It may be time to change our dogma.
I understand how that knock on Colbert exists. From 2000 when he took the job to 2006 his drafts were horrible late. Keisel was a great find, Haggans in the fifth was pretty good as well. After that you have Kemoatu, Chuki Okobi and Verron Haynes. That's about the extent of our drafting success after round 4.
Fortunately for us his first round picks were very good, and overall he found a lot of players in the first four rounds.
Enter 2007 and the addition of Mike Tomlin to the drafting team.
While Colbert is great, he has to work with the coaches to build his board and drafting strategy. You notice Colbert and Tomlin give their post draft press conference together, they work well as a team. (lucky us)
Let's look at Team Tomlin/Colbert since 2007 on fifth round and later picks.
2007: 3 picks, Only one to mean much was William Gay, a great depth CB and 2 year starter (one terrible, one pretty dang good)
2008: 3 picks, Dennis Dixon has been a decent back-up and has played well when in the game, but he is outshined by Ryan Mundy, our reserve safety that never really gets talked about, which is a good thing. He might be as solid a pick as Willie Gay.
2009: 5 picks, probably our worst late round success of the new era, Burnett, Summers, Harris and Shipley flamed out, while David Johnson has been a reliable blocking TE from day one. That is his role on the roster, and he fills it well. That's a successfull seventh round pick.
2010: 6 picks. With 6 late picks you need to get players. We got Stevenson Sylvester, Jonothan Dwyer and Antonio Brown. Crezdon Butler was a decent looking corner, but he hasn't done anything so he doesn't count for this analysis. Antonio Brown makes those 6 picks a success by himself, Sylvester looks to have a role on this team as a backup and he is already a good ST player, so he is at least a decent 5th round pick. Dwyer will be something or nothing after this year, but he has already had a 100 yard game, so I'm labelling him in the potential success category.
2011: 3 picks. Can't judge too much yet, but Carter played in 8 games last year so he might be a good pick, Baron Batch is a question mark as injury cost him what looked to be a roster spot. 2 potential players from 2011.
2012: 5 picks. Obviously I'm not going to grade successes or failures on this class now, but just to look at what we took and what we could see judging from our last 5 drafts success.
Rainey, our fifth pick is intriguing and could end up a contributor like Brown was his rookie year, returns and a few spot plays on offense. Remember how much development Brown had to do his rookie season despite his exciting on field play? Don't get too pumped for Rainey to break out big his rookie year, but watch for some flashes.
Clemons, 7A: Local kid, moved around, has great measurables and some exciting film. He will need big time coaching as his history is like 17 different systems and 130 different coaches. Most likely a PS player while he learns to run routes and adjusts to NFL ball, he could surprise as a fifth wr with a knack for winning contested battles for the ball. That kind of effort endears WR's to our QB who has a history of developing favorite targets who aren't that good (Nate Washington) This kid has a chance to surprise, but mostly look for him to be on the PS. I love the pick, but most likely he will not be on this kind of report three years from now. That realistic judgement based on past drafting doesn't change my optimism for him.
David Paulson, 7B: Our only successful late round TE (we've taken four) is David Johnson. I put his success higher than Spaeth, which means he's our second best TE drafted by Colbert. If you don't know the first, punch yourself in the face. This kids chance, probably not good, he is here to fight with Saunders for a spot, we'll see. I know lots of people have hope for this pick, but he's a 7th round pick who will have to beat vets out to make the team, he also doesn't seem like a ST player. He might make the PS though.
Terrence Frederick, 7C: Crezdon Butler, Joe Burnett, Ryan Mundy, William Gay. Those are team Tombert's late round DB picks. Even with Burnett and Butler it isn't a bad lot. Frederick has some advantage on those two, as he is from a similar defense and his draft stock was largely down due to him being a terrible man corner who struggles when lining up tight on receivers. Those are big negatives. . . to other teams. I think he has William Gay style potential for us, but even if he can be Burnett for his rookie year (Burnett did play) he has potential to improve and stick as a depth corner.
EDIT: somehow left the rest out. Here it is.
As for how we compare with other teams: 2007-2012 we are not in the top tier of late round drafting for this period with teams like Philly, GB, Chicago, and the NY Giants. We fit in right after them and ahead of teams like NE and Baltimore. For 2007-2011 we look to be one of the better, but not the top tier of late round drafting teams.
Look at the top tier teams, Chicago and Philly have similar success rates for top four rounds as they do the bottom four, which would explain why they haven't turned late round success into better on field performances, while GB and NY are two of the best teams in the league right now.
If the Steelers can add respectable late round success to our early round success, we stand to be at the top for a long time, as a team with star players, quality starters other places and great depth behind them. It will also ease the years to come when we will have to make some tough choices as to what players to keep and let go.
Of course 2007-2011 draft successes aren't final, Brett Keisel looked like he wasn't anything till his third season after all, so this analysis could change greatly by the end of the decade. However as of right now our situation looks promising.