if he was trying to impress a Steelers contingent led by Colbert and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, Gibson said, "If they like it, I love it."
"I've always liked the Steelers," Gibson said Saturday. "The defensive coordinator is from Ohio State. I met him a couple years ago. He's just a great guy and I'm happy to be playing for him."
The Steelers went into the fifth round with four picks and the understanding they could call the Arizona Cardinals for McFadden. But first, the Steelers chose Tennessee's massive left tackle Chris Scott (6-4½, 319, 5.54), who's probably not quick enough for the position in the NFL, but who has more than enough strength and size to play right tackle or either guard position. Scott was a second-team All-SEC performer last season.
"We had a lot of feedback from Ramon Foster," new line coach Sean Kugler said of the Steelers second-year lineman from Tennessee. "(Chris) is a physical player and we feel he's got some position flexibility."
After not "reaching" for a cornerback in a weak crop, the Steelers dealt the fifth-round pick they acquired for Santonio Holmes to the Cardinals for McFadden and a sixth-round pick. The Steelers then signed McFadden to a three-year contract.
"It's a shocking feeling," said the 29-year-old McFadden. "But I'm excited. This is where I started."
"He's started on two Super Bowl teams and he comes right back into the locker room," said Colbert. "I think that's really important when you add a guy like him or Larry (Foote) or Antwaan (Randle El) or Byron (Leftwich). The guys know why they're coming back and I think they will accept them."
"When you look at the first two days of OTAs, Keenan has made tremendous strides because he understands our system," said DB coach Ray Horton. "Joe Burnett is right where we expect him to be. He's a second-year player that should get better."
"He – like a lot of inside linebackers his size – struggles with big guys," said Butler. "But what we do in our system for our guys, I think we'll help him. He's a good fit for us."
In the sixth round, the Steelers moved to bolster their short-yardage game by drafting powerful running back Jonathan Dwyer (5-11¼, 229, 4.66), who, while on his way to a second consecutive 1,300-plus rushing season as a hybrid fullback-tailback in Georgia Tech's double wing offense, was once considered a first-rounder and the best power back in the draft. But he showed up out of shape at the combine and failed a drug test (due to a prescription he's been taking since the fifth grade to treat ADD).
Also, some evaluators were troubled because Dwyer ran out of an unconventional set. Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson counted only six snaps over the last two years in which Dwyer lined up in the I-formation.
"Some of the earlier reports had him going much higher," said Wilson. "But as the evaluation period went on, you started to see the things that he needed to work on, that he was not a finished product."
With their second pick in the sixth round, the Steelers chose wide receiver Antonio Brown (5-10, 186, 4.57), a frequent target of QB Dan LeFevour at Central Michigan. Brown ranks second in MAC history with 305 career receptions and because of his return skills was the MAC Special Teams Player of the Year the last two seasons.
Last year, Brown caught 110 passes for 1,198 yards and nine touchdowns. As a junior, he led the nation in punt-return yardage (20.5 avg.).
The Steelers' new WR coach, Scottie Montgomery (or "Tomlin Jr." per the media), called Brown "an unbelievable player" who is "one of those natural guys at fielding punts and kickoff returns." Added Montgomery: "I am tremendously excited."
To finish the three-day event, the Steelers chose Ohio State's Doug Worthington (6-5, 292), who played end in the Buckeyes' 3-4 defense last season and becomes yet another late-round project for line coach John Mitchell.
The draft and the trades for McFadden and Leftwich helped restock the Steelers and continued the process of restoring a team that could've been torn asunder by offseason strife. That restoration will continue today when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addresses the media concerning his 4-6 game suspension.
"We can't defend the behavior or actions," Colbert said of Roethlisberger, "and as an organization we won't. But we do defend his opportunity to make right. And I think that's the right thing to do."