Analyzing Kevin Colbert's Drafts vs. His Peers: Defensive Backs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third in a series of posts where I analyze Colbert’s drafts vs. his peers, by position. This article focuses on defensive backs. Unfortunately, the data that I have access to does not differentiate between cornerbacks and safeties, so they are lumped together. This analysis looks at the 2000-2018 drafts, which is the extent of Colbert’s tenure.

For an explanation of Career Average Value (CareerAV) and the draft value charts, see the NOTES section at the end of the article.


The Steelers are slightly below average in terms of the number of draft choices targeted for the secondary. They were 3rd from last until 2015, when they started selecting DBs in early rounds more frequently. Given the 2003 draft that included Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor, plus the later free agent acquisitions of Ryan Clark and Mike Mitchell, it isn’t necessarily surprising that they didn’t feel the need to draft DBs in early rounds for a number of years.


Their first-round picks over this 19-year period were Troy Polamalu, Artie Burns, and Terrell Edmunds.

The teams at the extremes for first round DB picks include the Raiders, who drafted a whopping 8 DBs in the first round over that period, while the Detroit did not select a single DB in the first round over that same span. If you look at the first and second rounds together, Oakland, NE, the Chargers, and GB each drafted 11 DBs, while Jacksonville only drafted 4 DBs. The Steelers were in the middle with 7 DBs selected in the first two rounds.

When you add up the total value of all DB picks using the Johnson Draft Value numbers, you can see the teams that spent the most draft capital on their defensive backfield.


The Steelers are towards the lower end, but not significantly behind the average teams.


NOTE: For this section, I only evaluated drafts through 2015. There isn't enough track record to evaluate the last few years' drafts.

Here, I look at the value of the players drafted (as defined by Pro Football Reference) against the value expected of the player based on where they were drafted. Higher numbers mean that a team is getting better performance than might be expected.


Pittsburgh has done quite well in terms of the value they get vs. what one should expect for when they picked. That even takes into account the class of 2015, which includes Senquez Golson, Doran Grant, and Gerod Holliman (who combined for a grand total of one NFL snap). However, it needs to be restated that this evaluation only goes through 2015, so it doesn’t include Burns, Davis, Sutton, Edmunds, and the Allens (Brian and Marcus). Again, I didn’t include those years because they haven’t played enough to give a clear picture of their career value as of yet.

In terms of career production regardless of draft position or the total number of picks made, the Steelers are in the middle of the pack.


This is mostly driven by Polamalu, Taylor, Chris Hope, and William Gay. Davis and Edmunds look to be significant contributors moving forward, but given their young career, they don’t contribute much to this chart now.

The last item in this section shows how the Steelers do per round in terms of average CareerAV for all DBs drafted in the various rounds. This chart is also showing data from 2000-2015, so it doesn’t include the recent high draft picks. The three sets of data are the average CareerAV numbers for Steeler DB draft picks, League-wide LB draft picks, and league-wide draft picks for every position.


The huge number in round 1 is thanks to Troy Polamalu, who was the only DB drafted by the Steelers in the first round between 2000-2015. The bad number in round two is the average of Ricardo Colclough, Bryant McFadden, and Senquez Golson, the only DBs drafted in the second round in that span.


This chart shows the details of the Steeler DBs drafted during the Colbert era.


The Steelers had a terrific run of DBs from 2002-2009, then a horrid run from 2010-2015. Although the jury is still out on the recent drafts, I am of the opinion that they have hit their stride again. Not all picks will work out, but Davis and Edmunds look to be long term parts of the defense IMHO.


For the best values, I set a minimum Career Value of 50, so that I only consider players who made significant contributions to their teams. Otherwise, it would be dominated by late round picks who were great value because of how late they were picked. For example, Terrence Frederick would be the fourth best DB selected by the Steelers in terms of value, just because he was picked so late, at the end of the 7th round. Frederick had a cup of coffee with the Giants and the Saints before heading to the CFL for a couple of years.


The Steelers have two on this list, Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. There is one very noteworthy aspect to the chart above. Unlike the DL and LB lists, the DB list is dominated by first and second round picks. This indicates that it is very rare to find an quality long-term starting corner or safety in later rounds. Even if I drop the minimum CareerAV to 40 (William Gay is at 41), there are only 15 DBs that would make the list.

For the worst values, I only looked at day 1 and day 2 picks. The Steelers have two players on this list, Senquez Golson and Ricardo Colclough. Golson was an unfortunate case with his injuries, but Colclough just never cut it other than being an average kick returner.



This confirms what Flip wrote in his article, namely that the Steelers are pretty good at drafting DBs when compared to other teams. But it really needs to be broken down into three "eras":

  • 2000-2009 - They drafted a four good to great DBs (Polamalu, Taylor, Chris Hope, and William Gay), and three middle-of-the-road DBs (Bryant McFadden, Ryan Mundy, and Keenan Lewis). Pittsburgh was second only to Baltimore in terms of the value they got from their picks.
  • 2010-2015 - Their best DB draft pick was Cortez Allen. They made 10 DB draft picks during that time, but only two of them were day-2 picks (Golson and Curtis Brown). During this period, the Steelers were the worst team in the league for value returned from their picks.
  • 2016-present – The jury is still out, but they have definitely gotten out of the funk of 2010-2015. If nothing else, they are putting more emphasis on building up their secondary with early draft choices.
In addition, it is rare to find a quality long-term starting defensive back beyond rounds 1 and 2. This is true for the entire league, not just the Steelers. Putting William Gay as the floor of what would be considered a quality long-term starter, there were only 15 players in the entire league that fit that category who were drafted after the second round since 2000. The Steelers (Gay and Taylor) and the Seahawks (Richard Sherman and Cam Chancellor) were the only two teams that found two of these late round gems. Eleven other teams found one, and the other 19 teams never found a good starter after the second round.


  • All data comes from Pro Football Reference. I imported their data into my own database so that I could run some more advanced queries on it.
  • There are certainly some errors in the data. For example, LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds were both listed as DE in the data. I changed them to OLBs, but there are likely similar errors for other teams.
  • I use three key metrics in evaluating the data:

o Career Average Value (CareerAV) - this is a stat put out by Pro Football Reference to "put a single number on each player-season since 1960 so that we can (very approximately) compare across years and across positions". The CareerAV "is computed by summing 100% of the player's best-season AV, 95% of his second-best-season AV, 90% of his third best, and so on. The idea is that the Career AV rating should weight peak seasons slightly more than "compiler"-type seasons."

o The "Jimmy Johnson" Draft Value Chart - This gives a value to every draft pick in every round (for trading purposes) and is the most commonly used one by draft pundits. There are other variants of this, including one done by Rich Hill of ESPN that is based on actual draft trades since 2012, so it is probably more accurate, but since everyone goes by the JJ draft chart, that is the one that I used.

o The "Harvard" Draft Performance Chart - This chart gives a value to every draft pick based on historical CareerAV numbers for any given pick. This more accurately shows what a team might expect in terms of performance for a given pick. Comparing the JJ Value Chart to the Harvard Performance chart indicates that higher round draft picks are overvalued, especially as you get nearer the #1 pick. According to the author, "The old system massively over-values the earliest picks and significantly undervalues mid-to-late round picks".

  • This analysis considers players' entire careers, even if they play for other teams besides the one that drafted them.

The opinions shared here are not those of the editorial staff of Behind the Steel Curtain or SB Nation. These posts are not approved in any way by the editorial staff of this web site.