Top Ten Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Picks of the Kevin Colbert Era
Top Ten Pittsburgh Steelers Picks of the Kevin Colbert Era
Since Kevin Colbert took over the general manager role of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000, he has been a polarizing figure among Steelers fans. The team has had great success on the field, but many fans -- myself included -- have been critical of Colbert's ability to pull talent from the NFL Draft. People in a position like Colbert have a budget and an access to resources that a draftnik like myself would love to have. But he, like so many NFL front office executives, seem to crash and burn year after year on players, which I find incredibly frustrating. I understand that no system is perfect and no evaluator is perfect, but as fans we should all have high expectations for our team's scouting staff when it comes to finding the best players for our team.
Since I had been one of those fans to hold Colbert's feet to the fire for his inability to evaluate and select talent, I decided to go back through the 12 Steelers' drafts that he's been part of and see just how he did. As fans, we always want our team to hit on every pick, but as someone who has evaluated prospects for many years, I understand that this isn't entirely possible. I am also not one who bows to the philosophy that the only way to be successful is to be able to steal lots of talent late in the draft. The fact is you win early in the draft. So having gone through all the picks from all the drafts Colbert has been in charge of, let's look at the 10 best picks he has made for the Steelers.
10. Antonio Brown
Antonio Brown was selected in the sixth round (195th overall pick) of the 2010 NFL Draft and burst onto the last season scene as one of the premier starting wide receivers in the league. A pick like Brown shows that Colbert and his staff weren't afraid to take a flyer on a player late. Brown showed tremendous athletic ability in college, but needed some technical polish to go with it. Coming out of college, his speed was deadly, but now that he's been able to refine his route running and become more consistent with his hands, he has proven to be a real steal from this draft.
9. Maurkice Pouncey
Maurkice Pouncey was drafted in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft with the 18th pick. Critics of this pick said that is was too early to draft a center, but for the Steelers, having a great center has been the norm for many years. Pouncey might not be the most exciting player to draft, and the notion of using a top-20 pick on a center might seem like a reach, but Colbert understood that when you have a franchise quarterback, having that franchise center to go with him is crucial. Pouncey is in a position to start for a decade and be a fixture for many years.
8. Plaxico Burress
Plaxico Burress was drafted in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft with the eighth pick. During his tenure with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Burress has had some ups and downs; he's obviously moved on with his career, but his talent is undeniable. His size and speed during the prime of his career with the Steelers made him a perfect complement to the rest of the Steelers' wide receivers. Coming out of college, Burress was incredibly productive, and when Colbert selected him, the fan base was divided over whether to draft Burress or linebacker Brian Urlacher; many fans still today point to this pick as a failure not because of what Burress did, but for the non-selection of Urlacher.
7. LaMarr Woodley
LaMarr Woodley was selected with the 46th pick of the 2007 NFL Draft in the second round. The top of the 2007 NFL Draft for the Steelers was all about defense, and while the Steelers also spent a first-round pick on another linebacker, Woodley has been the star of the two. This is one of those picks that I have to eat my words on. When Woodley was drafted, I wasn't sure that he would be able to transition to a 3-4 rush outside linebacker and I wasn't sure if he was athletic enough to drop into coverage.
6. Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace was drafted in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft with the 84th pick. There aren't a whole lot of times when I am fully on board with a pick that Colbert has made, but when he drafted the speedy wide receiver Wallace, I stood up and cheered. There are lots of things in the NFL you can teach. You can teach a wideout to run more crisp routes and to use his hands better. These were two big criticisms of Wallace coming out of college. However, what you can't teach is blazing speed. And Wallace has it to spare. The Steelers' offense hadn't had a presence like Wallace on the field in a long time, and he was not only a welcome addition then, he's become one of the scariest deep threats in the NFL.
5. Brett Kiesel
Brett Keisel was drafted in the seventh round with the 242nd pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. If you look up late-round sleeper in the dictionary, Keisel is that guy. I was overjoyed when I saw that the Steelers drafted Keisel because he is exactly what you want from a 3-4 defensive end. Colbert recognized the value in Keisel and knew he had the frame to grow into the position and the physical gifts to start. Best of all, he didn't cost a high draft pick. For the past 10 seasons, Keisel has been one of the most consistent and productive defensive linemen on the roster. When fans criticize Colbert for his inability to find talent late in the draft, you can point to Keisel as a success.
4. Heath Miller
Heath Miller was selected with the 30th pick in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Miller was an interesting case because he was part of a very mediocre tight end class in 2005. While most agreed that Miller was the best of the group, the fact that he was coming off a significant injury impacted his draft stock. Some teams had downgraded Miller to a second- or third-round pick; however, the Steelers, coming off a very successful season, knew that tight end was a position of need, so Colbert decided to "reach," if you will, for Miller at the end of the first round. While Miller has never been the most productive tight end in the league, which is largely based on scheme, he's been a fixture among the starters for 10 years and illustrated how things can work out when you draft based on the philosophy of need and take a shot on an athlete.
3. Casey Hampton
Casey Hampton was drafted with the 19th pick in the first round of the 2001 NFL Draft. The nose guard position for a 3-4 defense might be as important a position as there is on the field. His role is clear, and what he does up front makes the entire defense go. When Hampton was drafted, critics of the pick pointed to the idea that there had been a bit of a run on interior defensive linemen and this was too soon for Hampton. However, it was fairly obvious that Hampton was an ideal nose tackle prospect for the scheme the Steelers ran, and the fact that he was the fifth defensive tackle taken in fewer than 20 picks was more of a credit to the draft class. Since he was plugged into the starting lineup, Hampton has been one of the top nose tackles in the league.
2. Troy Polamalu
Troy Polamalu was drafted with the 16th pick of the first round in the 2003 NFL Draft. There have been few picks in Steelers history that are more polarizing to me than the trade up to draft Polamalu. I respect the fact that Colbert and the Steelers felt that a trade up was necessary to get the player they wanted, but I have always felt like the draft day rumors about the Indianapolis Colts trading up to get Polamalu, forcing the hand of the Steelers was a smoke screen. And they bit. But it was a calculated risk and by most standards, when Polamalu is on the field, he is one of the top safeties in the league. Philosophically, I view trades very differently than Colbert; if I would have been in their position, I would have probably sat back and waited for Polamalu to fall to me.
1. Ben Roethlisberger
Ben Roethlisberger was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft with the 11th overall pick. If there was ever a no-brainer of picks, it was Roethlisberger. The Steelers had been struggling at quarterback and needed to make a splash in this draft. This draft was known for it's "Big Three" quarterbacks: Roethlisberger, Phillip Rivers, and Eli Manning. Roethlisberger was a junior from Miami (OH), and there was no one who banged the drum harder for him than I did. Even as a sophomore, I declared him the best quarterback in the country. So when it started to unfold that he might be the target of the Steelers and could slide to them, I was ecstatic. Roethlisberger is now one of the elite quarterbacks in the league, has won 2 Super Bowls in his short career, and looks to still be improving. This pick is the feather in the cap of Colbert, and when you consider how many truly great quarterbacks there are in the league, it furthers the point of just how smart he was to make this selection.