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Late round draft success under Kevin Colbert era doesn’t bode well for current Steelers

Setting aside the hype — as well as the hyperventilating “boo birds” — what does Colbert’s record during the latter rounds of the NFL Draft actually look like?

Pittsburgh Steelers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images

Pittsburgh Steelers fans love to cheer for underdog players — the comments section of BTSC is filled with optimistic assessments. This optimism is oddly geared towards 2018 drafted players who haven’t yet stepped foot on the field in favor of those who have already been tossed into trial by combat and thus have attracted the ire of fans. Chalk this up to human nature, a fervent fan base and indiscriminate hope — or maybe fans are seeing something in these players that 31 NFL GMs overlooked?

GM Kevin Colbert is entering his eighteenth season at the helm of the Steelers organization. During this span, he’s drafted 152 players. Like his peers in the NFL, no GM will hit a home run with every draft choice (not even every draft class), but there’s a good reason why most national sports outlets rank Colbert in the Top-5 of NFL GMs — his ability to draft and groom talent.

There’s a smattering of later-round success stories: Antonio Brown, Brett Keisel, Clark Haggans and William Gay — just to mention a few. But the number of flops dwarfs this success — and that’s to be expected. Most later-round draft picks never wind up having successful careers. A large percentage never sign a second NFL contract or even finish out their rookie deal.

Colbert has drafted 90 players during or after the fourth round since 2000 with varying degrees of success depending on fans’ perspectives. The chart below outlines simple and basic thresholds, but doesn’t focus on performance success. Hashing out the thresholds will happen in the comments section.

Clarifying any confusion with the table:

  • A second contract must be one signed right after the first and can include a one-year deal.
  • The starts are only with the Steelers — starts with other teams are not included.
  • Thirty percent of possible starts are based on a 16-game season.
  • Roles on special teams are not included, as special-team starts are not included in Pro Football Reference stats.


Year # of picks Over 5 starts Players 30% of possible starts Players 2nd Pitt contract Players
Year # of picks Over 5 starts Players 30% of possible starts Players 2nd Pitt contract Players
2000 5 1 Clark Haggans 1 Haggans 1 Haggans
2001 5 1 Chukky Okobi 0 1 Okobi
2002 5 2 Larry Foote, Brett Keisel 2 Foote, Keisel 2 Foote, Keisel
2003 3 1 Ike Taylor 1 Taylor 1 Tarylor
2004 5 0 0 0
2005 5 1 Chris Kemoeatu 1 Kemoeatu 1 Kemoeatu
2006 7 1 Willie Colon 1 Colon 1 Colon
2007 5 1 William Gay 1 Gay 1 Gay
2008 4 1 Ryan Mundy 0 0
2009 5 1 David Johnson 1 Johnson 1 Johnson
2010 7 2 Antonio Brown, Johathan Dwyer 1 Brown 1 Brown
2011 4 1 Cortez Allen 0 1 Allen
2012 5 2 Kelvin Beachum 1 Beachum 0
2013 6 2 Vince Williams, Landry Jones 1 Williams 2 Williams, Jones
2014 6 1 Martavis Bryant 1 Bryant 1 McCullers
2015 5 2 Jesse James, Anthony Chickillo 1 James NA
2016 4 0 0 NA
2017 4 0 0 NA
2018 3 NA NA NA
Total 90 20 13 14
Flipsteeler BTSC

Less than a quarter of later-round Steelers’ draft picks will ever make five starts during their time with Pittsburgh, let alone having a minimal amount of starts during their rookie deals. A mere 6.4 percent ever ink a second deal, and only a handful of them find success during the second contract.

It’s understandable that fans are excited to see draft picks Joshua Frasier, Jaylen Samuels or Marcus Allen contribute in 2018, or future years, based upon their college tape and other hype surrounding them. But these players didn’t slide out of the early rounds due to medical or off-field concerns. They slid due to issues in their perceived ability to perform at the pro level. Could one of the three 2018 draft picks — or any of the five draft picks still on the roster from the 2016 and 2017 draft classes — turn into the next AB or Keisel?

The odds are stacked against them, but as any poker player knows, odds are meant to be beaten.