Steelers Select Seven Players in 2008 NFL Draft

PITTSBURGH — The Steelers added seven players to their roster, including four on offense and three on defense during the 73rd annual NFL Draft. Among the seven players selected by the Steelers were a running back, wide receiver, two linebackers, an offensive lineman, quarterback and a safety.

The Steelers first selected Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall with the 23rd overall pick. Mendenhall became the first running back drafted by the Steelers in the first round in 19 seasons (Tim Worley, 1989). Mendenhall rushed for 2,539 yards (6.5 avg.) and 22 touchdowns, and caught 59 passes for 564 yards (9.6 avg.) and five scores in three seasons with the Fighting Illini. Mendenhall becomes the first Illinois player drafted by the Steelers since safety Bobby Dawson was selected in the 11th round of the 1988 Draft.

“This is an exciting running back, he’s 225 pounds, he’ll run a sub-4.5, he runs with power, he runs with moves, he can catch,” said Director of football Operations Kevin Colbert. “He’ll work as a blocker.  This is something that’s very exciting for this organization, and we were happy to make that pick.”

The Steelers added another weapon on offense and strengthened their receiving corps in the second round when they selected University of Texas wide receiver Limas Sweed with the 53rd overall selection. Sweed is the first Texas receiver drafted by the Steelers since Mike Adams in 1997.  

“I feel like we have some great men that are capable of helping this football team,” said Head Coach Mike Tomlin. “This has been a great weekend for us; I appreciate all of the work put into it.”

The Steelers chose UCLA linebacker Bruce Davis in the third round (88th overall). Davis, who played defensive end for the Bruins and projects to linebacker in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, finished his college career second in UCLA history with 29 quarterback sacks and third in school annals with 42.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

The Steelers traded down in the fourth round, picking up an extra draft choice in Round Six. Pittsburgh traded their fourth round pick (123rd overall) to the New York Giants in exchange for the 32nd pick in the fourth round (130th overall) and the 28th pick in the sixth round (194th overall). With their fourth round pick, the Steelers selected University of Texas offensive tackle Tony Hills. Hills started 24 games at left offensive tackle for the Longhorns and was voted team captain as a senior in 2007.

In the fifth round, the Steelers selected Oregon quarterback Dennis Dixon with the 156th overall selection. Dixon was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy in 2007 before injuring his knee against Arizona State. He completed 67.7 percent of his passes during his senior season (172 of 254) for 2,136 yards, 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and also rushed for 583 yards (5.6 avg.) and nine scores.

The Steelers’ final two picks came in the sixth round and were used to select Iowa inside linebacker Mike Humpal (188th overall) and Pittsburgh native and Woodland Hills High School graduate Ryan Mundy (194th overall), a safety from West Virginia.

The Steelers also agreed to terms with 12 rookie free agents, bringing the total to 19 rookies on their offseason roster. All rookies and veterans will participate in the team’s mandatory three-day mini-camp May 2-4.

Following is a complete list of the Steelers’ 2008 Draft picks:

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 2008 DRAFT PICKS

                 No. in

Rnd.           Rnd.          Overall        Player                            Pos.            Ht.               Wt.              Age         College

1.                    23                   23        Rashard Mendenhall   RB              5-10            225             20           Illinois

2.                    22                   53        Limas Sweed                WR             6-4              210             23           Texas                    

3.                    25                   88        Bruce Davis                   LB              6-3              252             22           UCLA

4.*                  32                 130        Tony Hills                       OT              6-5              304             23           Texas

5.                    23                 156        Dennis Dixon                QB             6-3              195             23           Oregon

6.                    22                 188        Mike Humpal                 LB              6-3              240             23           Iowa

6b.*                28                 194        Ryan Mundy                  S                                    6-1              215         23           West Virginia

                           

* Received 32nd pick in the 4th round (130th overall) and the 28th pick in the 6thround (194th overall) from the New York Giants in exchange for the 24th pick in the 4th round (123rd overall).

Quickie Bios on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 Draft Choices

Rashard Mendenhall (RB)

5-10, 225, Illinois (1st, 23rd)

A physical inside runner, Mendenhall helped the Illini get back to the national prominence of the 1980s in his only season as a starter, leading the team to a berth in the Rose Bowl…in 2007, was named Big Ten Conference Offensive Player of the Year…ranked second in the league and eighth in the country with 262 carries, setting school season records with 1,681 yards (6.4 avg) and 17 touchdowns…also set a school record with 1,999 all-purpose yards, ranking third in the Big Ten with an average of 153.77 yards per game…also made 34 catches for 318 yards (9.4 avg) and two touchdowns, scoring 114 points for his final campaign…in 35 games at Illinois, started 14 times…rushed 388 times for 2,539 yards (6.5 avg) and 22 touchdowns, ranking seventh all-time on the school’s rushing yardage list…grabbed 59 passes for 564 yards (9.6 avg) and five scores, finishing with 162 points…recorded two solo tackles and ranks 11th in school history with 3,103 all-purpose yards.

