A few years back Kevin Colbert put forth an idea that the BTSC draftniks have adopted as a sort of gospel truth. Paraphrasing, it goes like this:
Every year there are 5-10 special talents who can dominate entire games. Those are prospects you never pass up regardless of need or position. The NFL future is too unknowable, injuries too common, and game changers so rare that you’ll end up with regrets.
After that you have a bigger group of clear 1st round talents, another of legitimate 1st rounders, and so forth...
We organize each year’s BTSC Big Board on that general idea. The “Colbert Specials” go at the top regardless of position and without much of a discount. Everyone else gets dropped to the extent that Pittsburgh has no need for a player at that position. So - who are the Colbert Specials in this year’s class, and who are the clear 1st rounders that could arguably get promoted?
At this point I have studied somewhere around a dozen public Boards in the process of compiling an initial BTSC Big Board, which will appear after a series of articles addressing the team’s wants and needs. The following players are those who regularly appear in the Top 10 of those all-players-for-all-teams lists:
- DL Ed Oliver, Houston. 6’2”, 290 lbs. Constantly compared to HOF players like Warren Sapp or future ones like Aaron Donald. On 100% of the lists.
- DL Quinnen Williams, Alabama. 6’3”, 285 lbs. Constantly compared to HOF players like Warren Sapp or future ones like Aaron Donald. On 100% of the lists.
- DL Jeffery Simmons, Miss. St. 6’4”, 300 lbs. The strongest Defensive Lineman in the draft, he’d likely be the top dog in most other classes. On around 80%-90% of the lists.
- EDGE Nick Bosa, Ohio St. 6’3”, 270 lbs. On 100% of the lists, usually at #1 overall.
- CB Greedy Williams, LSU. 6’1”, 182 lbs. The best Corner in the draft. On 100% of the lists.
Those five ARE Colbert Specials. Period, end of story. Write them off your wish list because it Ain’t Gonna Happen. Here’s the next tier:
- MACK ILB Devin White, LSU. 6’1”, 255 lbs. Monstrous ceiling based on athletic potential and a proper linebacker’s mindset, but also very raw and sometimes indecisive. On around 80% of the lists.
- SS/FS Deionte Thompson, Alabama. 6’2”, 196 lbs. The consensus #1 Safety in the draft. On around 70% of the lists.
- EDGE/BUCK ILB Josh Allen, Kentucky. 6’4”, 258 lbs. Remember the debates about LVE in 2018? Get ready for a repeat except this guy has big time Edge rushing talent as well. On around 60% of the lists but with more buzz than almost anyone.
For my money those three are also Colbert Specials, bringing the total up to eight (8). I will mourn as they get picked in that 5-12 range before the Steelers could legitimately hope to trade up. Pessimistic? Me? Never. I’m going to dream about them even if I’m doomed to despair.
The next group includes five (5) players that any serious film watcher could fall in love with and defend for Special status.
- DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama. 6’7”, 316 lbs. What Stephon Tuitt would have been as a prospect if he’d been fully healthy. On around 40%-50% of the lists.
- DL/EDGE Rashan Gary, Michigan. 6’5”, 283 lbs. Described by our own Nick Farabaugh as a combination of a bigger T.J. Watt and a smaller Stephon Tuitt but just as raw as either one. On around 40%-50% of the lists.
- EDGE Clelin Ferrell (“Furl”), Clemson. 6’5”, 260 lbs. On around 40%-50% of the lists.
- EDGE Jachai Polite, Florida. 6’2”, 240 lbs. On around 40%-50% of the lists.
- OL/TACKLE Jonah Williams, Alabama. 6’5”, 301 lbs. The safest and probably the best tackle in the class. On 40-50% of the lists.
Two more D-Linemen (!), a 4-3 Edge with play in space ability, and a single offensive player who barely made the list. After that comes the Honorable Mention names who appeared 2-3 times in my research (there were another 5-10 who got mentioned only once, for what it’s worth). These include:
- DL Derrick Brown, Auburn. 6’4”, 316 lbs.
- DL Christian Wilkins, Clemson. 6’4”, 315 lbs.
- CB Byron Murphy, Washington. 6’0”, 175 lbs.
Here are the totals out of 16 players in all:
- DL = 7 names, which explains why this class is already earning adjectives like “legendary”. Of course it could also be due to the four or five others that would be late- or fringe 1st rounders in any other year...
- Edge = 4 names, two of which fit a 4-3 better than a 3-4.
- CB = 2 names, one all the way at the top and the other marginal.
- ILB = 2 names, one a Mack and the other a freaky Edge/Buck hybrid
- Safety = 1 name
- OL = 1 name
What does this mean for Steeler fans? Not much in any direct sense. It’s mostly useful as a gauge for how the draft is likely to go in the 19 picks before Pittsburgh goes on the clock. First, it’s abundantly clear that this class is enormously top heavy on the defensive side, with an astonishing cluster of Defensive Tackles. Given the game’s recent emphasis on interior pressure it’s safe to assume that at least six of those seven will go in the Top 20. That leaves a lot of room for Pittsburgh fans, who have no need at DT, to hope for some other almost-Special to drop.
Second, Steeler Nation is laser focused on the CB position but that could easily be outweighed by a BPA bargain. The only true Colbert Special is Greedy Williams and he will be looooong gone before the Steelers could even hope to trade up. When the clock rolls around toward 1:20 there are likely to be talents on the Board who are superior to the next cluster of CB’s (which our draft Board has in the 1:20 to 2:12 range FWIW).
Third, the fans’ secondary focus has been on ILB. There is one player similar to Shazier (Devin White) and another who seems like a better version of Leighton Vander Esch with serious Edge Rushing chops (Josh Allen). Both men would be transformative dream picks if either came in range, and maybe worth trading up to get. The #3 ILB is Alabama’s Mack Wilson, who didn’t appear on any Top 10 lists I saw but made it onto a lot of the Top 20’s. That suggests he would be a very realistic target to hope for.
Next, the Edge class could be another place where Colbert & Co. choose to go. Both Josh Allen and Jachai Polite would fit Pittsburgh to a tee, and two Edge prospects (Brian Burns and Montez Sweat) would fit just as well and appeared on at least half of the Top 20 collections.
And finally, the big reaches are going to come from teams desperate for an infusion on offense. History suggests at least one or two more OL’s, at least one or two QB’s, and probably a WR or two. Let’s estimate... five (5?) offensive players in the top 19. Pittsburgh will focus on the defensive side of the ball, and it is a very defense-heavy draft.
According to my speculative math that means our worst case scenario is getting a Corner who offers fair value but no real bargain. Names like Byron Murphy and Deandre Baker are leading out of the gate but they’re only a nose ahead of Amani Oruwariye, Julian Love, Kris Boyd, and 2-3 others. The best case scenario is someone you could honestly believe is a Colbert Special in Round 1 (see the list above) followed by a Round 2 trade up to obtain one of those worst-case scenario Corners.
I may be doomed to disappointment but I’m going to dream! And it’s going to be fun regardless.