Steelers Extend Kevin Colbert’s Contract as General Manager Through 2018

If you were an NFL coach or executive seeking a vote of confidence, a secure future or just plain validation for a job well-done, this was the week to be employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After signing head coach Mike Tomlin to a two-year contract extension through the 2018 season on Thursday, the Steelers did the same for general manager Kevin Colbert on Saturday, as per their official team website. 

  • Colbert has been the team’s general manager for the past five years (the first in team history to officially be given that title) after serving as director of football operations from 2000-2010.

Colbert, a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Robert Morris University, came to the Steelers in 2000, after serving as the Lions Pro Scouting Director for 10-seasons.

Among Colbert’s most-notable moves in his first three seasons with the Steelers were the free-agent signings of center Jeff Hartings in 2001 and inside linebacker James Farrior in 2002. Hartings played on the Steelers Super Bowl XL team, and Farrior would go on to captain some of the best defenses in team history and start in Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV.

In-terms of memorable draft picks, safety Troy Polamalu (acquired during the 2003 NFL Draft in a rare trade in-which the Steelers moved 11-spots up in the first round); and quarterback Ben Roethilsberger (selected  11th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft) rank pretty high, as both players proved vital to the Super Bowl success the team would enjoy in the very near-future.

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Steelers vs Best NFL Draft Classes of Last 25 Years’s Jim Reineking has taken the trouble to rank the NFL’s best and worst draft classes of the last 25 years. Steel Curtain Rising has reviewed at the Steelers performance in the worst draft classes of the last 25 years and concluded that the Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Tom Donahoe and Mike Tomlin ended up picking pretty well out of what Reineking picks as a bad crop.

But how have the Steelers done when the pickings have been good? Click below to check out specific drafts, or just scroll down for the full analysis.

Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, Steelers 2015 draft class

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert after the 2015 NFL Draft

Steelers 2001 Draft Class

Reineking ranks the 2001 NFL Draft as the best in the last 25 years, counting 3 certain Hall of Famers (LaDainian Tomlinson, Steve Hutchinson, Drew Brees for those taking notes) plus other stars such as Reggie Wayne and Michael Vick. He also notes 34 overall Pro Bowl selections, plus 17 first rounders making the Pro Bowl.

In the 2001 NFL Draft, the Steelers traded down and pick Casey Hampton who anchored the center of a defense that dominated the NFL for the next decade. Next, the Steelers picked Kendrell Bell. Had the 2001 draft’s story been written in January 2002, the Steelers would have gotten an A based on Bell’s and Hampton’s performances of that year.

  • But legitimate draft evaluation takes 4-5 years for a good reason.

Kendrell Bell missed the first four games of his second season due to injury, and only reached is rookie season form during the middle of 2002. After that, he faded. Aside from Bell, 6th round pick Rodney Bailey and 4th round pick Chukky Okobi were the only 2001 draftees to get any real time, and both of them essentially saw spot duty.

  • Any draft that delivers a Casey Hampton is hard to knock as “bad.”

But if the 2001 NFL draft class was the best of its generation as Reinking suggests, then Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher certainly should have done better.

Steelers 2007 Draft Class

Steel Curtain Rising has praised the Steelers 2007 draft class at length, and Reineking ranks the 2007 NFL Draft class as the second best.

The 2007 NFL Draft was Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s first effort together, and is one of their best. If their first choice, Lawrence Timmons, took a little longer to develop than desired, “Law Dog” has been the Steelers best and most consistent defender for three consecutive years.

Fans remember LaMarr Woodley for his second contract flame out, but who (other than BTSC’s Michael Bean) saw that coming? From opening day in 2008 until he injured his hamstring in the Steelers 2011 upset of New England, LaMarr Woodley sacked the quarterback 44 times in 55 games.

In 2007 Colbert and Tomlin also picked Matt Spaeth, Daniel Sepulveda, and William Gay in the 3rd 4th and 5th rounds. Both Spaeth and Sepulveda were “reaches” but Spaeth’s provides immeasurable value to the running game, and he’s greatly underrated as a pass catcher.

After a strong 2008, William Gay drew the fans ire in 2009 and 2010, only to score 4 touchdowns since his return from a sabbatical season in Pittsburgh West aka Arizona Cardinals.

If Reineking’s 2nd best ranking of the 2007 NFL Draft class is right, then Pittsburgh came away with 3-4 quality football players who helped the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII.

Steelers 1996 Draft Class

The 1996 NFL Draft is the only draft manned by Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher to make Reineking’s list. The biggest move of the draft was shipping the Steeler’s second round pick to St. Louis for Jerome Bettis.

But you measure drafts for the picks you take rather than the trades you make, and that gives Steelers 1996 draft class a paradoxical quality. At the top, Jamain Stephens is the worst Steelers first round bust this side of Huey Richardson and the 3rd round pick linebacker Steve Conley washed out after two seasons.

