IT may be an unmanly metaphor, but the Steelers of the ‘90’s were brides maids whereas the Steelers of the ’00 were brides.
The question is, why?
Several explanations exist, including the Steelers uncanny success with undrafted rookie free agents, but one singular achievement pushed the ’00 Steelers over the top:
Kevin Colbert has never missed on a first round draft pick.
That my friends explains a lot.
Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe
Because he failed badly in Buffalo, most forget that Tom Donahoe spent the ‘90’s as one of the top 2-3 personnel men in the NFL. Indeed, Donahoe’s resume boasts of draft picks who went on to wear Super Bowl rings by the names of Hines Ward, Alan Fanaca, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Joey Porter.
But of the above group, only Fanaca was a first rounder. Donahoe excelled at uncovering excellent value in the middle and late rounds, but he failed just as often as he succeeded with first round picks.
But doesn’t picking up guys like Porter and Smith in rounds 3 and 4 appears to compensate for picking Troy Edwards at #13? To an extent it does, but success in later rounds never mitigates the opportunity cost of a first round failure.
The Colbert Record – First Round Draft Picks
In contrast, getting a first round pick right can make up for a lot mistakes in subsequent rounds as this edition of The Colbert Record which reviews Kevin Colbert’s first round selections reveals. Scroll down or click on the links below for a capsule profile of each of Colbert’s first round successes.
2000 Plaxico Burress
2001 Casey Hampton
2002 Kendall Simmons
2003 Troy Polamalu
2004 Ben Roethlisberger
2005 Heath Miller
2006 Santonio Holmes
2007 Lawrence Timmons*
2008 Rashard Mendenhall
2009 Ziggy Hood
2010 Maurkice Pouncey
2011 Cameron Heyward
Year/Position Drafted: 2001 (8)
AFC Championship Appearances: 2 (’01, ’04)
Super Bowl Appearances: 0
Key Game or moment: October 29th 2001 in Pittsburgh vs. the Tennessee Titans – This was the founding game of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aries. It was also Burress break out game, catching 6 passes for 151 yards reminding everyone why Kevin Colbert had made him his first pick. It was the start of big things for Plaxico.
Overarching contribution: In Pittsburgh, Plaxico Burress perhaps did not quite live up to his potential as a number 8 overall draft pick, but he nonetheless played a key role in revitalizing a passing game that had been adrift since Yancy Thigpen’s departure.
Year/Position Drafted: 2001, (19th)
AFC Championship Appearances: 5 (’01, ’04-IR, ’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Appearances: 3
Key Game or moment: Super Bowl XL. Seattle is on Pittsburgh’s 29, threatening to score. On first and 20 Casey Hampton throws Matt Hasselbeck down like a rag doll. Ike Taylor intercepts his next pass. Four plays later, Randel El is hitting Hines Ward for the closing score. It all begins with Hampton’s play, his lone sack in 16 post-seasongames.
Overarching contribution: Ed Bouchette has said that the success or failure of the 3-4 rises and falls on the play of the nose tackle. Consider these numbers: 1,7,9,1,4,9,1,1,5,2, and 1. Those are the Steelers defensive rankings in total yards since Casey Hampton joined the team. A lot of people get a lot of credit for that, but it all starts with Big Snack.
Year/Position Drafted: 2001, (30th overall)
Number of Starts: 81
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’05, ’08-IR)
Super Bowl Games: 2 (’05, ’08-IR)
Key Game or moment: Starting 16 straight games as a rookie. Overarching contribution: Diabetes and a slew of injuries complicated Kendall Simmons’ career. Nonetheless his solid, if rarely spectacular, play at guard provided stability on the offensive line that has been absent of late.
(Available as of 4/21/12)
Overarching contribution: Every generation brings a handful of players who combine the athleticism, football talent, work ethic, and will power to give them the On the Field Presence necessary to make plays that single-handedly alter a game’s outcome. The play above represents just one example of how Troy Polamalu is one of those players.
Overarching contribution: Success as an NFL quarterback is about more than arm strength, coverage reading, and accuracy. It’s also about courage, instinct and the ability to improvise. More than anything else, what separates quarterbacks with multiple Super Bowl rings from the Jim Kelly’s and Randal Cunningham’s of this world is mental toughness.
Seven years into his NFL career, Ben Roethlisberger has already established himself as one of the most fearless, look the dragon in the jaws, big-pressure quarterbacks in the NFL.
Year/Position Drafted: 2005, (30th overall)
Number of Starts: 106
AFC Championship Games: 3 (’05, ’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 3
Key Game or moment: 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff game. Health Miller caught Ben Roethlisberger’s first two passes and, as he was catching his third, the Steelers were suddenly up 14-0 in a game no one thought they could win….
