Kevin Colbert has chosen a lot of outstanding players throughout his more than 16 seasons in Pittsburgh. But some of his best moves didn't involve first-round picks, and that's precisely why the Steelers have been so good for so long.
Offensively, he's made some great value moves, but a lot of them have been in recent years. That's partly because the team has used its first-round pick on defensive players six of the last eight drafts, and the last four in a row. Seven of last year's eleven offensive, day-one starters were chosen after the first round or not at all. All eleven were brought in during head coach Mike Tomlin's tenure.
Defensively, the group is more spread out over the years. Four of them entered the NFL in either rounds six or seven of the draft, or as undrafted free agents.
The rules remain the same: this isn't a Hall-of-Fame list; it's a list of the 11 best players who were not first-round picks with any team, who were acquired by Kevin Colbert, if I was putting together a roster for a single game.
Defensive End: Brett Keisel, Stephon Tuitt
It feels wrong putting Tuitt on here, because he was originally expected to be a top-ten pick. Injuries knocked him out of the first round, and the Steelers landed him in round two. For as good as Cam Heyward, the team's other current starting end, has become, Tuitt has the talent and opportunity to be at least as good.
Keisel is on the other end of the spectrum, draftwise, but with similar results. He was selected number 242 overall, and went on to bookend the defensive line in multiple Super Bowls. While he may be known league-wide more for his beard, in Pittsburgh it was his outstanding play and love for the fans that will keep his on-field legend alive for years to come.
Honorable Mention: Kimo von Oelhoffen
Nose Tackle: Steve McLendon
The reality is there aren't a lot of guys who have played nose tackle in Pittsburgh in the last 16 years. Casey Hampton took over the position in 2001 and never looked back. Aside from missing most of a season due to injury, he played most of the games for which he was employed. Upon his retirement, though, the position was handed over to McLendon, who did admirably well given the fact that he wasn't even drafted. In fact, the run defense slipped markedly when he was off the field. The two biggest knocks on McLendon were 1) that he was hurt a lot, and 2) that he "wasn't Hampton." Well, no one will be another Hampton, especially not a UDFA. That doesn't mean Big Mac didn't do a good job of making the position his own.
Honorable Mention: Chris Hoke
Outside Linebacker: James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley
Like Tuitt, it feels wrong putting Woodley here, because it's hard to believe he wasn't a first-round pick. Until injuries and conditioning derailed his career in Pittsburgh (and elsewhere), Woodley and Harrison were one of the most fearsome pairs of edge rushers in the NFL.
Speaking of Harrison, you have to wonder if he was a talent that just needed to be honed into an eventual Defensive Player of the Year, or if it was getting cut five times and sent to play for Germany's Rhein Fire, of NFL Europe, for a season that just simply pissed off the eight-hundred pound gorilla. Either way, the once-undrafted free agent is poised to become the leading sacker in Steelers history in 2016.
Honorable Mention: Jason Worilds, Clark Hagaans
Inside Linebacker: Larry Foote, Vince Williams
Foote was well-liked in Pittsburgh for one main reason: he epitomized the workmanlike attitude we love to think embodies this once-blue collar city. That's not to say he wasn't good, because he was. He and James Farrior manned the middle of the field for several of the Steelers' best seasons. Not until the latter half of the 2015 season, when Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier really began to click, has another duo worked the middle in Pittsburgh as in-sync as Farrior and Foote.
Williams has emerged as a great athlete and the potential heir-apparent to Timmons. That last part really speaks volumes to Williams' work ethic and the way he has embraced the Steeler Way, that many fans are considering the seventh-round pick as a viable alternative to a first-round pick and defensive leader. He has spent a few off-seasons working out with Harrison, and it's really paid off. He's stronger, faster and more explosive. He's also a real hoot on Twitter.
Honorable Mention: Kendrell Bell, Sean Spence
Cornerback: Ike Taylor, William Gay
Taylor became the consummate Steeler, which speaks a lot to his character, considering he became former coach Bill Cowher's scapegoat for a 2006 season that was anything but a fitting followup to their Super Bowl XL victory. For several years, Taylor was a true shutdown cornerback -- he may not have intercepted a lot of passes, but that was due at least in part to the fact that quarterbacks rarely even threw to his side of the field. He constantly shadowed opponents' best receivers and often took them almost entirely off the stat sheet. He also was one of the best run-defending corners the Steelers have seen since Rod Woodson.
Gay took a while to blossom, but once he did...he left for Arizona. After a year in an unfamiliar scheme, though, he returned to Pittsburgh, humbled. He's stepped up his game each year since, culminating with five consecutive interceptions being returned for touchdowns between the 2014 and 2015 seasons. He was the team's best corner, by a long shot, in 2015.
Honorable Mention: Keenan Lewis, Bryant McFadden
Safety: Ryan Clark, Chris Hope
Colbert can't be credited with recognizing Clark's talent while he was still in college, but he did take advantage of an opportunity to bring him to Pittsburgh as a free agent. It was actually one of Colbert's higher-profile free-agent acquisitions, and it paid off big-time. After a year or two, Clark and Polamalu formed a nearly impenetrable duo who seemed to know one another's thoughts. They played like a well-oiled machine through the 2012 season before the two finally started to decline.
Hope over current free safety Mike Mitchell may be a little controversial, especially since Hope's best years came after he left for Tennessee, but also because he's a free safety, just like Clark. My logic here is that Clark would move to strong safety, thanks to his ability to play well inside the box. I picked Hope over Mitchell because Mitchell has been very hot and cold in his two seasons in Pittsburgh. I need to see more, especially in coverage, before I put him ahead of Hope, who was becoming a very good centerfielder when he hit free agency. He continued that trend in Tennessee.
Honorable Mention: Mike Mitchell, Will Allen