Steelers vs Worst NFL Draft Classes in Last 25 Years’s Jim Reineking has ranked the 4 worst draft classes of the NFL’s last 25 years. If that sounds curious it should. Reineking actually claims to rank the NFL’s five worst draft classes, but he’s already included the 2013 NFL Draft, and 2 years is far too short a time to draw conclusions about any draft class.

  • Beyond that, the simple fact is that at this time of year pro football focused sites, including this one, become desperate for anything that generates them page views.

But let’s assume that Reineking’s methodology is sound and the analysis behind his rankings is solid. The question of interest to Steel Curtain Rising is “How did the Steelers fare vs the worst NFL draft classes in history?”  Click below to check out specific drafts, or just scroll down for the full analysis.

Steelers 1992 NFL Draft Class

For Reineking, the 1992 NFL Draft was the worst of the last 25 years and if he’s right, then this is all the much sweeter for Steelers nation, because the Steelers 1992 draft class was one of the best of the post-Chuck Noll era.

The 1992 NFL Draft was Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe’s first together, and their first three picks were Leon Searcy, Levon Kirkland, and Joel Steed. None of the three started in Cowher’s 1992 opening day upset of the Houston Oilers. That honor feel to Darren Perry who started all sixteen games and hauled in 6 interceptions.

  • Searcy, Kirkland, and Steed did start on opening day 1993, and were regular starters through Super Bowl XXX.

The Steelers also grabbed long snapper Kendall Gammon in the 11th round of the 1992 NFL Draft who served as long snapper for 4 straight years. Searcy left after 1995, but Kirkland, Steed, and Perry all signed multiple contracts from the Steelers. Kirkland and Steed made 3 Pro Bowls between them.

The Steelers 1992 draft class did not produce superstars, but Pittsburgh did find four solid, long-term starters and critical special teams role player. That’s a very good effort for any draft, and all the more so for one that is rated as the worst overall draft in a quarter century.

Steelers 2013 NFL Draft Class

It is way, way too early to evaluate the Steelers 2013 draft class. Going into 2015, Jarvis Jones and Shamarko Thomas represent huge question marks and you don’t want to say that of your first and third round pick two years after the draft. Especially when the success or failure of your defense hinges closely on their development.

Yet, Le’Veon Bell, Vince Williams, and Markus Wheaton have all shown “something” and that bodes well for the overall fate of the 2013 draft class.

Steelers 2009 NFL Draft Class

The Steelers 2009 draft class has perhaps been one of the most misunderstood. By definition, it’s a disappointment when no members of your draft class get second contracts. And if Ziggy Hood was a disappointing 1st round pick, he was no bust, and as Steel Curtain Rising demonstrated last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers made good picks in 2009, the problem is that the rest of the NFL benefited from them.

If 2009 was the third worst draft of the last 25 years, then Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin sent a lot of the right names to the podium, even if it did Pittsburgh little good.

Steelers 1999 NFL Draft Class

The Steelers 1999 draft class was Tom Donahoe’s last, and it was far from his best. The Steelers were picking 13th, and their first two picks were Troy Edwards and Scott Shields, both of whom were busts. 3rd round pick Kris Farris represented another waste of a premium pick.

  • But the 1999 draft was far from a total loss for Pittsburgh.

Round’s 3 and four included men by the names of Joey Porter and Aaron Smith, two men who own three Super Bowl rings between them. Amos Zereoue also arrived in that draft and, while Zereoue never reached his potential he was hardly a bust.

The Steelers laid a couple of eggs in the 1999 NFL Draft, but they also found 2 diamonds in the rough.

Steelers 2002 NFL Draft Class

The 2002 NFL Draft was Kevin Colbert’s third with the team, and it was easily its best in terms of finding overall value. Only one of the 8 players the Steelers drafted in 2002 failed to make the roster.

Injuries ruined Kendall Simmons career, but he stayed healthy enough to start in Super Bowl XL. Most people will never think of Antwaan Randle El as great, but his value to the Steelers offenses went far beyond his stat sheet (just ask Hines Ward). Ditto Larry Foote. The Steelers upgraded when they replaced Chris Hope with Ryan Clark, but Hope was good enough to start during the 2004 15-1 season and the Super Bowl that followed a year later.

Verron Haynes and Lee Mays weren’t household words in Steelers Nation even when they were playing, but Hayes was a serviceable back up, and Lee Mays a decent spot duty role player.

  • The final pick was of course Brett Keisel. What more do we need to say?

Kevin Colbert really did save the best for last here.

Keisel might not be a future Hall of Famer, he might have only earned Pro Bowl honors once, but Brett Keisel blossomed into a great player in every sense of the word.

The Steelers do Well in Picking from Weak NFL Draft Classes

Going into ever NFL draft, fans are wont to hear that “This it’s a great year to for teams that need to draft ______ [insert your position name(s)],” or “Unfortunately, there aren’t any viable franchise quarterbacks coming out this year.”

  • The funny thing is, you rarely hear draft classes collectively panned or praised after the fact.

Credit NFL.Com’s Jim Reineking for trying to change that.

Steel Curtain Rising offers no opinion either way of his choices, but if his rankings are right, then the Steelers have provided a case study proving the old adage that “Good players are available in every round waiting to be found,” it just takes a smart scouting organization to find them.

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Instant Draft Grades Are Silly. Ike Taylor Shows Why

The 2015 NFL Draft is history and pundits have given their grades and reached their conclusions on the Steelers 2015 draft class.

  • Fair enough. The impulse to grade a draft is both strong and understandable.

Steeler Nation wants to know how the Steelers did in the 2015 Draft. Now. Writers who grade the Steelers draft will serve two purposes – they’ll fill the fans’ needs and generate a lot of page views in the process — Declaring first round pick Bud Dupree as the next Greg Lloyd or the next Alonzo Jackson generates a lot of attention.

  • The temptation to join in remains great.

