In today’s pass-happy NFL, it’s imperative to find and develop players, on both offense and defense, who will be able to help your team excel in that area.
If you’re an NFL general manager, coach or scout, and you want to find a stud receiver to help your offense or a stud cornerback to improve your secondary, what better division I school to search for such hot commodities than the Texas Longhorns, an NFL football factory, if there ever was one?
In 2008, the Steelers thought they found a real stud receiver, when they selected Limas Sweed out of Texas in the second round of the NFL Draft.
I was at a party with a bunch of friends when I heard that Pittsburgh nabbed Sweed in the second round; the excitement level for the Steelers fans in attendance was quite palpable, and for good reason.
At 6’4” and 220lbs, Sweed appeared to be the prototypical “tall” receiver the Steelers had been searching for since the days of Plaxico Burress. And grabbing him in the second round seemed to be a real find, as he was projected by many to be a first round pick.
Unfortunately, for all the supposed ideal measurables, Sweed never even came close to developing into a stud receiver in Pittsburgh and is most known for his infamous drop in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens in his rookie season.
In his first two years with the Steelers, Sweed had seven catches for 69 yards and no touchdowns. After suffering an offseason Achilles injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 campaign, Sweed was cut prior to the 2011 season and is now, according to his wikipedia page, trying to make a career for himself in the CFL.
And that brings me to the guy who may have had the unenviable task of covering Sweed in Steelers’ practices had he, indeed, developed into that stud, tall receiver.
I’m talking about cornerback Curtis Brown, the third year man out of Texas that Pittsburgh selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Along with Cortez Allen, who was drafted one round after him, there was great hope and excitement that Brown could develop into the talented and skilled corner the Steelers had been long searching for.
If there was one weakness the Steelers otherwise vaunted defense had during their recent Super Bowl era, it was a secondary that was often exposed by the more elite quarterbacks of the NFL. And some of the best examples of that weakness occurred in 2010, when both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers took turns toying with the unit.
In a 39-26 loss to New England in Week 10, Brady scorched the Steelers secondary for 350 yards and three touchdowns to tight end Rob Gronkowski, as he caught all three over nickel corner William Gay, who looked totally outclassed by the all-star tandem.
And in Super Bowl XLV, Rodgers was named MVP, after passing for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-25 victory, as Pittsburgh’s secondary had no answers against the Packers formidable receiving arsenal.
Brown didn’t see the field much on defense in his rookie year of 2011, but he was a stand-out special teams demon. And despite a season-ending injury right before the playoffs, expectations for his future were still pretty high.
Unfortunately, Brown never developed above the special teams ranks, never started a single game on defense in three years, and never got over the injuries that plagued him, with his 2013 season ending just like his rookie campaign—on Injured Reserve.
Much like Sweed, Brown exits without ever coming close to fulfilling the lofty expectations the team and the fans had for him.
They say it’s easier to make it to the top than it is to stay on top. While the Steelers obviously drafted more than well enough in the late 90s and early 2000s to build a championship core team (appearing in three Super Bowls and winning two world titles between 2005 and 2010), they certainly haven’t been able to find that all-important Midas touch enough times in recent drafts to continue their success.
Here we are in 2014, months before the NFL Draft, and Pittsburgh is still trying to find that tall receiver to complement the abilities of Ben Roethlisberger and still trying to find that shut-down cornerback to offset the abilities of the Bradys and Rodgers of the world.
Years from now, there will be many discussions about the Steelers post-Super Bowl mediocrity they currently find themselves in. And missing on Sweed and Brown, two studs from Texas, will surely be a part of those discussions.