Overarching contribution: Health Miller is a player who lets actions speak for him. He might not get flashy statistics, he might not be the MUST HAVE on anyone’s fantasy team, but Health Miller is Mr. Dependable. Whether it’s been Hines, and El, Hines and ‘Tone, Hines and Wallace, or Wallace and Brown on the outside, having Heath Miller on as a threat in the middle has made the Steelers offense dramatically more dynamic.
Year/Position Drafted: 2006, (25th, overall)
Number of Starts: 48
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’08)
Super Bowl Games: 1
Key Game or moment: Super Bowl XLIII. (Available as of 4/21/12)
(Available as of 4/21/12)
Overarching contribution: Santonio Holmes time in Pittsburgh was bookended with off the field incidents, and by all accounts he was no locker room favorite. But the truth is he delivered throughout the 2008 playoffs especially in Super Bowl XLIII when it counted the most.
Year/Position Drafted: 2007, (15th overall)
Number of Starts: 46
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’08, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 2
Key Game or moment: Antonio Brown, Tory Polamalu and James Harrison made the highlight reels for the Steelers upset victory over the Tennessee Titans in the second week of 2010, but Lawrence Timmons was simply all over, raising hell on every part of the field. His accomplishment to what was one of the greatest defensive efforts in franchise history should not be underestimated.
Overarching contribution: Lawrence Timmons earns an asterix on this list simply because his play has been by inconsistent.
Because of injuries he struggled to get on the field in 2007. His play in 2008 made everyone wonder why he wasn’t starting, but too many missed opportunities in 2009 led many fans and, perhaps management, to wonder if letting Larry Foote go was an error. He started out 2010 gangbusters and overall had a very good year, but in 2011 he disappeared from the defense.
Year/Position Drafted: 2008, (23rd, overall)
Number of Starts: 44
AFC Championship Games: 2 (’08-IR, ’10)
Super Bowl Games: 2 (’08-IR, ’10)
Key Game or moment: AFC Championship game vs. the Jets. When Rashard Mendenhall focuses he is one of the top backs in the league. And Mendenhall has never been as focused as he was in the AFC Championship game, where he tore through the Jets defense for 121 yards on 27 carries, including a 35 yard burst. While those numbers are good, they do little justice to the fire and determination which Mendenhall displayed that night.
Overarching contribution: While Rashard Mendenhall has been less consistent that one would like, he has run well for the Steelers often without the benefit of quality run blocking. When Mendenhall shuns his shuffle routine and commits to a hole, he runs with power, authority, and is a threat to go all the way.
Year/Position Drafted: 2009, (30th, overall)
Number of Starts: 25
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’10)
Super Bowl Games: 1 (’10)
Key Game or moment: When injury felled Aaron Smith in 2010 everyone wondered whether Ziggy Hood was up to the task. It took some time for Hood to find his legs, but he registered three sacks in December 2010 and added two more in the playoffs, stepping up when he was needed.
Overarching contribution: The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII did nothing to alter the fact that their aging defensive line needed an injection of youth. Ziggy Hood was the man tapped to begin that rejuvenation. While Hood’s play is no where near par with the likes of Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, he’s provided quality play and still has room to grow.
Year/Position Drafted: 2010, (18th, overall)
Number of Starts: 30
AFC Championship Games: 1 (’10)
Super Bowl Games: 1 (’10-IR)
Key Game or moment: Anchoring the Steelers offensive line for 18 straight starts as a rookie.
Overarching contribution: When Willie Colon tore his Achilles in June of 2010, the word was that the Steelers had lost their best offensive lineman and the Steelers were still 3 months away from training camp. By opening day Muarkice Pouncey had established himself in the role, a fact that Colon’s brief return in 2011 did little to alter.
Year/Position Drafted: 2011, (31st, overall)
Number of Starts: 0
AFC Championship Games: 0
Super Bowl Games: 0
Key Game or moment: The Steelers wasted little time in getting Cameron Heyward on the field, and he made his first splash play in week 5 vs. the Tennessee Titans by registering his first sack and his first forced fumble.
Overarching contribution: Steelers Nation hasn’t seen a lot of Heyward yet, but he got thrown into the mix early and has responded well thus far.
12 First Round Success But 13 Must Also Be Lucky for Colbert
A string of 12 straight successful first round picks is an extremely impressive record for an NFL personnel man in any era.
As has been shown above, each of these players not only have a history of solid, and for the most part consistent play, but each player faced critical moments in critical games and delivered when called upon.
As important has that past success has been, Kevin Colbert must continue to deliver. While the Steelers roster remains solid, there is not a single position area that the team does not either need to improve now and/or lay a foundation for future success.