But year after year, Steel Curtain Rising holds back for two reasons. First, living in Buenos Aires doesn’t afford much opportunity to watch college football, and there’s no sense in offering an uninformed opinion.

  • Second, the exercise of instant draft grading is rather silly.

Ike Taylor’s story shows us why.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, draft, 2015 draft, 2003 draft

Ike Taylor Discusses who Steelers might draft to replace him

Alas, Ike Taylor Retires Just a Little Too Soon….

IF Ike Taylor only could have waited after the 2015 NFL Draft to retire…. Timing is everything in this business, and Taylor retired two weeks before the draft. And as a rule, major Steelers news only breaks when I am traveling and unable to write.

I was already on the road when Polamalu retired, but managed to craft a fitting tribute to the Steelers legend. When Taylor announced he was done I was knee-deep in a trade show, unable to attempt to write even a stub. So goes it.

  • But Ike Taylor offers a cautionary lesson all would be draft graders.

The Steelers drafted Ike Taylor in the fourth round of the 2003 NFL Draft. Fans remember 2002 as the year that Tommy Gun took Steelers Nation by storm. Too many forget that Tommy Maddox gunslinging exploits were desperately necessary because New England outed the Steelers defense acute weakness vs. the spread offense.

  • Kevin Colbert opened the offseason proclaiming his love for the Steelers secondary.

Then he opened the draft by picking defensive backs – Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor — with two of his first three picks. And that’s where things get interesting.

Grading Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft

Unfortunately, even the magic of Google doesn’t make it easy to find a lot of Steelers 2003 draft grades, so our survey sample is small.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette didn’t grade the Steelers 2003 draft, but he did recount how Ike Taylor chased rabbits as a kid, and arrived to the NFL as a raw talent.

ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli gave the Steelers a C+, he praised the Polamalu trade, although stopped well short of projecting Polamalu as the legend he’d become. He also praised J.T. Wall has the best value pick, and called Ike Taylor a “Boom bust” pick.

Ike Taylor, Steelers, Ravens, interception, Joe Flacco

Ike Taylor Picks off Joe Flacco

Walter Football, which specializes in draft-related analysis, loved the Polamalu pick, projected Brian St. Pierre Steelers “quarterback of the future,” rightly critiqued the Alonzo Jackson pick, and concluded, “All of their other picks were just average; nothing spectacular.” (In all fairness to the site, they updated the article in 2008, and admitted their oversight of Ike Taylor).

USA Today gave the Steelers 2003 Draft 3 and a half stars, praised Troy Polamalu, and the only other player mentioned was Pro Bowl Clipboard Holder Brian St. Pierre.

Mark Madden, then writing a freelance column for the Post Gazette, liked the picks of Polamalu and Alonzo Jackson, and the labeled the pick of Ike Taylor as “The worst in team history.” A sampling of Madden’s reasoning goes as follows: “Taylor will be a total bust for the Steelers. The only person he hurts will be me after he reads this column.”

Here we’ll resist the urge to upbraid Madden the way he so richly deserves if only because my friend Ivan Cole at Behind the Steel Curtain already did a masterful job of it.

  • The point of this column isn’t to show how wrong Madden was.

Rather, the point is, for a long time, it looked like Mark Madden was on to something about Ike Taylor…

Ike Taylor’s Cautionary Tale to Would-Be Draft Graders

Ike Taylor played in all 16 games as a rookie, but mainly as a kick returner. He was expected to grab the starting role in 2004. He started 1 game, and neither was he unable to beat out Deshea Townsend nor an aging Willie Williams nor an aging Chad Scott. Dare we say that Mark Madden was starting to look smart.

Ike Taylor, interception, Super Bowl XL

Ike Taylor’s interception changes tempo of Super Bowl XL

  • Of course Ike Taylor not only grabbed the starting role in 2005, he also began shadowing opposing offenses best receivers, and making game-changing plays in Super Bowl XL.

Yet, in 2006, even after the Steelers gave Taylor a big contract, he found himself on the bench during a stretch that saw the Steelers pull themselves from a 2-6 hole to respectability. While some in the press felt Bill Cowher had unfairly scapegoated Taylor, Steelers Digest Bob Labriola labeled Taylor as one of the top priorities for the attention of newly hired head coach Mike Tomlin.

  • Tomlin unhesitatingly started Ike Taylor, and Taylor played as one of the top cornerbacks in the league for 6 of the next 8 years.

Evaluating an NFL Draft class takes a long time. 12 years later the only two players from the Steelers 2003 draft that stand out are Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor. The others are Steelers history footnotes.

But the day after the draft everyone was talking about Troy Polamalu. Two of the four same-day Steelers draft grades didn’t even mention Ike Taylor. Mark Madden condemned Kevin Colbert for making “The worst pick in history” when in fact Ike Taylor was probably Colbert’s best 4th round selection ever.

In the end, it was Len Pasquarelli who hit that mark when he suggested there were tremendous possibilities for Taylor. But he was even more right when he reminded Steelers Nation that it would take time to find that out.

That’s the moral of this story. How did the Steelers do in the 2015 NFL Draft? Ask again in 4 or 5 years.

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Steelers 2015 Draft Class Addresses Pass Rush, Secondary Concerns

There are so many metrics used to measure the NFL Draft. You might assign letter grades – I’m sure you can already find people giving the Steelers A’s, B’s and C’s on their 2015 Draft.

Were you to boil it down by numbers it would look like this: 7 rounds, 8 players, 6 defenders, 2 offensive players, 2 Outside Linebackers, 2 cornerbacks, 1 wide receiver, 1 tight end, 1 defensive lineman, one safety.

Ultimately, only one metric counts when it comes to an NFL Draft class:

  • Finding players that help you succeed.

In the context of the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning Super Bowls is the sole metric of success. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s talent evaluation skills will be judged whether they surround Ben Roethlisberger with enough talent players to bring home another Super Bowl while Big Ben still has viable years of his prime remaining.

