Pittsburgh Steelers GM Omar Khan's room for improvement

After a free agent period that most again have found very satisfactory, this season we saw Omar Khan's first year in charge of the draft. Pretty much everyone has fallen in love with Khan's first draft this year, and I love it too overall. It's important to recognize, though, that just like the best player prospects all have areas they need to improve, so do the best rookie GM's.

Khan has shown great potential and a ton of promise in his first draft, with top notch movement skills and an aggressive demeanor, but there are still some things he needs to work on. Most importantly, his situational awareness could improve, making sure he's in position to make a big play when it matters most. There's no doubt that Khan has the movement skills to pull it off, but those recognition skills are obviously lacking in that he failed to replace the Steelers' lost pick in the 6th round, AKA "The [Black and] Golden Round."

Ever since Antonio Brown blessed the 6th round in 2010, the penultimate cycle of the draft has been a veritable black and gold mine for Pittsburgh. After an initial whiff on OG Keith Williams in 2011 and no pick in the round in 2012, the Steelers found Vince Williams in the 6th round of the 2013 draft. Williams would go on to start as a rookie, and play in 121 games for the Steelers, providing a solid, dependable presence both on and off the field.

In 2014, 6th round pick Daniel "Shade Tree" McCullers became an instant fan favorite. The fan base soured on him over time as his high center of gravity proved impossible to overcome, but he was a decent depth piece who played in more games for the Steelers than anyone in that draft except Stephon Tuitt. He easily had a better career than 3rd round pick Dri Archer, or 5th rounder Shaquille Richardson, and he was a lot of fun.

By 2015, Colbert had caught on, and successfully navigated the draft to ensure we would have two picks in the precious 6th round. As expected, LT Walton and Chickillo both became quality dependable depth pieces who would see starting snaps when the situation required it. Meanwhile, 2nd round pick Senquez Golson and 4th round pick Doran Grant never saw a single snap with the Steelers.

Nothing in this world is perfect, and 2016 Sixth round pick Travis Feeney is an excellent example of that. And the failure of 2017's 6th round pick, Colin Holba was admittedly a shocking jar, probably why Colbert took a break from the 6th round in 2018.

After missing a year, Colbert made up for it with a triple dip in the 6th round in 2019, and again we saw the potential importance of the round, even if it wasn't a huge success. Buggs gave us a few years of depth. Gilbert's career was derailed by injuries, but he was an effective special teamer who scored a TD on a blocked punt. Sutton Smith proved to be a bust.

In 2020, Antoine Brooks Jr made the team, which is more than most teams expect from a 6th rounder, but was a failure by Steelers standards as he lasted only a year in Pittsburgh. In 2021, Colbert made one of his biggest blunders as a GM by attempting to hide a 6th round pick on the practice squad. Quincy Roche was obviously poached by the Giants, where he posted 2.5 sacks as a rookie. It may have been this run of 6th round failures that convinced Colbert is was time for him to retire.

Give credit to Khan for recognizing Roche's value as a 6th round pick and bringing him back to Pittsburgh this year, and flashes like that shows some promise that his situational awareness can improve. That's important because in 2022 we saw Colbert go out with a bang by making a big play on the biggest stage, drafting Connor Heyward in the 6th round, who played in all 17 games his rookie year, putting up 178 all purpose yards and 1 TD.

After just seeing the importance of the 6th round pick in Heyward, you would think Khan would've realized the need to find a way to make a play in that round, and he had a great opportunity with two 7's as trade material. As it is, he severely limited Corey Trice's potential impact by drafting him a round too late. Like I said, though, Khan is a rookie and you have to expect these kind of mistakes earlier on. You just trust that he'll learn his lesson and hopefully get us two picks in the 6th round next year.

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