Steelers Drafting vs. League Average, 2001-2012

Gregory Shamus

A graphic look, if you will, at how the past decade of drafts have measured up.

Kevin Colbert doesn't do very well in the second round. This is the conventional wisdom. I thought it might be interesting to see whether this is true overall. For the purposes of this article, "not very well" is taken to mean "below average." What do the numbers say?

I went through the past dozen drafts. Disclaimer—the closer we get to last season, the less the numbers mean, unless a player is a complete bust.

To be able to plot this, I used the draft charts on Pro Football Reference. On these charts they assign each player a Weighted Career Approximate Value. This is almost always smaller than the total of their yearly Approximate Values, as they use 100% of their best season, 95% of the next best season, and so on. So if you think the numbers look on the low side, especially for players with a significant number of seasons in the league, that's why.

I thought we would first look at the charts. Here is the Round 2 chart:

Round_2_medium

The league average is calculated just like you'd expect. I added up the WCAV for all the second round picks in each year and averaged them. Naturally, as we get closer to the present the averages are going to get lower, but there are also variations in the talent level of each class. For instance, as you can see, the talent level took a dive in 2004 and 2005 and moved back up temporarily. Or perhaps 2001 and 2006 were just outliers the other direction.

The Steelers traded out of the second round in 2006 (to get Santonio Holmes and 2009 (to get three third-round picks.) 2010 - 2012 follow the average curve closely enough to be almost indistinguishable.

So what does this tell us about Kevin Colbert's second-round drafting? It looks to me as if there are five average years, three bad years, and two very good years. The total "value" of the years in which the Steelers had a second round draft pick: 198. The total value of the Steelers' second-round picks during this time: 215. That looks like Colbert beats the average, by about 8%.

"But wait!" you may be shouting. "That isn't fair, because you need to include the value of the pick he traded away in 2009." Okay, fine. I added it back in, and here is the new total: League Average, 212.4; Colbert 215. Colbert still beats the average, although not by a significant amount. The interesting thing this says, though, is that Colbert is merely average rather than bad, which is quite a different thing.

Here's the third round:

Round_3_medium

I haven't heard a lot of shouting about his success in the third round, and here's why. Once again the third round picks are tracking the league average in the past few seasons, other than Sean Spence. And that isn't the fault of the pick, it's a sad happenstance. Frankly, the past couple of years are pretty much meaningless at this point anyhow, and can't be properly evaluated for several more years. Once again Colbert traded out of the first round in 2001 and 2003, in both cases to move up in the first round (for Casey Hampton and Troy Polamalu.) The way the chart looks, the Steelers had one bad year (the infamous 2008 draft,) three excellent years, and three average years prior to 2010. Here's the actual numbers.

League Average (removing 01 and 03, but adding the value of the 2nd round average in 2009): 130.8 Steelers: 200.0 Wow, that's pretty awesome.

Just for kicks, here's a look at that 2009 third round class:

2009_3_medium

On the chart above I only tracked a single value (Mike Wallace,) but if you added up the three picks it would look even better. I'd say they did well, although of course Kraig Urbik never produced much of anything for PIT.

Here's a bit more details about the picks each year. When I say "best player in the class" I mean that round. When I say "best player in the draft" I mean the entire seven rounds.

2001

Round 2: Kendrell Bell. The best player in the class (omitting Drew Brees, who at 32 was by rights a first-round pick) was Chad Johnson, who was picked three slots before Bell. Bell was also the best linebacker in that draft, including the first round.

Round 3: No pick—traded up for Bell.

2002:

Round 2: Antwaan Randle El. The best player in the class was Clinton Portis; the best 2nd round WR was Deion Branch, who was also the best WR in the draft.

Round 3: Chris Hope, DB. The best player in the class was Brian Westbrook, RB; the best DB was Hope. The best player in the draft at DB was Ed Reed (round 1).

2003:

Round 2: Alonzo Jackson, Certified Bust. The best player in the class: Anquan Boldin. The best player in the draft at LB: Lance Briggs, in the third round.

Round 3: No pick—traded for Troy.

2004:

Round 2: Ricardo Colclough, DB and mostly a bust. The best player in the class was Chris Snee, G; the best DB in the class was Madieu Williams. The best DB in the draft? DeAngelo Hall (round 1).

Round 3: Max Starks. A bargain. The best player in the class: Matt Schaub, QB. Starks was the best OT in that draft.

2005:

Round 2: Bryant McFadden, DB. The best player in the class was Vincent Jackson, WR. The best DB in the class was Nick Collins. The best player in the draft at DB was Kerry Rhodes, chosen in round 4.

Round 3: Trai Essex, OL. Not quite the jewel Starks turned out to be, but a serviceable player. The best player in the class: Frank Gore, RB. The best OL in the class, and the draft: Michael Roos.

2006:

Round 2: No pick—traded up for Santonio Holmes.

Round 3: Two picks, Anthony Smith, DB, and Willie Reid, WR. Reid was a bust, Smith not so much, although he has long since moved on. So I'll just compare Smith. The best player in the class; Eric Winston, OT. The best player in the class at DB: Eric Smith. They just picked the wrong Smith. The best player in the draft at DB: Cortland Finnegan, seventh round. Good one, TEN!

2007:

Round 2: LaMarr Woodley. The best DE in the class as well as the draft. The best player in the class was David Harris, LB, who has marginally better numbers than Woodley.

Round 3: Matt Spaeth, TE and former Steeler now returned to the fold. The best player in the class: Brandon Mebane, DT. The best player in the class at TE? Matt Spaeth. Best TE in the draft, Greg Olsen, Round 1.

2008:

Round 2: The poster child for high risk/high reward draftees, Limas Sweed. The best player in the class: Ray Rice, RB, much as it pains me to type that. Best WR in the class, and the draft: DeSean Jackson.

Round 3: Things don't improve here. The pick was Bruce Davis. The best player in the class: Jamaal Charles. The best LB in the class? Jerod Mayo, Round 1. (Cliff Avril was the best Round 2 LB.)

2009:

Round 2: The Trade Heard Around the World.

Round 3: In this order, Kraig Urbik, OT, Mike Wallace, WR, Keenen Lewis, DB. Wallace was the best pick in the class at WR. Derek Cox and Sebastian Vollmer were the best second round DB and OT, respectively. The best WR in the draft? Percy Harvin, Round 1.

2010:

Round 2: Jason Worilds, DE. The best player in the class: Rob Gronkowski, TE. Hard to compete with that. The best player in the class at DE: LaMarr Houston. The best DE in the draft: Jason Pierre-Paul, in round 1.

Round 3: Emmanuel Sanders, WR. The best player in the class: Navarro Bowman. The best WR: Eric Decker. The best receiver in the draft: Dez Bryant (round 1).

2011:

Round 2: Marcus Gilbert, OL. The best player in the class; Andy Dalton, QB. Best OL: Orlando Franklin. The best OL in the draft: Nate Solder, round 1.

Round 3: Curtis Brown, DB. The best player in the class; Stevan Ridley, RB. The best DB in the class: Chris Conte. The best DB in the draft: Richard Sherman, Round 5.

2012:

Round 2: Mike Adams, OT. The best player in the class; Bobby Wagner, ILB. Best OT in the class: Johnathan Martin. The best player in the draft: Matt Kalil, OT. (He and Martin are basically tied.) Kalil was a first rounder.

Round 3: Sean Spence, LB. So sad. The best player in the class; Russell Wilson, QB.

That ought to do it. Let's hope the Steelers pull some great players out of the deep second and third round pools tonight!

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