Too Early to Give Draft Grade, but Steelers 2015 Draft Class Meets Need

steelers 2015 draft class, Bud Dupree

Meet the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Draft Class

Given the urgency of Colbert and Tomlin’s task the longing, the temptation and dare we say the compulsion slap a grade the Steelers 2015 draft is understandable. The Steelers need to boost their defense in general and specifically their secondary and pass rush. Pittsburgh drafted 3 pass rushers and 3 defensive backs.

Steelers Nation wants to know whether they made the right decisions or horrendously squandered their opportunity. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way, and that’s something that even the fastest internet connection can’t correct. We’ll know in a few years how it turned out.

Nonetheless, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin made some important decisions in the 2015 NFL Draft, and these are the choices they made:

First round, Bud Dupree, outside linebacker, Kentucky
Second round, Senquez Golson, cornerback Ole Miss
Third round, Sammie Coates, wide receiver, Auburn
Fourth round, Doran Grant, cornerback, Ohio State
Fifth round, Jesse James, tight end, Penn State
Sixth round, L.T. Walton, defensive lineman, Central Michigan
Sixth round compensatory, Anthony Chickillo, outside linebacker, Miami
Seventh round, Gerod Holliman, safety, Louisville

“Defense” is the watch word of the Steelers 2015 Draft Class. The Steelers have not gone all in on defense in a draft since 1993, when Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher picked Deon Figures, Chad Brown, Kevin Henry and Willie Williams who developed into starters/part-time starters (accuracy buffs will note they also picked Marc Woodard and Jeff Zgonina.)

Steelers Pile Up Potential in 2015 Draft

In taking Bud Dupree and Anthony Chickillo, the Steelers injected two young talents into their outside linebacking corps., providing new blood into a unit that has struggled to put pressure on the passer.


In the secondary, the Steelers added cornerbacks Senquez Golson and Doran Grant, along with safety Gerod Holliman, which gives them 3 players who collectively nabbed 29 interceptions in 2014 – the entire Steelers defense had 11 in 2014. The Steelers also brought on board L.T. Walton, who’ll give the Steelers an extra tackle while in the 4-3 and an extra end while in the 3-4.

On offense, the Steelers went for value in the third round with Sammie Coates, a wide receiver who fills the slot role, and Jesse James, a local product who’ll fight Rob Branchflower for the third tight end spot.

  • On paper, the Steelers 2015 draft class helps tremendously, and fills a variety of key franchise needs.

Talent development takes time, but right now there are a few things we already know about the Steelers 2015 draft class.

  • Bud Dupree, Jesse James and Sammy Coates bring the Steelers almost ridiculous levels of athletic talent in terms of measurables
  • Golson, Grant, and Holliman arrive in Pittsburgh with tapes that show years of solid production.

The sorting out process will take time, injuries will occur and some players will simply disappoint, but the Steelers Nation has every reason to be excited about the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Draft Class.

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The Colbert Record: Steelers Third Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

Steel Curtain Rising’s annual installment of the Colbert Record began this morning with our evaluation of Kevin Colbert’s performance in the the Steelers 2010 Draft.

Now that the Steelers have drafted Bud Dupree with their first pick, focus shifts to day two of the 2015 NFL Draft which brings us to the third round. Accordingly, Steel Curtain Rising shines a light on Kevin Colbert’s draft record with third round picks.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Tom Donahoe Leaves Kevin Colbert Tough Third Round Act to Follow

The NFL Draft’s third round is often called “the value round” as that is the spot in the draft where you still have a high probability of finding and impact player, yet the risk associated with missing on a third rounder is lower than the first and second rounds.

  • The NFL Draft’s third round was the Steelers money round during Tom Donahoe’s tenure.

Colbert’s predecessor simply excelled in the third round drafting Joey Porter, Hines Ward, Amos Zereoue, Mike Vrable, Jon Witman, Brenden Stai, Jason Gildon, Bam Morris, Andre Hastings, and Joel Steed.

Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Steelers did draft a few busts in the third round – Kris Farris, Chris Conrad, Steven Conley and Paul Wiggins all come to mind, but looking look across the 8 Donahoe-Cowher drafts  and you’ll literally cannot find a year in which the third round was a total loss for the Steelers.

How well has Kevin Colbert done by comparison? Time to find out.

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Steelers 2000 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kendrick Clancy and Hank Poeat

Joel Steed remains an overlooked key to the 90’s Blitzburgh defenses, but his abrupt in January 2000 left newly arrived Kevin Colbert with a gaping hole to fill in the Steelers defense. First Colbert’s signed Kimo von Oelhoffen and second he drafted Kendrick Clancy in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Clancy played in nine games as a rookie. In 2001 he actually kept Casey Hampton on the bench – for three games, before yielding the starting spot. Clancy never started another game in Pittsburgh, but he played in 15 games in 2000 and 17 games in 2002 and 2003. The Steelers cut him in 2004, but brought him back after Hampton torn his ACL. Clancy went on to play – and start, for the Giants, Cardinals, and Saints, playing all the way until 2009.

It’s hard to call a guy a “bust” because he couldn’t beat out Casey Hampton and Kendrick Clancy certainly wasn’t a bad pick. But still you expect more from a third rounder. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Kevin Colbert used his second third round pick in 2000 on Hank Poeat, a cornerback from Pitt. Yet Poeat’s primary contribution in Pittsburgh was as a kick returner, where he excelled as a rookie, returning a punt for a touchdown in the Steelers final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

But Poeat’s fortunes as a return man declined after 2000, and he never made an impact as a corner. The Steelers let him go after 2003, but Poteat played for Tampa Bay, New England, the New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns until retiring in 2009. Grade: Disappointment

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Steelers 2001 3rd Round Draft Pick – Forfeited

When the Steelers signed Will Wolford to play guard in 1996 his contract contained a stipulating that Wolford got an extra $500,000 if he got switched to tackle. The page of paper that that clause was typed on (yes, typed) got lost, but Dan Rooney remembered it, and the Steelers honored their word to Wolford.

