Assessing Kevin Colbert's Draft Trends Heading Into 2020 NFL Draft
Just weeks away from the 2020 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest of the league begin to finalize their plans to welcome the next crop of rookies to their respective teams.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has been at the team's helm since the year 2000, and has managed to wheel and deal his way through numerous draft boards. Last year, Colbert was able to move into the top ten and secure the talents of linebacker Devin Bush. Colbert's infamous draft moves also include trading up for Santonio Holmes and Troy Polamalu in the first round.
Heading into the 2020 NFL Draft, the Steelers have just six draft picks to their name. Should Pittsburgh keep their current stable of picks, it would be the lowest amount of draft selections the team has had since 2003, when the Steelers drafted five players (Troy Polamalu, Alonzo Jackson, Ike Taylor, Brian St. Pierre and J.T. Wall.)
If you haven't heard, the Steelers will be without a first-round pick for the first time since 1967, thanks to a trade that brought Minkah Fitzpatrick from Miami to Pittsburgh. The team's fifth-round pick also belongs to Seattle in a trade that involved tight end Nick Vannett.
Of course, every draft brings a variety of results depending on factors such as positional needs, available players, etc. 2020 will prove to be no different, although Colbert does have a few trends that stick out. Whether it be the trade that sent Martavis Bryant to the Raiders for a third-round pick or selecting a handful of questionable players in the first few rounds of each draft, Colbert's draft history may help lay the foundation for his plans this season.
Trends come and go in the league, so to keep data relevant, I am only examining the last ten years of Colbert's drafts. This data was pulled via Pro Football Reference.
Early Round Love for Defensive Players
From 2010-2019, here are Pittsburgh's first-round draft selections: Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and David DeCastro (2012). That's right, the last seven drafts have seen the Steelers opt for the defensive side of the ball with their first-round pick.
2019- Devin Bush
2018- Terrell Edmunds
2017- T.J. Watt
2016- Artie Burns
2015- Bud Dupree
2014- Ryan Shazier
2013- Jarvis Jones
You can call Colbert's ability to draft defensive players hit or miss, with slam dunk picks such as Watt and Bush (thus far) leveling the field for players such as Burns, Jones and Edmunds (thus far).
From rounds 2-3, the track record doesn't improve significantly, if at all. While it's still too early to make a call on Justin Layne, defensive picks between the second and third round haven't exactly panned out for Colbert: Sean Davis, Senquez Golson, Sean Spence, Curtis Brown and Jason Worilds didn't make the cut in terms of providing the skills to match their draft position.
Of course, no general manager is going to nail every draft. There's bound to be hits and misses, and for every player Colbert has missed on, there's going to be a favorable pick that bounces his way. Guys such as Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave and Cam Sutton were drafted on day two and have been productive during their stay in Pittsburgh.
Receivers by The Dozen
The last 9/10 drafts, the Steelers have drafted a receiver to add to their depth chart. From 2017-2019, a receiver was taken on the second day of the draft (rounds 2/3), with the most recent pick being Diontae Johnson. In fact, 2016 was the only year since 2013 where a receiver wasn't selected on day two. Should the Steelers adopt the "best player available" mantra for 2020, a receiver may be on deck once again.
The Steelers are notorious for finding gold at a position that often produces dirt through the depths of the draft. If you're a Steelers fan, you're well aware of the team drafting Antonio Brown in the sixth-round in 2010, yet the team has found contributions from mid-round picks such as Diontae Johnson, Martavis Bryant, Markus Wheaton and Emmanuel Sanders. Add that success to second-rounders such as JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, and the team is arguably the best in the league at finding talented pass-catchers.
Colbert's biggest strength in the draft may be finding receivers.
Late Round Finds
It's rare to find players that can contribute to some capacity in the last two rounds of the draft, yet the Steelers have managed to find a handful of players that have made their fair share of contributions. Outside of the aforementioned Antonio Brown find, guys such as Vince Williams and Kelvin Beachum became routine starters in black and gold.
Although not full-time starters for a lengthy amount of time, Pittsburgh has had their fair share of players that managed to find a role on the team. Anthony Chickillo molded himself as a perennial back-up behind Watt/Dupree, while Tyler Matakevich emerged as one of the team's best special team players.
Running backs Jonathan Dwyer and Jaylen Samuels also carved out roles in Pittsburgh's backfield after being drafted as well.
Trouble With Gun-Slingers
With the luxury of a franchise quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers haven't necessarily needed to draft another top-tier quarterback. However, that shouldn't prevent the Steelers from trying their hand at finding quality gun-slingers, especially in the near future as Roethlisberger inches towards retirement.
The problem? The track record of drafting quarterbacks during the Roethlisberger era has been nothing short of disappointment. Since 2013, the Steelers have drafted three quarterbacks: Landry Jones, Josh Dobbs, and Mason Rudolph. Jones and Dobbs are no longer on the roster, and 2019 provided no help for Rudolph's case to start in a post-Roethlisberger era.
Even prior to 2010, Dennis Dixon and Omar Jacobs proved to not be suitable men behind Big Ben.
With Colbert coming out earlier in the offseason and stating his complacency with the current quarterbacks on the roster, it'd go against his words to select a quarterback in the upcoming draft. However, if they do select one, their track record shows their chances of landing their next guy after Ben are slim.
While the above trends are major ones that have been tagged through the last ten years of Colbert's drafting, here are a few more tidbits via stat guy Logan Bell (follow him on twitter @loganbelll):
- 78.3% of Colbert's draft picks since 2010 have come from Power five schools (83 total picks, 65 from P5).
- Every first and second-round pick has come from a Power five school.
- 54.2% of picks were spent on the defensive side of the ball.
- 7/9 of the second-round picks have started at least one season.
- Only one fourth-round pick has been a starter (Martavis Bryant).
- Average selection for the first offensive player taken since 2010 is pick 64.8, since 2013 is 77.6 and since 2014 is 82.5. Le'Veon Bell is Pittsburgh's highest-selected offensive player since 2013.
- 22 of 83 picks have started 2+ seasons and 7 were drafted third-round or later.