In the middle, Penn State fullback Jon Witman gave the Steelers solid, but far from spectacular, value as a 4th round pick, while 5th round pick Earl Holmes famously congratulated Bill Cowher for “picking the best linebacker in the draft.” While James Farrior quickly made Steelers Nation forget Earl Holmes, Holmes did start 79 games in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh picked fellow 4th rounder Jahine Arnold to replace Ernie Mills, but Arnold was a bust.

  • The Steelers arguably got the best value out of their 6th and 7th round picks in 1996, in the form of Orpheus Roye and Carlos Emmons.

Roye impressed as a rookie on specials teams, and was starting by his third year. Bill Cowher wanted to keep him, but Cleveland threw 30 million dollars at Roye, whon only had 4.5 sacks at the time.

Carlos Emmons was the classic case of a 7th round pick who simply seized the opportunities present late in the 3rd and 4th quarters of early preseason games. Emmons wasn’t a 7th round pick-turned stud the way Brett Keisel was, but he developed into a respectable starter.

Overall, the 1996 draft was fairly characteristic of the drafts during of later part of Tom Donahoe’s tenure, which saw the Steelers misfire on early picks, but do reasonably well after that.

Steelers 2004 Draft Class

Reineking ranks the 2004 NFL Draft class as 4th and that’s the draft where the Steelers passed on Marcus Turner for Nathaniel Adibi, a linebacker who never donned a regular season uniform. They also whiffed on offensive tackle Bo Lacy, center Drew Caylor, and defensive end Eric Taylor. Tight end Matt Kranchick, a 6th round pick from Penn State, made the 2004 roster and appeared in two games. He hung on until November of 2005 where he caught one pass for 6 yards while appearing in four games before getting cut.

Second round pick Ricardo Colclough held down a roster spot for 4 years with the Steelers, and was given multiple chances to contribute. But he failed to make an impact as either a return man or a corner.

2004’s third round pick Max Starks journey with the Steelers has been well chronicled here and parts elsewhere. Any way you measure it, Max Starks delivered excellent value as a third round pick.

  • 1 out of 7 players analyzed thus far that Pittsburgh picked in 2004 developed into a viable NFL player.

Sounds pretty bleak, especially when you consider the Steelers were drafting early in each round. But they used that low draft position to take a young man out of Miami Ohio, whose name is Ben Roethlisberger and that pick by itself makes the entire 2004 NFL Draft a smashing success for the Steelers.

Steelers 2011 Draft Class

For Reineking, the 2011 Draft Class is the NFL’s 5th best. An even though 4 years is sufficient to offer some solid draft analysis, the 2011 draft could still end up being either a boom or a bust for the Steelers.

6th round pick Keith Williams never made the team. 7th round pick Baron Batch was creating a buzz at St. Vincents until an injury ended his rookie season before it started, and he was never the same. Gerry Dulac once said that 5th round pick Chris Carter could be the steal of the draft, and Carter got chances but ultimately failed to prove Dulac right. 3rd round corner Curtis Brown was a bust.

Second round pick Marcus Gilbert’s development was shaky, as he was alternating with Kelven Beachum in early 2013, but his development has been solid enough since then that he got a second contract.

First round pick Cameron Heyward, for some unknown reason, found himself trapped below Ziggy Hood on the Steelers depth chart, but when the coaches finally rectified that, Cameron Heyward exploded into the stud he was supposed to be when the Steelers picked him first in 2011.

  • While Gilbert and Heyward add a lot of value to the Steelers 2011 draft class, alone they can’t prevent it from being a disappointment.

The honor falls to 2011’s third round pick, Cortez Allen. Cortez Allen flashed as a rookie, finished incredibly strong as a sophomore, struggled then stabilized in his third season, saw the Steelers extend his contract prior to his fourth season where he promptly imploded. Carnell Lake has a major Cortez Allen Reclamation project on his hands, and the success of that will determine whether the arrow on the Steelers 2011 draft class points up or down.

Symmetrical Quality for Steelers in Reinking’s Top 5

Reineking’s top 5 NFL Draft classes of the last 25 years have a symmetrical quality for them for Steelers fans. 2001 and 2004 were Kevin Colbert-Bill Cowher drafts, 1996 was a Tom Donahoe-Bill Cowher draft, while 2007 and 2011 were Kevin Colbert-Mike Tomlin drafts.

While the sample size is small, the duo of Colbert-Tomlin has been the most consistent, while the Colbert-Cowher hit very high on a couple of picks, but they missed almost completely on the rest. And, as mentioned, Donahoe did poorly early on but uncannily got better as draft position degraded.

This raises some interesting questions, which Steel Curtain Rising will discuss next week when mini-camp ends and the NFL’s true off season begins.

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Steelers 2009 Draft Need Matrix

The 2009 NFL Draft has arrived.

For all of the hype, you’re now treated to sitting and watching Roger Goodell read names off of pieces of paper interspersed with pontifical sound byes from the Oracle of Calvert Hall, Mel Kipper Jr.