Unfortunately, paying that extra $500,000 resulted in a salary cap violation, which the Steelers turned themselves in for. As a result, they lost their third round pick in 2001.

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Steelers 2002 3rd Round Draft Pick – Chris Hope

The Steelers drafted Chris Hope in 2002 with an eye towards replacing Bret Alexander, who was turning 31. Hope neither started as a rookie nor as a sophomore, but earned a starting slot by his 3rd year, which was 2004 the year the Steelers went 15-1 and had the NFL’s number 1 defense.

Hope returned to start 16 regular season games in 2005 and started throughout the playoffs, playing his last game for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. The Steelers never really felt that Hope was a long-term answer at safety – and Ryan Clark represented an upgrade there – but he did what a third round pick should do – develop into a reliable starter. Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2003 3rd Round Draft Pick – Traded to Kansas City

The Steelers didn’t have a third round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft because Kevin Colbert traded it to Kansas City, as part of moving up to take Troy Polamalu….

…That was perhaps his wisest draft day decision.

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Steelers 2004 3rd Round Draft Pick – Max Starks

Kevin Colbert’s third round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Max Starks, has perhaps the most colorful history of any in the group.

Max Starks gets knocked around a lot. He even had doubters on both Bill Cowher’s final coaching staff in 2006, which carried over to Mike Tomlin’s initial staff in 2007. The Steelers front office disagreed, making Starks their transition player in 2008. The coaching staff was unmoved, starting the season with Starks on the bench in 2008, and even giving Trai Essex the initial nod when Marvel Smith went down in the critical Steelers 2008 road win over Jacksonville.

It says here that Max Starks saved the Steelers season in 2008. Arguably, he did it again in 2011 and one can shudder to think of what would have happened had the Steelers not brought him back in 2012. Max Starks started 2 in Super Bowl XL and again in Super Bowl XLIII. Can you really ask more of a third round pick? Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2005 3rd Round Draft Pick – Trai Essex

Kevin Colbert again went the tackle round in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, this time picking Trai Essex.

Essex never developed into a full time starter at tackle, nor could he hold down the starting job at guard. But Trai Essex became a valuable 6th lineman who was able to back up at all five positions on the line. While that’s commendable, you do expect a third round pick to become a starter. Essex never quite fit that bill. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2006 3rd Round Draft Picks — Anthony Smith, Willie Reid

Bill Cowher’s last draft left a lot to be desired particularly in the third round. First the Steelers drafted Anthony Smith. Smith was a hard hitter.

But he was an even bigger prima donna, showboating after a big play in 2006, and then moronically guaranteeing victory prior to the Steelers game vs. New England in 2007, only to have Tom Brady torch him with relish. He also injured a player in during the 2008 training camp, drawing Mike Tomlin’s ire. There’s a word for players like this. Grade: Bust

Willie Reid, the Steelers second 3rd round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, didn’t generate the ink that Anthony Smith did, but he was just as disappointing. He appeared in 1 game as a rookie returning 1 kick and 1 punt in a loss vs. San Diego. He returned six more kicks in 2007 and caught 4 passes in that season then was done. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2007 3rd Round Draft Pick – Matt Spaeth

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin surprised a lot of people when they picked Matt Spaeth in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. And since that time it has become clear that the Steelers picked Matt Spaeth too early. That’s not a knock on Spaeth per se. It’s not his fault he was drafted so early. But he really never delivered value commensurate with his status as a third round pick.

Certainly, the Steelers have a quality second tight end in Matt Spaeth. His blocking has been a critical element to Le’Veon Bell’s success. And he’s far underutilized in the passing game. But third round picks should perform at a higher level. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick – Bruce Davis

During training camp 2008, Jim Wexell reported in Steelers Digest that Mike Tomlin would pit Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together in one-on-ones while yelling, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.” The infamous Steelers 2008 Draft Class will go down as Colbert’s worst, with perhaps Bruce Davis serving as the poster boy.

  • As it turns out, Tomlin failed to make a player out of either man.

The Steelers drafted Bruce Davis as an outside linebacker, but he only played in 5 games on special teams, and he couldn’t cut it there. The Steelers wasted little time in cutting him in training camp the next summer. Davis resurfaced with the Raiders in 2010 and 2011 were he recorded 4 tackles in 10 games, and then Cincinnati in 2012 although he never played for the Bengals. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2009 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis

As a rookie Kraig Urbik didn’t play a down, but the Steelers had high hopes for him as they saw great progress in his second summer at St. Vincents. Word was that Urbik, a guard, skills as a back up center were part of what sent Justin Hartwig to the waiver wire. Alas, Byron Leftwich’s preseason injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster, and that meant Urbik had to go.

The Steelers wanted to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Buffalo Bills had other ideas. Urbik has started 53 of 69 games for them since then…. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers knew Hines Ward’s time was coming to an end by 2009, and drafted Mike Wallace with the second of their 3 third round picks. While the decision not to offer Mike Wallace a long-term deal was controversial at the time, the Steelers wisdom in choosing Antoinio Brown instead has been vindicated.

But that doesn’t alter the evaluation of Mike Wallace as a draft pick, because he it was an excellent pick. Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie, posted in inhuman yards-per-catch average in his first season as starter, and was a legit home run threat on every play. The drop off in his play during his second two years does impact his overall grade, but clearly Colbert made the right pick here. Grade: Over Performer

With their final 3rd round pick in 2009 NFL Draft the Steelers picked Keenan Lewis. Lewis was a late bloomer, as injuries ruined and Joe Burnett kept him off the field. 2010 was little better, as Lewis disappointed. Carnell Lake personally oversaw his rehabilitation, and Lewis began to work himself into a quality corner in 2011 and established himself as the starter by 2012.

