5 Smoldering Questions on the Dan Rooney and the 2017 Draft

1934 team

From lovable losers to Super Bowl champions

The 2017 off season has been an eventful one as Steelers Nation said good bye to Dan Rooney while welcoming the 2017 NFL Draft class. And while the “real” off season will begin soon (you know, the dead period where it gets hard to find, much less make, news articles), there’s still plenty of material here for us to wrestle with these 5 Smoldering Questions on Dan Rooney and the Draft.
1. Dan Rooney should rightfully be remembered by his unique ability to meld humility with excellence. Yet, Daniel M. Rooney was probably the most successful management specialist in modern business.

Which of these key Dan Rooney decisions do you think was most consequential to the Steelers present day AND future legacy?

  • a) Listening to Bill Nunn’s complaints about how the franchise dealt with African American reporters and then convincing him to join the Steelers scouting department.
  • b) Hiring Chuck Noll.
  • c) Firing his brother Art Rooney Jr.
  • d) Choosing Bill Cowher over Tom Donahoe and replacing the latter with Kevin Colbert.
  • e) Hiring Mike Tomlin (or acquiescing to Art II’s decision to hire Tomlin)
  • f) Accepting the ambassadorship to Ireland and giving up control of the team.

Choose one and defend your choice.

2. During the Steelers 2008 off season, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola reviewed the Steelers off season and declared that any improvement would have to come from the men already on the roster.

For a team that finished out the 2007 on a weak note, his words did not encourage.

However, Labriolia’s prediction was far more accurate than he had a right to expect, as the Steelers DID improve, marching to victory in Super Bowl XLIII without any real contributions from their now ill-fated 2008 Draft Class.

Eight years later, in 2016, the Steelers’ top three draft picks, Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave, played major roles in the Steelers late-season turn around.

With that in mind, is it realistic to expect the Steelers 2017 Draft Class to put this team over the top on the Stair Way to Seven?

3. The Fourth Round represents the balance point of the draft, mathematically speaking. To put that into context, just looking at the Colbert era, the fourth round has brought talents such as Ike Taylor and Martavis Bryant to Pittsburgh. The Steelers have also laid eggs named Alameda Ta’Mau and Shamarko Thomas in the 4th round.

With that in mind, on which side of that divide will the rocket that is Joshua Dobbs land, per your crystal ball?

4. The Steelers of course shocked the world by drafting a long snapper in the 6th round (never mind that Bill Belinick used a 5th rounder on a long snapper  3 years ago or so.) One esteemed member of the Steelers sports media privately described the move to yours truly as “Arrogant.”

Gerry Dulac, one journalist not wont to hyperbole, described the draft this way:

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 4.44.40 PM

Regardless, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin did draft like a duo that gives the outward appearance of thinking it is close to a Super Bowl. So do you think the 2017 Draft represents Colbert and Tomlin’s confidence or their cockiness?

5. Finally, our own Ivan Cole has begun to address the “Unknown Unknowns” focusing on the Steelers secondary (apparently inspired by a comment left by some crackpot er, um, I guess that was me.)

If you haven’t read Ivan’s article, please do so as it is must read, as all of his are.

With that context in place, which position area’s improvement is more vital to the Steelers success (success = Lombardi Number Seven) in 2017 – wide receiver or the secondary?

And which area do you think has the best chance of success?

Okay, folks, let’s hear what you’ve got. Please use a No. 2 pencil and fill in the little bubble completely…


  • 1. I have to cheat a little on this one and choose a tie for a. and b. What Bill Nunn brought to the table could have been easily sabotaged a traditionalist, narrow minded or bigoted head coach. On the other hand, the same could be said for Noll if he had to work with ownership and a scouting department with a more constricted vision. Instead, there was a synergy created by these three men (with Dan Rooney) that facilitated greatness and changed the entire game in fundamental ways that is still not understood or appreciated beyond a minority of well read Steelers fans and insiders.

    My second choice would be the hiring of Mike Tomlin. I’ll save the details for the next knowing what we don’t know.

    2. I am a bit reluctant to say this because I can be a little superstitious. But I think for a 21st Century NFL team, the Steelers are loaded. Part of what obscures this is that a number of their players, even multi-year veterans are still quite young and haven’t peaked yet. Seeing things at face value, that is, not losing anyone to injuries or other issues, this year’s draft class can certainly make this team better, maybe even be a subtle factor in getting them over the top. But the chances for making a dramatic impact are somewhat smaller in my view.