Head Coach Mike Tomlin

First and foremost, he’s a quality human being.  We were thoroughly impressed with him while getting to know him through the interview process. A very humble, blue-collar worker. Those types of individuals don’t have any problem fitting in.  In terms of what he brings to the table – he’s a complete back.  He can run inside, he can run outside.  He’s a powerful runner.  He’s elusive, and of course he has the speed to go the distance.  It shouldn’t be too difficult finding ways that he can contribute to this football team. 

Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert

Well obviously we’re very excited about this draft pick, Rashard Mendenhall. As we finalized our preparations mid-week, the coaching staff, scouting staff and ownership all sat down and we came up with a list of players that we would not trade away from if they were available at 23.  Rashard Mendenhall was one of those players – so we are very excited that this player was available at 23, because it was unexpected.  I don’t want his agent hearing that, but it’s the truth. This is an exciting running back.  He’s 225 pounds, he’ll run a sub-4.5, he runs with power, he runs with moves, he can catch.  He’ll work as a blocker.  This is something that’s very exciting for this organization, and we were happy to make that pick.

Limas Sweed (WR)

6-4, 210, Texas (2nd, 53rd)

A 2007 preseason All-American and All-Big Twelve Conference first-team selection, Sweed was limited by a nagging wrist injury in the team’s first six games of the season before missing the second half of the campaign to undergo surgery…etched his name into the Longhorns’ record books in several categories…the two-time All-Big Twelve selection ranks second in school history with 20 touchdown catches…while starting 39 consecutive games, he totaled 1,915 yards receiving, the fifth-best career total in Texas annals…hauled in 124 passes, good for sixth place on UT’s all-time record list…2007: Started the team’s first six games at split end…missed the second half of the season with a wrist injury…finished with 19 catches for 306 yards (16.1 avg) and three touchdowns…12 of his receptions were good for first downs…10 of his grabs were longer than 10 yards each, including five for 20 yards or more.

Wide Receivers Coach Randy Fichtner

We were very surprised, and very ecstatic back in the back of the room.  Really excited.  I never thought that he would still be at that slot, and obviously we’re very excited to have Limas on board. I love his range.  The circle of catches is extremely large.  The area of miss is big.  He’s got the longer arms.  When we were down there, he vertical jumped 36 or 37 as compared to 33 or 34 at the combine.  You couple that with the idea that he’s almost 6-4, you’re talking about a larger frame and target. 

Bruce Davis (LB)

6-3, 252, UCLA (3rd, 88th)

Finished his career ranked second in school history with 29 quarterback sacks and third with 42.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage…in 50 games at UCLA, started 28 contests at right defensive end…recorded 137 tackles (95 solos) with 29 sacks for minus 170 yards and 42.5 stops for losses of 229 yards…posted five quarterback pressures and deflected 17 passes…caused six fumbles and recovered three others, returning two for a total of 20 yards…2007: As a senior, garnered All-American second-team and All-Pac 10 first-team honors…started all year at right end, pacing the league while ranking ninth nationally with 12 sacks…led the Bruins with 15.5 stops for losses, as he caused two fumbles and recovered another…broke up nine passes and registered 45 tackles (32 solos).

Linebackers Coach Keith Butler

He’s kind of a hybrid, like a lot of the guys we’ve drafted. UCLA kid, about 6-2 and a half, 252 pounds, runs well.  He was a defensive end for them, mostly.  He came down to the Senior Bowl and he stood up and played linebacker for them there.  We feel like that he can make the transition.  We feel like that he’s a versatile player that could play inside or outside.  We’re going to start him probably at outside though.  We felt like we need some depth there.  We think he’s going to provide that depth for us.

Tony Hills (OT)

6-5, 304, Texas (4th, 130th)

Earned All-American first-team honors from the Walter Camp Foundation…member of the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy watch lists…All-Big Twelve Conference first-team pick by the league’s coaches and media…voted team captain…2007: Started 11 games at left tackle…in the 11 games with Hills at left tackle, the team averaged 471.5 yards in total offense and 265.2 yards passing per game, while allowing an average of 1.9 sacks…2006: All-Big Twelve Conference honorable mention…earned a spot on ESPN's All-Mayday Team for being one of college football's "Toughest of the Tough"...recipient of the team’s Most Improved Offensive Player Award…started all 13 games at left offensive tackle, grading 81.85 percent with 63 knockdowns and seven touchdown-resulting blocks.