The Steelers did get some value out of Lewis before he left via free agency, but just a little short of what you’d expect and need as a third round pick. Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, his grade would be higher, but this draft evaluation only covers performance of players as Steelers. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2010 3rd Round Draft Pick – Emmanuel Sanders

The third round pick in 2010 of Emmanuel Sanders got covered in our analysis of the Steelers 2010 NFL Draft. Emmanuel Sanders impressed coaches as a rookie, even keeping Antonio Brown on the bench early in the season, with Mike Tomlin invoking the “Two dogs one bone” metaphor. Sanders got hurt in Super Bowl XLV, and injury that Bruce Arians said hurt the team’s game plan.

Injuries limited Sanders in 2011 and then again in 2012, but he emerged as a full time starter in 2013 and made the most of his opportunity. The Steelers optned not to resign him, but Sanders was still a quality third round pickup. Grade: Quality Value Pick+

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Steelers 2011 3rd Round Draft Pick – Curtis Brown

Super Bowl XLV made it glaringly clear that the Steelers needed to improve at cornerback, and Kevin Colbert addressed the position in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by picking Curtis Brown….

…And he undoubtedly regrets the pick to this very day.

As a rookie, Brown forced a fumble during an ugly Steelers loss vs. Houston. He apparently played well on special teams, but it was Cortez Allen who saw action at corner. Brown never started a game, but saw a lot of action as a nickel back vs. San Diego in 2012, which was one of the most horrific performances by the Steelers of the Tomlin era. Brown only played in 7 games in 2013 and the Steelers gave up on him after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Draft Pick – Sean Spence

The Steelers had already parted ways with James Farrior and were looking to groom a replacement for Larry Foote by the time the 2012 NFL Draft arrived. Kevin Colbert picked Sean Spence out of Miami. Early in preseason, Spence looked like a stud in the making. Then disaster struck, costing Spence not only his rookie year, but also his sophomore year.

Nonetheless, Spence returned for his third season, and started nine games splitting time with Vince Williams after Ryan Shazier’s injury. Spence helped force a fumble in the Steelers 2nd quarter explosion vs. Houston, and recorded a sack vs. Cincinnati. Any formal grade on Spence will need to wait, but he looks like a solid pick up on Colbert’s part. Grade: Too Early To Tell

Steelers 2013 3rd Round Draft Pick – Markus Wheaton

Kevin Colbert drafted Markus Wheaton in the 2013 NFL Draft with an eye towards replacing Mike Wallace and the soon to depart Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton did next to nothing as a rookie, but he did earn the starting nod in 2014 and turned in a solid season.

Wheaton might not have gotten the ink that Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get, but he made a lot of key catches. Again, one season as a starter is NOT enough to evaluate a player, but right now he has the look of a quality value pick, if not more. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Steelers 2014 3rd Round Draft Pick – Dri Archer

The Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get Shamarko Thomas in 2013, but got a compensatory pick for losing Mike Wallace. They used it on Dri Archer, who was the fastest man in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers idea was to use Archer as a kick returner and utility back/wide receiver in the mold of Eric Metcalf (yes, I just dated myself!)….

It’s way, way too early to write off Dri Archer, but his rookie year can only be described as disappointing. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Conclusion – Kevin Colbert’s Checkered Third Round Record

The NFL Draft’s third round has not been as kind to Kevin Colbert as it was Tom Donahoe. Which is OK, as Colbert’s money round has been the first round of the NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers draft

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin discuss the Steelers Draft

Still, Colbert is charged with making the right pick in each round, and the record shows that he’s done it several times for the Steelers, most notably with Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Hope, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

However, Colbert has had his share of under performing third round picks, and he’s picked more than one outright bust with both Cowher and Tomlin (see Willie Reid Davis and Curtis Brown.)

While its too early to tell on some of his later picks, the arrow does appear to be trending up for Colbert’s third round record, but for now his grade must reflect a balance between his 3rd round successes and 3rd round failures. Grade: C+

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The Colbert Record: Grading Steelers 2010 Draft Class

Tonight, probably before the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft is complete, you’ll begin to team’s draft performances graded. Bold franchise-saving first round moves will be praised. Catastrophic mistakes will be castigated. Oversights will be lamented.

  • In the end it all means nothing.

That’s right, nothing.

Legitimate evaluations of any draft come, at the earliest, three years after the fact, and ideally at least four years later. Five year draft evaluations give an even more complete picture.

This latest edition of The Colbert Record goes about grading the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 Draft Class, which should rightly be considered the crown jewel of the draft class of the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin era.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

2010 Draft First Round – Maurkice Pouncey – Striking Gold at Just the Right Time

The Pittsburgh Steelers neglected offensive line building via the NFL Draft between 2006 and 2009 for reasons never fully explained or explored . Even when they used premium picks on offensive lineman they failed to find value, such as taking Kraig Urbik in 2009.

That changed in 2010, when the Steelers used their first round pick on Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey not only forced Justin Hartwig’s retirement, he’s made 4 straight Pro Bowls. The Pro Football Focus types will tell you that Pouency is overrated.

It says here that the Steelers resurgence on offensive line began the day they picked Pouncey. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Draft Second Round – Jasion Worilds – Unspectacular But Sold Shot at Replacing Replace Silverback

When the Steelers passed on Sean Lee and picked Jason Worilds, Worilds was clearly picked as heir apparent to James Harrison….

…What was that about best laid plans of Mice and Men?

Worilds ended up replacing LaMarr Woodley, and he’s now out of football while James Harrison returns for a final season. Which isn’t to say that Jason Worilds was a bad pick. He did have difficulties finding a place in the Steelers lineup, but did well in his time before assuming a starting role in mind 2013.

Worilds was a good outside linebacker, but suffers by comparison to the tremendous legacy the Steelers boast at this position. And given how high they took Worilds, you’d expect a little more. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

2010 Draft Third Round – Emmanuel Sanders — Finding Excellent Value in the Value Round

You expect third rounders to develop into starters, and that’s exactly what Emmanuel Sanders did. Injuries limited him in 2011 and 2012 to a lesser extent, but Sanders made plenty of the opportunities given to him at the time.

