Is Ziggy Hood a bust for the Steelers?
When he was drafted in 2009, Ziggy Hood was a fairly surprising pick for the Steelers. Most fans wanted some help on the offensive line and expected a pick to reflect that. However, as Kevin Colbert is wont to do, he chose a player that few expected in Evander “Ziggy” Hood from Missouri. Given Colbert’s history in drafting, though, it was hard to doubt that Hood would be something special. Now, after three full years on the roster and going into his final year there are some rumblings as to whether or not he was worthy of the first round pick.
The first deciding factor has to be what is expected from a first round pick in the NFL. At pick 32, Hood could almost be considered a second round pick as he was the last player selected in the first round. Players in that range are certainly expected to be starters for 10-12 years, generally after a year on the bench, and it’s hopeful they’ll make a Pro Bowl or three during their career. If selected that low, they’re not expected to be All-Pro or Hall of Fame level players as top fifteen and top five picks are, respectively (whether or not that is the reality, that is indeed the expectation).
So far in his career, Hood has seen plenty of game action, so he fulfilling the playing time expectations. However, in his first three years saw a surprising amount of playing time from a rookie defensive end in his first year (not an easy thing to do in Dick LeBeau’s defense) to starting nine games in 2010 while filling in for an injured Aaron Smith and then starting 14 out of 16 last year after he replaced Aaron Smith. Replacing Aaron Smith is not an easy accomplishment as he was one of the more underrated players in the NFL. As far as getting on the field, Hood is holding up that end of the bargain.
Additionally, many fans believe that Cameron Heyward potentially challenging Hood for playing time as a reason that Hood is possibly a bust. One big difference between the two is that Heyward was a defensive prospect that was expected to be drafted much higher than Hood was, and was drafted higher than Hood (albeit by one spot). Also, keep in mind that many people were much higher on Hood after his rookie year when he saw little exposure to high leverage situations. Until Heyward is thrust in that position the comparison is impossible to make.
The next question, then is whether or not Ziggy Hood is playing because he forced his way into the spot with stellar play, is playing because he is simply the best of several less than stellar options, or is somewhere in between. Last season, Hood entered as a backup to Aaron Smith, which is not necessarily unsurprising. Smith should have been considered a borderline Hall of Fame player (that’s not just a Steelers fan being a homer –Bill Belichick is on the record multiple times effusing praise for Smith). However, anyone that saw him playing last year knew that he wasn’t holding his end of the field as he had for 13 years. While he was a nearly legendary player and Steelers fan will tell you that you only get to stay a starter as long as you’re fit for the job (Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward, two potential Hall of Famers who can attest to that). Simply put, Aaron Smith was clearly a step behind in the preseason and it never got better. He was being exploited in a very obvious manner. With that, it still took a while for Hood to fully wrest the position from Smith, which is definitely a concern.
The final piece to look at, as is always the case with any player, is what they’re doing with what they have. Last year, Ziggy Hood was not a great player. Last year, Ziggy Hood was not a terrible player. He was somewhere in between and may have fallen closer to the average range than either above or below average. However, going against Hood was the fact that Casey Hampton’s play wasn’t up to its usual level. Additionally, Hood was playing the opposite side of the line from Brett Keisel, who had yet another above average season manning the opposite end of the line. Additionally, the linebacking core was not where it should have been last season. With Lamar Woodley and James Harrison missing large amounts of time, Lawrence Timmons was forced to play the Outside Linebacker position. In conjunction with that James Farrior had his worst professional season, which led to his release and retirement (while not official it is certainly expected). On top of that, the Steelers defensive backfield was working on putting together their finest season which did their part for securing the NFL’s top ranked passing defense. This formula would tend to lead to the defense running the ball more often. Given that Hood was the weakest link on the defensive line, many runs went his way. In addition, these runs were often more successful than runs against the Steelers generally were. However, the Steelers were still eighth in the NFL in rushing yards per game surrendered at 99.8. That’s certainly not a poor number, especially given the Steelers played 7 games last year featuring a top-10 running back in terms of yards.
With the turmoil on the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers defense never buckled. Additionally, Ziggy Hood started the final fourteen games of the season and a player who would be playing at a “bust” level would have a hard time maintaining a level of play at such a critical position to allow a defense to remain at the top overall position. That’s not to say that Hood was good so much as that Hood was not a liability. It is obvious that he was one of the lesser defensive players on the field last season, however, and that was emphasized by Hood’s recommitment to getting in better shape this offseason to improve his level of play.
So, is Ziggy Hood a bust? No, not at this point. A bust of a player wouldn’t be starting at a critical position for the league’s number one defense. Could he become a bust? Certainly, that is a possibility. Hood went from an outstanding rookie year to an intriguing but less good second year to a disappointing third year. If that trend continues the moniker of “bust” could haunt him. However, given what transpired last year and Hood’s commitment to return better than ever this season, it may be better to take a look and see approach.With Cameron Heyward breathing down his neck for playing time, it’s not impossible to see a Steeler’s defense where Ziggy Hood doesn’t have a starting spot and is on the way to being a bust. However, given all the variables that ultimate destination appears to be unlikely.