Kevin Colbert’s Really Good Draft Record

It’s that time of year where every armchair quarterback (including myself) tends to criticize the decision makers within the Steelers franchise. We should’ve taken Player B instead of Player A. I really wanted Player C, but we took Player F who plays a completely different position.

It’s human nature to question, and it’s pride and passion to want the best for your team. But it’s also important to note that every single draft pick isn’t a slam dunk. Some of the players might not make this year’s final roster (especially the later round picks.) There are a finite number of slots available (53 plus a practice squad to be exact) and the seasonal business of football brings in new players via the draft and free agency, which will squeeze the incumbent players off rosters around the league.

Life’s Short: Play Ball

It’s typical to see the average lifespan of an NFL player is short. Real short.

According to the NFL Players Association the average career length is about 3.3 years. The NFL claims that the average career is about 6 years (for players who make a club’s opening day roster in their rookie season).

If a team gets 3 productive years out of any pick, it should be considered a success, regardless of how that player is utilized (backup, special teams, etc.) based on how short most careers are.


First Round Picks

In that regard, we must consider the picks that have panned out. We have about 15 years of data that we can examine since Kevin Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000 (and became the team’s first General Manager in 2010.) His track record has been pretty darn good overall.

Let’s first take a look the first round picks that Kevin Colbert has made since he took the helm

That’s a pretty good list, which includes at least two future Hall of Famers in Polamalu and Roethlisberger. That alone should give Colbert a pass.

His first few years were stocked with those 2 picks, plus Plax (a very solid NFL career) and Hampton (a perennial Pro Bowler.)

Kendall Simmons had about the worst luck of anyone, constantly finding himself on the IR for a variety of reasons (including frost bite from a cooling pad.) He was, however, a key contributor to the Steelers Super Bowl XL win, starting all 20 games in that season, and he lasted with the franchise for 6 years, twice the average.

Colbert had good fortune with the next few drafts as well, selecting Heath Miller (who holds practically all of the team’s TE records) Santonio Holmes (Super Bowl XLIII MVP) and Lawrence Timmons (a defensive mainstay for 3 Super Bowl appearances.) His record gets blemished with Mendenhall and Hood, who never rose to the superstardom of their predecessors, but were still decent contributors for their time with the team. Mendenhall, especially, was a player ready to break through, before crashing and burning his way out of Pittsburgh with choice tweets and no-showing a game.

Following those picks, Cameron Heyward and David DeCastro appear to be a franchise players. The jury is still out on Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, as there’s not enough to judge them on yet. (No, I won’t drag Jones through the mud, as his first two years were marred with injuries: let’s wait and see one more year before reserving judgment.)

Beyond The First Round

Needless to say, Colbert has a good track record based on his first round picks. However, he hasn’t been one of the longest tenured GM’s in the league solely based on one round.

Here are some of the players Colbert has found after the first round (later round selections noted in parentheses.)

Note: though some of these players left Pittsburgh during their career, that should not discount their value to the Steelers or another franchise, nor should it be a blemish on the front office’s ability to evaluate talent.

2002 Wasn’t A Lost Cause

Despite the peaks and valleys with Pittsburgh’s first pick in 2002, Kendall Simmons, Kevin Colbert and company went on to take 4 other players in the 2002 draft who had a positive impact with the Steelers:

Those players were a cornerstone of of successful seasons. Randle El is the only wide receiver to throw a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl. Hope was also instrumental in the Super Bowl XL win. Larry Foote and Brett Keisel’s contributions are well known, each playing on the most recent Super Bowl squads.

The Guys They Didn’t Draft

The front office should also get credit for finding undrafted players such as Willie Parker, James Harrison, Steve McClendon and Ramon Foster. Each of those athletes were starters at their position at one time or another, with Parker and Harrison having huge plays that will forever live in Steelers Super Bowl infamy.

Not So Bad, Is It?

In conclusion, very few front offices have the sort of resume the Pittsburgh Steelers (and Kevin Colbert, etc.) have had, when you start comparing against other teams. I will leave those bad draft selections other clubs (such as Cleveland) have made, for podcast discussions. But noticing that Colbert is one of the longer tenured General Managers in the NFL is a reflection of his consistency and ability to build winning franchises. When you consider only 3 other GMs have been around as long as Colbert: Bill Belichick, Jerry Jones and Ozzie Newsome, it’s then you realize that he is not only in good company, but why the Steelers have been so good, for so long.

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