In early 2012 comparisons between Sanders and a young Hines Ward were not inappropriate. When he finally broke the starting lineup full time in 2013, he didn’t quite reach that level, but he did quite well. Grade: Quality Value Pick +

2010 Fourth Round – Thaddeus Gibson — Striking Out on the Inside

The man who got the ink coming out of mini camp and during the early days of the Steelers 2010 training camp was Thaddeus Gibson. Yet, as the competition progressed, Gibson couldn’t keep up. He made the roster, but the Steelers cut Gibson in October and San Fran picked him up (prompting Ed Bouchette to cry “Dwaine Board” once again). However, unlike Dwaine Board, Thaddeus Gibson never did anything of note in his stays with San Francisco, Chicago, or Tennessee. Grade: Bust

2010 Fifth Round – Chris Scott, Crezdon Butler, Stevenson Sylvester, — A Mixed Bag

The Steelers drafted 3 players in the 5th round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh was big on Chris Scott, even after he injured himself in before training camp, ruining his rookie year. Scott made it back to play in two games in 2011 but couldn’t hold on. He did land in Pittsburgh Northeast in 2012 but saw little action. However, Carolina picked up, where he made 8 starts in 2013 and returned to play in 10 games in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

The record shows that Crezdon Butler actually appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2010, but he got cut in 2011. However, he’s hung on since then, playing for Pittsburgh West aka Arizona, Pittsburgh Northeast aka Buffalo, Washington, San Diego, and Tampa. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers third 5th round pick of the 2010 NFL Draft was none other than Stevenson Sylvester. Sylvester played well on special teams as a rookie and looked to make a big leap during his sophomore season. He didn’t, lasting all of a handful of plays in his first start in the Steelers upset over New England. Still, Stevenson developed into a reliable back up, and Sylvester’s return in 2013 helped bring the Steelers back to their winning ways. That’s fine for a 5th rounder. Grade: Quality Value Pick

2010 Sixth Round – Jonathan Dwyer, Antonio Brown — Hitting the Jackpot

The Steelers first pick in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL Draft saw them grab Jonathan Dwyer. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers was checkered, as Dwyer seemingly showed up to training camp over weight and only made the team due to injuries and/or late pre-season surges. Dwyer’s career with the Steelers might be labeled a disappointment by many and perhaps there’s some justification to that. But you don’t expect to draft a stud in the sixth round and, taking that into consideration, Dwyer delivered excellent value for his draft position. Grade: Over Performer

  • You don’t “expect “ to draft a stud in the sixth round, but sometimes you do.

Antonio Brown proves that good players remain on the board in every round. Brown made his mark early as a rookie in the Steelers upset vs. the Titans. He made it again in the playoffs vs. Baltimore and again vs. the Jets. His play in 2011 made Mike Wallace expendable, and the franchise hasn’t looked back since. Grade: Grand Slam

2010 Seventh Round – Doug Worthington — Another Farm Team Pick

The Steelers picked up Doug Worthington with their last pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and Worthington never held on. He got picked up in 2011 by the Washington Redskins, and appeared in six games in 2012. He was back in DC in 2013 but saw no action, and held a roster spot at some point for the Seattle Seahawks in 2014. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2010 Draft Clearly Colbert and Tomlin’s Best

It’s been five years since Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin picked the Steelers 2010 Draft class, and only two players remain on the team from that group. Normally that would be a damming commentary, but the truth is that the Steelers came out of that draft with two studs, and got solid contributions from several other players during the course of their rookie contracts – a key to success in the salary cap era. Overall Draft grade: B+/A-

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Steelers 7th Round Compensatory Pick History

The Pittsburgh Steelers will receive a 7th round compensatory draft pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Compensatory draft picks were byproduct of the first CBA that came in the wake of the Freeman-McNeil verdict, which brought free agency to the NFL.

The NFL has never released the formula it uses to determine compensatory draft picks, but it is based on the difference between the number of players a team lost, where they were drafted, and how large a contract they signed for vs. the number of players a team signs and the contract value of those signings.

In a nutshell, when you balance the losses of Emmanuel Sanders, Al Woods, Ziggy Hood and Jerricho Cotchery against the signings of Mike Mitchell, Lance Moore, Cam Thomas, Brice McCain, and Darrius Heyward-Bey the Steelers merit an extra 7th round pick.

  • Getting an extra 7th round pick might seem like a kid getting an extra fireball added to a Halloween basket, but it is nothing to scoff at.

Yes the Steelers have certainly cut more 7th round picks, compensatory or not, than they’ve either added to the roster or even the practice squad. But there have been exceptions and the Steelers 7th round compensatory pick history shows this is hardly an empty gesture.

Notable 7th round picks during the Kevin Colbert era include:

  • Kelvin Beachum, currently the team’s starting left tackle
  • David Paulson, who made the roster as a rookie and played another season
  • David Johnson, who made a career as a hybrid tight end/fullback
  • Brett Keisel, a man whose contributions to the Steelers need no elaboration

Of the quartet, only Brett Keisel was a pure 7th round draft pick. Beachum was a 7th round compensatory selection as was Paulson and so most likely was Johnson.

During every NFL Draft there are good players to be found in every round. The Steelers are unlikely to find a future star, immediate starter, or even immediate back up with their 7th round compensatory selection, but Kevin Colbert’s record shows he can find value even at the tail end of the draft.

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Steelers 2009 Draft Needs – The Offensive Line

We need to get younger and stronger on both the offensive and defensive lines.” – Mike Tomlin, January 2008

Mike Tomlin issued that semi-solemn declaration at the end of  Steelers 2007 season, and everyone agreed.

Opposing defenders had pummeled Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers had been forced to rely on gadget plays in a critical goal-line situations, and the defense became a shell of its former self after Aaron Smith was lost for the year.