    This is not a knock on the players chosen. There is even precedence that could be at play here. For all the talk of the great draft class of 1974, the truth is their impact of that first championship team was relatively minor. Of the four hall of famers, only Jack Lambert started, and his path to starting job was aided by an injury to the incumbent in training camp. Lynn Swann, for example, had more of an impact as a punt returner than a wide receiver.

    This does not preclude the possibility of Cameron Sutton unseating Ross Cockrell, with a dramatic improvement at that position, or Smith-Schuster making us forget about Markus Wheaton, or J.T. Watt greasing the skids for Deebo’s descent to the Old Folks Home. But none of those things need to happen for this team to succeed. Smaller contributions could be huge.

    3. I think you have to see this on two levels. Dobbs’ short term competitive contributions will, hopefully actually, be minimal in the short run. He brings an intriguing athleticism to the position that we haven’t seen since Dixon. And given the team tradition of what has been done with athletic quarterbacks such as Kordell Stewart and Antwan Randle El, I could see some interesting options that might apply in a situation where Landry Jones was playing the quarterback position and Todd Haley wanted to stress the defense.

    However, the entertainment and speculative value he brings is already off the charts. The story yesterday is that he arrived for rookie mini-camp coming directly from graduation ceremonies. Of course. They already ought to engrave his trophy for Camp Favorite/Star now, and avoid the rush. Who won’t be rooting for this guy? He’d have to be pretty terrible to not make this team.

    4. This makes it clear that special teams gets no respect. A botched exchange on a field goal attempt by Baltimore on Christmas Day might have been a difference maker as to who were division champions. Scobee sure made a difference the previous year. We have taken the stability that Greg Warren has brought for granted. Yes, crazy as it may seem to some, a long snapper could be the difference for a seventh Lombardi.

    5. This is something of a trick question. The upside (and downside) potential for the wide receivers is more dramatic. The worse case for the secondary is problematic, but in my opinion, much less likely. Again, taking injuries off the table for the sake of argument, for any result worse than mediocre, this has to happen: Burns and Davis don’t improve. Cockrell, Gay, Dangerfield, and Golden get worse. Golson, Sensabaugh, Sutton and Allen all contribute nothing of value. Even by Steelers bad luck tradition, that’s a lot of things that need to go wrong at the same time. On the other hand, the receivers are one failed drug test away from flirting with substandard. But they could also be the best and most feared in the league. If so, a mediocre secondary would be more than enough.


  • 1) Terrific question, Hombre – lots of food for thought there. It’s difficult to answer because Ivan hogged the good answers already : ) No, actually, because each of them speak to different facets of Dan Rooney – his sense of fairness, his ability to listen, his color-blindness, if you will, and even the ability to turn over control, which had to have been difficult. I can’t chose. Your question is an anatomy of how to run a franchise..

    2) It’s too difficult to forecast, because there are way too many variables. Injuries are the big one, of course, and the wrong injuries at the wrong time can derail even the best teams. But assuming ordinary luck, there’s at least a decent chance in my book..

    3) Honestly, I scarcely even care. I’m just happy he’s on the team. What a story – and you guys know I love stories. More on him will be forthcoming : )

    4) Speaking of arrogant, I think sometimes the sports media gets rather above themselves. They aren’t in the meeting rooms, they aren’t privy to the discussion, they aren’t professional coaches or scouts or whatever. I would have loved to see what he had to say about the 2008 class at the time. (A quick Google search reveals that you need an archive subscription to view old articles, and I’m too cheap for that…) Maybe he could hold off on the opinions until, say, the end of training camp at least….

    5) I guess I would say WR, given the way the question was phrased. If you really want to know, I think it will depend on whether the defensive front can reliably get to the quarterback right out of the box. From that standpoint I would contend that addressing the OLB position was absolutely the right call in the first round. You can argue that T.J. Watt wasn’t the best choice, (although I would disagree, from the standpoint of my own metric at least : ) but a good secondary is generally one who isn’t challenged all that much. I think there is more than adequate talent in the backfield, if the guys in front of them are doing their jobs well. Ike Taylor didn’t look like nearly as good a corner when the guys in front of him started getting old.


  • 1. a) Hiring Bill Nunn, who scouted and had them draft the players. Noll was a great coach and he won his first game as head coach and then lost 16 in a row. That’s because he didn’t have the horses. The fact that Noll was color-blind and able to accept Nunn as an equal – and trust Nunn’s judgement – made for a perfect match. So the answer is a) and b). But a) come first.

    2) The 2017 draft class will have to do its share. It is NOT realistic to assume that what was on the roster the third week of April was enough to get the job done. Each of the Fab Four (Watt, JuJu, Sutton, and Conner) will have to make a very real contribution. This team does not have the veteran presence that the 2008 team had.

