To complete my look at some of the Steelers number one draft picks, the spotlight falls on my favourite player, Ben. One intention of mine with these articles was to show that the experts don’t always get it right with their predictions. Ben was projected to be a top five selection in the 2004 draft. Fortunately, for the Steelers with their overall eleventh pick, it didn’t go that way.
In his final season at Miami, Ohio, Ben led his team to a 13-1 record and a 49-28 win over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl. Ben was voted the Redhawks MVP for three straight years and in his final season completed 69.1 percent of his passes for 3,670 yards and 29 touchdowns, setting new single-season records.
Eli Manning was rated the top quarterback in the 2004 draft and was predicted to be selected first overall. One pre-draft comment on prospective picks said some scouts preferred Ben to Manning.
They suggested, at 6-5, 245 pounds, Ben had a bigger frame and was more athletic. He’s smart, passionate about the game and would have no trouble coming in and getting his teammates to believe in him.”
San Diego had the first pick in the draft but were expected to stick with their quarterback duo of Drew Brees and Doug Flutie so had no need to draft a quarterback. They could be open to a trade though.
Ben prepared for life in the NFL by moving to the warmer climate of the West Coast, overhauling his diet and training hard.
“I had an idea it would be tough,” Ben acknowledged, “but I didn’t know how tough. I didn’t know how much time I had to put in. There’s very little sitting down. Very rarely do I not have any workouts. Sunday is my one day off.”
Going into the draft, the Bills were heavily tipped as trading up to get Ben. Some NFL talent scouts believed Phillip Rivers had passed Ben in the quarterback rankings. Ben worked out privately for the Chargers, but the team also met with Manning and Phillip Rivers.
As draft day approached, the Giants became convinced about Manning’s potential, but were not prepared to pay too much in a trade. If they didn’t seal a deal with the Chargers, their overall fourth pick would probably see Ben making his way to New York.
Ben worked out for the Giants and other NFL teams at the end of March in his University Yager Stadium. He threw for about thirty minutes with short and long passes down the middle and to the sidelines. Reports said his positional drills were outstanding. One member of the Giants personnel advised that if Al Davis and the Raiders with the third overall pick, passed on Roethlisberger, “He’s making a big mistake.”
Whether Ben would be the first quarterback taken in the draft rested with the mindset, said veteran NFL quarterback Warren Moon. Not with the mindset of the draftee, but with the attitude of the NFL managers. If the managers wanted to play it safe they would go with Manning, but if they wanted the best player, “Ben’s going first.”
“I talked with people and they were really impressed,” admitted Moon. “You’ve got to be able to move around and create. For a guy his size, to be as nifty as he is and as nimble, that impresses people.”
Ben’s approached his workout with caution. “I’m real hard on myself,” he acknowledged. It was a pretty good workout, an OK performance. I give myself a B or a B-plus. This is probably the biggest day of my life, outside of draft day. It’s a relief off my shoulder.”
Moon said, “He’s a confident kid, but really humble.”
The Steelers were interested in drafting a quarterback in the first or second round and invited Ben, Tulane’s J.P. Losman and Virgina’s Matt Schaub to visit their training facility. The organisation believed they had enough information on Manning and Rivers so didn’t feel it necessary to bring them in.
One NFL general manager was quoted as saying, “It’s a smokescreen. Rivers is the guy they want.” Coach Cowher attended Rivers workout at North Carolina State, but did not go to Roethlisberger’s workout.
Steelers General Manager Colbert noted that quarterback was the most important position on the team, “You have to be secure at that position and we feel good about our position, we really do with Tommy (Maddox), Charlie (Batch) and Brian (St. Pierre).”