Going into the 2008 draft, everyone knew the Steelers would target lineman of both stripes. Yeah, the Steelers insisted they would “take the best player available,” but Steel Curtain Rising implored readers to ignore this. The Steelers would certainly do what was necessary to bolster the lines.

We were wrong.

Premium lineman came of the board at a furious pace in both the first and second rounds of the 2008 draft, and the Steelers took advantage of that to pick Rashaard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed.

They didn’t pick a linemen until the nabbed Tony Hills in the fourth round, and Pittsburgh went the entire draft without selecting a defensive lineman.

After going through a draft where they seemingly ignored their most urgent needs, the Steelers then promptly went out and won Super Bowl XLIII.

  • That was then, this is now.

Having Lombardi Trophy number six in hand has not changed the simple fact that the Steelers most urgent needs remain offensive and defensive line. (Wide receiver and defensive back are also needs which Steel Curtain Rising will discuss later this week.)

  • The question remains, which line takes higher priority?

Thus far, Steel Curtain Rising’s readers favor the offensive line by almost a 60-40 margin. There are arguments for and against on both sides, which we explore now, starting with the offensive line.

The Case for Favoring the Offensive Line in the 2009 NFL Draft

Max Starks, Chris Kemoeatu, Justin Hartwig, Darnell Stapelton, Willie Colon. Has a more maligned front five ever led its team to a Super Bowl?

Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, and knocked/taken out of three games. Ben is gifted with ability to make things happen with his feet. But his gift does not alter stark reality too often he’s had no choice but to run for his life.

Going into 2008, one of the line’s supposed saving graces was that for all of the punishment that Roethlisberger took in 2007, the Steelers had a dominate rushing game, and Willie Parker led the NFL in rushing until he got injured in week 16.

The same cannot be said of 2008. Either by injury, line play, or perhaps Arian’s play calling, the rest of the NFL lost its fear of the Steelers once vaunted running game in 2008.

  • How many times did Willie Parker, Mewelde Moore, or Gary Russell fail to punch it on the goal line?

The Steelers entered free agency with five lineman becoming free agents. Fortunately, that number will go down next year. They’ll only face the prospect of losing both tackles and their center.

Given all of that, the urgency of focusing on the offensive line above all else should be obvious…. Or is it…?

The Case Against Favoring the Offensive Line in the 2009 NFL Draft

Standing on the dais in Tampa with Lombardi Number Six in his hands, Ben Roethlisberger perhaps said it best:

“Offensive Line, who’s laughing now?”

  • The truth is that the Steelers offensive line still might not scare anybody, but there’s no doubt that they got better as they year wore on.

As number of commentators have pointed out, the Steelers started 2008 with a rebuilt offensive line (new center, new starting guard), and then were forced to rebuild it after decimating injuries in the Baltimore and Jacksonville games.

Max Starks has shown he can play. On lookers will never confuse Chris Kemoeatu with Alan Faneca but the Steelers could do worse. Justin Hartwig was a clear upgrade over Sean Mahan at center. Darnell Stapelton didn’t play poorly for someone who entered the league as an undrafted rookie free agent. Willie Colon still hasn’t stopped people from insisting that his natural position is guard, after two years as a starter, Steeler coaches prefer to demure.

The Steelers will also bring back Trai Essex, who can play both guard and tackle. They also have last year’s 4th round pick Tony Hills. Considering that Hills did not get into a game in 2008 it would be folly to expect too much of him, but it’s also foolish to count him out.


Remember this: In 1999 there was another fourth round pick who only saw action in 6 games as a rookie, and had little expected of him heading into his sophomore season. That player blossomed into a starter and a Pro Bowler.

His name is Aaron Smith. Steel Curtain Rising is not predicting that the same will happen with Tony Hills, but stranger things have come to pass.

Steelers Bottom Line in 2009 on the Offensive Line

Up until the final years of the Bill Cowher regime the Steelers seemed to have an unofficial policy to use a premium pick on an offensive lineman.

The last time they picked an offensive lineman in the top three rounds it was Trai Essex in 2005. They must discard this patchwork offensive line building strategy, and they must do so starting with this draft.

But the Steelers do have some depth and some youth going for them on the offensive line. Steel Curtain Rising will take a look at the Steelers defensive line draft needs soon, but for the moment we’ll offer that the same cannot be said for the defensive line.

Comparing what we have on both lines, the offensive line has the greatest potential to grow, and this group of players has already shown they’ll do the work needed to make that happen.

If the Steelers get a shot at a blue chip offensive lineman with one of their premium picks, they should take him. But of the two lines, the offensive line is the less pressing need, if only slightly so.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 Draft Class Is Complete

The Steelers closed the 2008 NFL Draft by picking up five more players, including one rather perplexing selection in the fifth round. The Pittsburgh Steelers 2008 draft class is:

1 Rashard Mendenhall, RB, ILLINOIS
2 Limas Sweed, WR, TEXAS
3 Bruce Davis, OLB, UCLA
4 Tony Hills, OT, TEXAS
5 Dennis Dixon, QB, OREGON
6 Mike Humpal, OLB, IOWA
6 Ryan Mundy, Safety, WEST VIRGINIA

The Steelers focused on the skill positions during day one of the 2008 draft, netting what most analysts concluded were steals in both the first and second rounds. Both Rashard Mendenhall and Limas Sweed have the potential to bolster areas which are solid, but also in need of reinforcement and depth.

The Steelers picked three defensive players, and two more offensive ones on day two of the 2008 draft. Again the shored up their outside line backing corps, an area that features two solid starters (if Woodley’s play in 2007 is any indication) but little depth. They also picked up a safety, perhaps looking to add some depth in the face of Ryan Clark’s injury recovery and Anthony Smith’s erratic play.

  • They also grabbed an offensive tackle Tony Hills in the fourth round, which we will discuss in a later post.

The most perplexing pick is that of Dennis Dixon in the fifth round. The fact that the Steelers took the time to work out Dixon prior to the draft was eyebrow raising. The fact that they picked him is even more surprising. The Steelers have probably the best QB/back up combo in the league with Big Ben and Charlie Batch. Taxi QB’s can be found on the cheap after the draft, or by picking up street free agents.

