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Former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert Dismisses Advance of Analytics in NFL: ‘When You Can Measure the Intangibles, Let Me Know’



Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert during a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 29, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Former Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is not a fan of analytics and their influence on football, he said during a podcast appearance on Wednesday.

Colbert, who has taken a role at his high school alma mater, North Catholic, since his retirement from the Steelers in 2022, was interviewed by the NC Athletics Podcast this week, and asked whether he thinks analytics have too much influence on the NFL in 2024.

“I’m aged beyond the analytical world, and I understand the analytics and importance of information and what it can point to, but it doesn’t tell you the story of that person and that player and who can be successful on that field,” Colbert said.

“At the end of my career with the Steelers, obviously it came into play, and I used to encourage our younger scouts. I said, ‘Keep me up to date. Tell me what I’m missing.’ We had analytics people, and I used to challenge them. I said, ‘When you guys can measure the intangibles, let me know.’ Because that’s the most important thing.”

Colbert came up with a scouting background, and the influence of analytics in that area is a lot less pronounced than other areas of the NFL process. Having success in the draft is still mostly about evaluating people and their likelihood of transitioning success at the college level to the pros. That’s a complicated process that largely is beyond what even modern analytics are able to provide.

But in terms of on-field actions, analytics can be a powerful tool to determine how to make decisions during a game that have been leveraged by many of the most successful NFL teams. Despite that, Colbert seems lukewarm on their acceptance.

“There will be certain situations in a game, 4th and 3 from the minus-42 with 1:31, you’re down two, what should we do, and it may spit out an answer,” Colbert said. “But is it also answering the health of my team in the current state? Who is hot, who’s not? Do I feel the crowd? Do I feel this is going to happen. … 

“I don’t think you can have any determination or certainty. You can get, ‘Hey, you should probably do this’ But, you as the coach or you as that player has to be able to make critical decisions under pressure situations. And I don’t think there is any analytic that can measure that. I don’t know if there’s an intangible that can measure it, I think it’s just that feel that that coach may have to have at a certain point and his trust in that player to make that play in that critical situation.”

Colbert’s thoughts on analytics shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that observed how the Steelers operated under his leadership. It brings up the question as to how different his predecessor, Omar Khan, has been in that regard. So far, the early returns on Khan’s work have been promising, but there have been few reports about what has led to that success.