Offensive Line Coach Larry Zierlein

I’ll tell you one thing – he’s really big.  When I went down to work him out, and I’ve seen him, and watched him on tape, I really was surprised at how big he was.  He has long arms.  As a former tight end, he’s a pretty good athlete.  His strength probably needs to develop a little bit, but he is athletic, he’s big, and if you have those two things that’s a good start. 

Dennis Dixon (QB)

6-3, 195, Oregon (5th, 156th)

Was named the Pac-10 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2007…named one of three finalists for both the Maxwell Award and the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award in 2007…guided Oregon to an 8-1 record and a No. 2 seed in the BCS standings before getting injured against Arizona State in 2007…his 6,337 yards in total offense rank sixth on the school’s career-record list, while his 1,208 yards rushing set the school career-record for QBs…completed 444-of-695 passes for 5,129 yards, 38 touchdowns and 21 interceptions during his career…threw for 2,136 yards during his senior season and 2,143 yards as a junior…formerly played right field in the Atlanta Braves’ farm system.

Quarterbacks Coach Ken Anderson

I think he’s a nice-sized quarterback, one who’s been very productive.  His last two years in college he had a high-completion percentage. Great touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s very athletic, and he’s somebody that we think can come in and compete for the third spot. I think they’re pretty good.  He’s had some big games. He throws the ball down the field.  I think he’s a young guy with a lot of potential. 

Mike Humpal (LB)

6-3, 240, Iowa (6th, 188th)

In his final 24 games, posted 172 tackles (69 solos), 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage, two forced fumbles, five pass deflections and six interceptions…his 123 tackles in 2007 rank 26th on the school’s season-record list…2007: All-Big Ten Conference second-team choice by the media, adding honorable mention from the league’s coaches…named team captain…added Academic All-Big Ten honors…2006: Started 12 games at weak-side outside linebacker…ranked ninth on the team with 49 tackles (23 solos), adding 4.5 stops for losses of 17 yards…deflected three passes and intercepted three others.

Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert

Mike Humpal is a very productive inside linebacker.  He started as a Sam outside linebacker last year. A very strong kid, very steady, very smart, very instinctive. He’s walked out on the slot, he’s covered receivers, he’s covered tight ends.  He’s done some good things on the special teams, so that could be a nice fit. 

Ryan Mundy (S)

6-1, 215, West Virginia (6th, 194th)

Spent his first four years at the University of Michigan before transferring to West Virginia as a post-graduate transfer…following his redshirt-junior year at Michigan (2006), used an NCAA rule to transfer to West Virginia that allowed seniors to transfer to another school and participate in athletics without sitting out a year due to their previous school not having a certain field in which they want to study…started 18-of-35 career games for Michigan at safety and finished with 86 career tackles and three interceptions…2007: Started all 13 games at safety for the Mountaineers…was the fourth-leading tackler on the team with 62 tackles, including 30 unassisted tackles…tied for the team lead with three interceptions for 75 yards…also led the team in pass breakups with seven.

Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert

Ryan Mundy, of course, is a local kid that went to Woodland Hills.  He was a starting safety at the University of Michigan, took advantage of the transfer rule that’s no longer in place, and ended up starting for West Virginia this year.  When you talk to the people at West Virginia, they really felt that Ryan was a huge part of pulling their defense together.  This is a very, very intelligent kid.  A very mature kid that will have a nice chance to make this team.

The Steelers agreed to terms with the following rookie free agents:

PITTSBURGH STEELERS 2008 ROOKIE FREE AGENTS

 

Player                                                                    Pos.                Ht.                   Wt.          College

                Patrick Bailey                                                       LB                   6-4                  235         Duke

                Dorien Bryant                                                       WR                  5-9                  175         Purdue

                Doug Legursky                                                    C                     6-1                  323         Marshall

                Roy Lewis                                                             CB                  5-10                190         Washington

                Mike Potts                                                             QB                  6-4                  220         William & Mary

                Martavius Prince                                                  DT                   6-2                  282         Southern Miss

                Julian Rauch                                                        K                     5-11                207         Appalachian State

                Jordan Reffett                                                      DT                   6-4                  292         Washington

                Micah Rucker                                                       WR                  6-6                  221         Eastern Illinois

                Dezmond Sherrod                                              TE                   6-2                  250         Mississippi State

                Travis Williams                                                    CB                  5-9                  180         East Carolina

                Donovan Woods                                                  LB                   6-2                  230         Oklahoma State