    3) Dobbs is like the mischievous child. When he’s good, he’s wonderful. But when he’s bad, he’s terrible. And when his OL went down with injuries, he looked awful. Especially under pressure. And especially on third downs. Footwork needs work, and accuracy is spotty. But he has a great arm, size, foot speed, and he’s smart as a whip. However, I’m not sure that book smarts always translate into good decisions on the field. Tremendous upside to the kid, but if you threw him into the fray right now, he’d probably stink up the joint. If you forced me to make a guess, my heart would say Taylor and Bryant. My head would say Shamarko and Plate Lunch. Undecided, but for now, it’s thumbs down. Until we see him at camp and in the pre-season, we can’t count on anything. Hey Josh!
    Surprise me. Make me happy. If you do, I’ll tell you I knew it all the time.

    4) When Casey Stengel drafted Choo Choo Coleman early in the Mets’ expansion draft, reporters asked him why. He responded that if you don’t have a catcher, you will have a lot of passed balls. Same with a long snapper. And, considering the problems over the years with kick coverage, you want one big enough and fast enough to make some tackles or take up some blockers at the very least. They took the BPA at a PON, and they certainly know more about Warren’s situation and future than any of us. As far as Allen, first impressions are he’s a project with incredible upside. Plus, wouldn’t it be great if our corners turned out to be Burns and Allen??
    Say goodnight, Gracie. I don’t think the picks were arrogant or confident. I think they understand that – drafting at the bottom of each round – you have to pick the guys who have the tools but aren’t ready yet. You draft for the future and coach ’em up.

    5. Improvement in the secondary is more VITAL to the team’s success, but I expect there will be more improvement at WR for a myriad of reasons. I expect both to step up, but there will be a quantum improvement among the wideouts.

    And happy Mother’s Day! Here in Washington, I see that the Caps continue their family friendly tradition. Ovechkin and the guys must truly love their moms, because – no matter what happens in the regular season – they always manage to make it home by Mother’s Day. (Go Pens!)


  • 1. I’m going to just pick one and say Noll. Coaches are higher up the ladder than scouts and have more influence as well as being fairly involved in the scouting and player acquisition process too. Nunn found talent, Noll built a culture. I’m not minimizing Nunn, I just think you have to give the nod to Noll for being more influential if you have to just pick one because his job entailed more influence.

    2. First, I think you have to consider that unlike 2007, which ended in an ugly wild card loss, the 2016 Steelers were the AFC runners up. Second, I think pretty much anyone would have to agree that the Steelers’ biggest offseason acquisition this year was two days before the draft when Martavis Bryant was reinstated. I can’t say that this team wouldn’t or couldn’t win it all without this draft class, and so I wouldn’t say that this draft class technically could be what puts the team “over the top” as though they weren’t already capable of going over the top. This draft class has certainly improved the team, possibly even in the short term, but the biggest potential sources of improvement on the roster I think would be the development of young defensive players and the availability of key players. Sean Davis, Artie Burns, Javon Hargrave, and Bud Dupree, could be massively better this year, and even Shazier and Cockrell still have some upside. Last year, Dupree, Heyward, and Green each missed more than 10 games including playoffs, and Bell went down at the very beginning of the most important game of the season, while Bryant was suspended for the whole thing. Give me Bell, Green, and Bryant healthy and un-suspended for 19 games in addition to Ben and Brown and we won’t need any rookie contributions.

    3. You forgot to mention another famous 4th rounder – Landry Jones! That’s about what I expect from Dobbs. I don’t expect him to replace Roethlisberger, but he has good solid backup potential.

    4. I remember a line from the genius Bill Watterson in Calvin and Hobbes. It was something to the effect of “when you’re brilliant, people often mistake candor for arrogance.” Remember when Burns and Davis were the worst first two picks anyone could recall? Allen is very reminiscent of Burns, a physical gifted young man without much technique but with a couple of really good reasons to learn it. And remember that time when James Harrison was our long snapper? It’s probably a teeny bit more arrogant to trash Colbert than it is for Colbert to trust his scouts and his own instincts.

    5. Improvement in the secondary is probably more vital because the improvement in the WR corps is more likely. We really need Burns and Davis to improve because that’s basically our only hope. Between Green, Bryant, Coates, Smith-Schuster, and a still young and improving tandem in Rogers and Ayers the WR corps almost can’t fail to improve.


  • Well, I have nothing to add. You guys are TOO good sometimes.


    • cold_old_steelers_fan

      Too good or consistently good enough? It is a tough question. Maybe it will be on next week’s quiz.


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