Alas, the draft is not broadcast in Argentina, so yours truly will miss all of that….

During the past week Steel Curtain Rising has assessed the Steelers draft needs at defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, defensive back, tight end, running back, linebacker, quarterback.

The Steelers needs are fairly evenly distributed. They should stick to their boards and draft the best available athlete/football player when their number is called. Need, should only become an issue when two players of equal value present themselves.

What to do then? Well, Steel Curtain Rising presents the Steelers 2009 Draft Need Matrix:

  • Defensive line takes precedence over offensive line
  • Offensive line takes precedence over wide receiver
  • Wide receiver takes precedence over defensive back

Defensive line, offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive back take precedence over everything else.

  • Tight end takes precedence over running back (although the two players would have to be rated exactly equal)
  • Running back takes precedence over linebacker

And all of these positions take precedence over quarterback.

Why No Steelers 2009 Draft Pick Predictions?

While Steel Curtain Rising is happy to produce its Steelers 2009 Draft Needs Matrix it makes no predictions on the draft, and will offer little in the way of (original) assessment of the players once the picks are in.

There are a couple of reasons for this.

Even when I lived in the US, I did not follow the college game. Got nothing against it, in fact, I enjoy college football when I watch it. But I simply never got into it (probably because my school did not have a football team.)

And relying on the pundits is of little help.

  • Tony Mandarich. Huey Richardson. Andre Ware. John Rienstra. Todd Blackledge. Darryl Sims. Blair Thomas. Jamain Stephens. Ryan Leaf. Aaron Jones. Akili Smith. Keith Gary. Vinny Testaverde. Walter Abercrombie.

All of these were either franchise changing or blue chip players on draft day.

All floundered.

I do not pretend to be the one who can separate the information from the noise on draft day. If you doubt that, (and there is no reason you should) I offer you compelling proof:

  • Steel Curtain Rising did not exist in 2004, but when I got word that the Steelers had drafted Ben Roethlisberger I emailed friends saying it was a mistake.

Yep. It is true.

My rational was that for every Peyton Manning there were at least two Ryan Leafs. Thought we could win with Tommy Maddox, and that hence, picking Roethlisberger was too risky….

Friends told me I was crazy, including one Ohioan who is a true Bengals fan. He said “My guess is in three years, you’ll be quite happy with the pick.”

He was wrong. It only took half a season.

So while we’ll look at how the Steelers addressed their needs, Steel Curtain Rising will make no pronouncements as to the quality of the players they take.

NFL Draft = Day to Dream

The draft is over-hyped and over-analyzed. The predictions become trite and the pronouncements become downright tiresome.

But the draft is still something to behold. It is a Day to Dream.

  • Each name called equals one young man who gets a shot live the dream that we all imagined when we picked up our first Nerf football
  • Teams suddenly see the potential to cement a dynasty, establish themselves as contenders, or end a tortured history of losing
  • Fans can fantasize about a star they loved in college making it big in the pros.

There are definite winners and losers in each draft. But in truth (shh, don’t tell this to Mel Kipper Jr.), those won’t be known for at least three years. Disappointments in some form or other are inevitable. Hopes fade to quiet resignation and often disillusionment.

Sometimes this happens quickly (Huey Richardson), in other cases it’s gradual (Walter Abercrombie.)

But draft day remains the one moment when all is possible.


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Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus: Trai Essex

Trai Essex joined the Pittsburgh Steelers as a third round pick out of Florida State in 2005 and got the privilege to start his first two games at left tackle against the Baltimore Raven’s defense, and come into the game against Dwight Freeley of the Indy Colts. He started a few other games in place of Marvel Smith during the Steelers run the Super Bowl in 2005.

Assessment of Trai Essex

Trai Essex has been somewhat of an enigma during his four years in Pittsburgh. He got a lot of starting action as a rookie, and played in goal line situations in 2006. But he did not seriously challenge for a starting role in 2007 and was all but written off as a bust until both Marvel Smith and Max Starks got injured late in the year.

While Essex was no world-beater, but he did acquit himself well. He improved his value to the team in 2008 by playing both guard and tackle during training camp, and was the first man in when Marvel Smith got hurt against Jacksonville… only to see two Jaguar defenders blow past him as they made a bee line for Ben.

What the Steelers Should Do with Trai Essex

As a third round pick from the 2004 NFL Draft, Essex must be labeled as somewhat of a disappointment. Nonetheless, versatility in an offensive lineman is nothing to discard. Essex is never going to be a solid starter, but he is a serviceable back up. If the Steelers can sign him to a contract that reflects that, they should. If not, let him become a free agent with the possibility of bringing him back.

What Will Likely Happen with Steelers and Trai Essex

One way or anther, Trai Essex isn’t going to get a lot of money thrown at him. He would be wise to accept any offer the Steelers tender, as no NFL team is going to give him a starting contract. To some degree or another, what happens with Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, and Max Starks will probably have a large bearing on the Steelers intentions to Essex.

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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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