Kevin Colbert is well known around the NFL. He has had great success in the Steelers' organization. Since taking over as Director of Football Operations in 2000, Colbert was responsible for a slew of draft success. A few of the bigger names he was responsible for bringing in include: Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Lawrence Timmons, and Maurkice Pouncey. A laundry list of household names and hall-of-fame players. He has had the ability to draft well, but also finds the rare free agent gem like James Harrison, Willie Parker, or Ryan Clark. In 2011, he was named the Pittsburgh Steelers first ever General Manager. In recent years he has come under scrutiny for some of the draft choices and decisions, but has he earned that criticism?
I took a look at each of the draft classes since 2011 and rated the players on a hit or miss scale. It is a little subjective and some players are still up for debate since it takes a few years for certain players to blossom into starters, but it's a good snapshot of how he has done so far.
The 2011 draft saw three hits and four misses. Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert have really come into their own the past few seasons to help shore up the offensive and defensive lines. Cortez Allen is still listed as a hit even after a very difficult 2014 campaign. He was a fourth-round pick and has found a way to contribute in the league for a number of years. I also expect him to bounce back in 2015. The draft class of 2011 earned a 43% hit.
2012 is highlighted by David Decastro and Kelvin Beachum. Both are members of one of the best offensive lines in football last year. Decastro came out as one of the best guard prospects, so his success is not surprising. Kelvin Beachum has been an absolute steal in the 7th round. Other hits are Mike Adams and Sean Spence. Mike Adams has never fully blossomed, but has found ways to contribute, and Sean Spence's playing time should really grow in this year's defense. All-in-all, this draft class received a 44% hit.
We are at the point where the verdict is still out on many of the players from the 2013 draft. The name highlighted from this draft is obviously Le'Veon Bell. As great as he was last season, the biggest sign of his worth to this team was due to his absence in the AFC Wild Card game. The offense just did not look the same without him. He has quickly turned into one the best backs in the NFL, and his ability to create additional yards after contact is really fun to watch. I also labeled Jarvis Jones, Markus Wheaton, and Shamarko Thomas hits for now. Jones has suffered through some injuries, but he will have plenty of playing time this season to prove his worth at a thin outside linebacker position. Markus Wheaton became a stable No. 2 at wide receiver behind Antonio Brown last season. Shamarko Thomas has also suffered through some injuries and most of his contributions have been on special teams thus far. He will have his shot this season as he is the frontrunner to replace legendary Troy Polamalu. It will certainly be some very large shoes to fill. In looking at the rest of the list, the Landry Jones pick looks more and more like a head scratcher. Justin Brown did see some playing time last season, but he eventually was claimed off waivers to the Buffalo Bills. Overall, this class is at a 44% hit.
The 2014 class is still very raw. I highlighted Stephon Tuitt because he looks to be a tremendous pickup at the opposite defensive end from Heyward. The defensive line is certainly going to be the strongest area for this unit in 2015. Ryan Shazier will look to rebound from his injury-riddled rookie campaign. If he can stay on the field, I think he really has a breakout season at inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons. Martavis Bryant was quite a nice surprise as a rookie last season. He finished with 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns, only playing in 10 games. Maybe most importantly, he provided Roethlisberger with a large target utilizing his 6' 4' frame. As I mentioned, many of these players still have time to pan out, but those are the only hits so far. Dri Archer has been a pretty big bust and just appears to be a undersized back in the NFL. So far, this class is only at 33% hit rating.
Overall By Position
Looking at position hit totals from 2011-2014 shows how well and how poorly some positions have done. At 71%, it is clear to see that the offensive line was a priority and it has really shown. The organization knew protecting Roethlisberger needed to be a priority and they have hit on almost every draft pick. Defensive line is only at 29%, but many of those picks were late round picks and not much was expected from them. Being able to have Heyward and Tuitt will be a huge plus moving forward. Linebackers are at 60%, but that number is kind of misleading. Some of those hits could just as easily be misses when looking at Shazier, Jones, and Spence. All three have tremendous upside, but all three have had problems with injuries. Only time will tell if these were good picks or not. Defensive backs are currently at 33%, but much like the linebackers, that number is misleading. I gave Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas hits for now, but if Allen cannot find a way back on the field, and if Thomas falters as Polamalu's replacement, this number can easily be 0. It is really hurting this team that the Steelers missed on Curtis Brown in the 3rd round back in 2011. As for the offense, quarterback and tight end are at 0%, but the organization has been able to fill in through free agent pickups when looking at backups for these positions. Running backs are at 25%, but that 25% is all Le'Veon Bell which makes that number very strong. Many people, including myself, were shaking our heads when the team passed on Eddie Lacy for Bell, but that is looking like a great decision thus far. At wide receiver, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant are both solid contributors. This is also an area of strength because Antonio Brown was one of the best value picks maybe ever as the Steelers snatched him in the 6th round back in 2010.
To be honest, I went into this thinking much of the criticism Kevin Colbert has received recently was justified. It is clear though that the team has had a lot of success in the draft even recently. The offensive line and wide receiver positions have been a home run the last five years, and the team is reaping those benefits now as one of the league's top offenses. The defense is struggling because a lot of those picks haven't panned out yet.
As I mentioned, the defensive line is solid, but the linebackers need to stay healthy, and the defensive backs need to step up this season. The organization will certainly look for more help in the secondary through the 2015 draft, but much of Colbert's legacy is in the hands of the linebacking unit and the secondary. If a few of those picks stay healthy and contribute this season, he will look like a genius. Even still, much of the criticism he has received has been unfounded. Not every draft pick can be a home run, and the Steelers continue to be an organization that drafts well, and that is a large reason they have found success year in and year out.