Perhaps Mike Tomlin wants to go with the old, Joe Gibbs model – Established starter, veteran back up, up and comer. A very viable model – but given the team’s failure to address the defensive line, Steel Curtain Rising has to question the use of a pick on a quarterback.

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The Kevin Colbert Record: Steelers Drafts from 2004-2007

In part I of “Steelers Drafts of the 21st Century: The Colbert Record,” we looked at the Steelers drafts from ’00 to ’03. Now we turn our attention to Kevin Colbert’s performance during the last four years.

  • The 2004 draft was simultaneously his biggest triumph and his biggest disappointment. It is his biggest triumph because it netted Ben Roethlisberger.

Big Ben is Pittsburgh’s first legitimate franchise quarterback since Terry Bradshaw. They recently signed Roethlisberger to a long-term deal and, provided they can protect him, Ben is poised to be a dominate quarterback for a long time to come. To understand this significance, consider: Mark Malone, Todd Blackledge, Andre Ware, Jeff George, David Klingler, Rick Mier, Health Shuler, Jeff Drukenmiller, Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cabe McNown. All of these were can’t miss first round quarterbacks did.

The price of misfiring on a quarterback in the first round is extremely high, but perhaps the rewards of getting it right are even greater.

  • The Steelers hit the nail on the head with Roethlisberger, and that remains Colbert’s crowning achievement.

Alas, the Steelers scored scant little else in the 2004 draft. The 2008 season should be the 2004 draft class’ moment to shine. But of the nine players Pittsburgh picked that year, only two remain with the team. Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks.

Ricardo Colclough flashed as a rookie, but never contributed as a corner, and failed miserably as a kick returner. Calk Colclough up as the second time Colbert laid an egg on day one of the draft. Indeed, tight end Matt Kranchick was the only other player from that draft to even make the team.

Colbert’s 2005 draft showed some improvement. Health Miller has been excellent thus far and he only looks to improve. As a second round pick, you’d like to see Bryant McFadden starting at this point in his career, but he has contributed, he has pushed for playing time, and he still might pay dividends.

Trai Essex is somewhat of a disappointment as a third round pick, but his play in late 2007 also shows that he is far from being a complete bust. The other notable pick from the 2005 draft is Chris Kemoeatu whose metal has yet to be tested. That will change soon.

The latter quarter of Colbert’s draft record is difficult to evaluate, because those players are still developing. However, it appears that he continues to do well on day one, with a drop off there after. Santonio Holmes caused a panic with his two arrests in two months of being drafted. Since then he has kept himself clean, and shown that he is someone who the Steelers can use to stretch the field.

Early on, third round draft pick Anthony Smith won fame as a big hitter. Of late his reputation is that of a big talker. Mike Tomlin appears intent on rehabilitating Smith, so Smith remains a work in progress. Willie Reid has gotten little playing time, largely due to injuries, so his potential is still unknown.

  • With the departure of Cedric Wilson, Reid should have his opportunity.

The jury is likewise still out on Willie Colon. During Cowher’s final year, the coaching staff seemed intent on phasing out Starks in favor of Colon, and Tomlin’s first offensive staff followed through with that. However, Colon has thus far done little as a starter to justify the team’s faith in him.

It’s way too early to draw conclusions on the 2007 draft, although the first day again looks like a success. Injuries slowed Lawrence Timmons development, but coaches are projecting that he’ll push James Farrior for playing time. With James Farrior approaching his mid-30’s an up an comer at inside linebacker would be a welcome sign.

LaMarr Woodley recorded four sacks in limited playing time and added two more during the payoffs – so we know why the Steelers let Clark Haggans go. Third round pick Matt Speath hasn’t done much more than catchtouch downs. Indeed, of eight players taken, seven are still on the roster, although only punter Dan Sepulveda has gotten significant playing time. (Sepulveda has shown he has the tools, now he needs to be consistent.)

While Colbert does deserve criticism for the disappointments of the 2004 and 2005 drafts, the blame does not entirely fall on his shoulders. Steelers Digest’s Bob Labroila has written extensively on Bill Cowher’s propensity to focus on filling training camp roster needs over picking the best player during the latter part of his reign.

It seems that the Steelers have rededicated themselves to avoiding drafting for need, and if that is the case it will be a welcome change for Steelers Nation, whose attention is now intensely focused on the on the Steelers 2008 Draft.

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Steelers Drafts of the 21st Century: The Colbert Record

Since the advent of free agency, no team has been as thoroughly dedicated to building through the draft than the Pittsburgh Steelers. Although drafting is a collective enterprise in Pittsburgh, Kevin Colbert is the individual most closely tied to those choices, and so a look at his record is in order the 2008 NFL draft approaches.

Colbert arrived in February 2000 shortly after Bill Cowher’s triumph over Tom Donahoe in a power struggle. People forget that many (yours truly included) initially thought that Dan Rooney had chosen the wrong man. Back then Tom Donahoe was widely regarded by both the local and national press as one of the NFL’s best executives. In the same vein, many wrote off Colbert’s hiring as Dan Rooney simply “selecting the best available candidate who happened to graduate from North Catholic.”

Tom Donahoe’s claim to fame was that he had done more with less. A big part of Donahoe’s success was his penchant for making late round picks — guys like Darren Perry (8th, ’92), Willie Williams (6th, ’93), Myron Bell, (5th, ’94), Lee Flowers (5th, ’95) and Carlos Emmons (7th, ’96) – who grew into solid starters. Yet, for all these second day successes, Donahue misfired badly with several early picks during the latter half of the 1990’s. (Jamain Stephens, anyone?)

With eight drafts under his belt, we can conveniently divide his record into the all too original titles, “The Colbert Record: Steeler drafts from ’00 to ’03” and “The Colbert Record: Steeler drafts ‘04’ to’07.”

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