The Pittsburgh Steelers are heading into a new chapter of the front office as Omar Khan and company prepare for their first NFL draft. With former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert moving into retirement following the 2022 draft, this will mark the first time the new regime has total control over their selections. How will this shape out for the Steelers moving forward? That’s what many fans are both excited and nervous to see.
With the draft nearly 3 months away, let’s take a look at the top draft picks of the Pittsburgh Steelers in each round in the Kevin Colbert era. For those who may not be certain of the dates, these will be the drafts from 2000 through 2022.
For this exercise, we will be looking at players drafted specifically by the Steelers since the year 2000. In determining how well each player performed, we will only look at their time with the Pittsburgh Steelers and not any time spent with a different team. The rankings will come according to the total AV (Approximate Value) for each player determined by Pro Football Reference (PFR) during their time with the Steelers. Exactly how PFR determines AV can be seen HERE. For players with the same AV, other considerations such as games played may be taken into account. Obviously, players who have a longer career with the Steelers have the chance of a higher score. But isn’t longevity a key factor in determining whether it was a good draft pick?
The next step as we count our way down will be players selected by the Steelers in the 3rd round of the NFL draft.
5: Chukwuma Okorafor
Draft Year: 2018
There were several players who came close to cracking the list in James Conner (21), Trai Essex (20), and Alex Highsmith (19). There’s actually a lot more depth of quality players drafted in the third round under Kevin Colbert. But Chuks Okorafor’s five seasons with the Steelers with three of them as the starter at right tackle pushed him into the final spot. In his five years, Okorafor has appeared in 63 games with 52 starts as well as two starts coming in the postseason. Under contract for two more seasons, Okorafor has a chance to rise up this list in the next few years.
4: Javon Hargrave
Draft Year: 2016
Although it was only the four seasons of his rookie contract in Pittsburgh, Javon Hargrave established himself as a starter his first year in the NFL and allowed his AV value to soar. Appearing in 63 games with 52 starts with the Steelers, Hargrave had 168 tackles and 14.5 sacks along with a fumble recovery for a touchdown and two passes defensed. While many Steelers fans would love to see a reunion with Hargrave who is currently a free agent, the outstanding play he’s put up in his last couple years in Philadelphia is likely going to bring a big payday as he finished 2022 with 11.0 sacks. While a return may not be in the cards, there’s still no doubting the value Gravedigger brought while with the Steelers.
3: Diontae Johnson
Draft Year: 2019
This is the point where the countdown turns as the fourth-round picks under Kevin Colbert were more top-heavy than those in the third round. Although Diontae Johnson would not have landed in the third spot had he been taken a round later, there’s still more of his career to come. In four years in Pittsburgh Johnson has 3,646 receiving yards on 340 receptions and 20 touchdowns. Unfortunately, none of those touchdowns were in 2022. Already selected to his first Pro Bowl in 2021, if Johnson plays several more years for the Steelers he has a chance to increase his status as one of the better third-round draft picks of Kevin Colbert.
2: Mike Wallace
Draft Year: 2009
The former “one trick pony” lands in the second spot when it comes to third-round picks of GM Kevin Colbert. Playing four years in Pittsburgh, which was twice as many as any other stop Wallace had later in his career, he started 48 of 63 games with 4,042 receiving yards on 235 receptions and 32 touchdowns. Wallace also added another 141 post season receiving yards on 16 receptions and a touchdown which came in Super Bowl XLV. His only Pro Bowl season of his career coming in 2011 and Pittsburgh, Wallace left for the big money and never saw the production he had during his second and third seasons in Pittsburgh.
1: Max Starks
Draft Year: 2004
I know some Steelers fans may have been looking for players such as Hines Ward, Joey Porter, or Jason Gilden to top is this list, but they simply don’t qualify. Despite being great third-round draft picks playing in the 2000s for the Steelers, all three of those players were drafted in the 90s. And although an offensive lineman is not often the flashy choice, spending nine years with the Pittsburgh Steelers lands Max Starks at the top of the list of third-round draft picks. With 123 regular season games with 96 starts, Starks also added 10 postseason games with nine starts including two Super Bowl championships with the Steelers. Despite never being selected to a Pro Bowl, it was the longevity that Max Starks brought with the Steelers that is so valued.
So there are the top five draft picks of the Kevin Colbert era coming from the third round. Make sure you check back on Thursday for the next article which will highlight the second-round picks.
In case you missed the previous articles, they can be seen below: