We’ve reached the end of the line. The final position group in our long-running series on Steelers draft picks in the 21 Century, aka the Kevin Colbert era. Welcome to Steelers Draft Picks in the 21st Century: defensive backs.
If there has been a weakness in Colbert’s draft resume, than it would be at secondary (other than two notable exceptions). Of the Steelers current starting secondary, only Terrell Edmunds was a homegrown pick. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steven Nelson, and Joe Haden were brought in through trades or free agency. Backups Mike Hilton and Marcus Allen were also late round draft picks of Colbert, but a number of high draft picks (Artie Burns, Sean Davis) have not worked out and are no longer with the team.
The Steelers have spent more draft picks on the secondary than any other group and have selected at least one player in every season in Colbert’s tenure except one (2001).
Fun trivia fact: Chris Hope is the only other player drafted in the secondary by the Steelers under Colbert to make a Pro Bowl. It was with Tennessee in 2010.
Colbert’s success drafting defensive backs pretty much exclusively comes down to 2003 when he was heady enough to trade up to get Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu in the 1st round and then snagged nine year starter Ike Taylor in the 4th. Polamalu and Taylor would form the backbone of the Steelers’ Super Bowl XL and XLIII winning teams and go on to play their entire careers together.
McFadden had some good years with the Steelers playing opposite of Ike Taylor and was a member of the Steelers for all three of their recent Super Bowl appearances.
Willie “Big Play” Gay is probably the last impact player the Steelers have drafted in the secondary.
Keenan Lewis had one good season with the Steelers before leaving in free agency for New Orleans.
2010: 5th round, Crezdon Butler, Clemson
2011: 3rd round, Curtis Brown, Texas; 4th round, Cortez Allen, The Citadel
2012: 7th round, Terrence Frederick, Texas A&M
2013: 4th round, Shamarko Thomas, Syracuse; 5th round, Terry Hawthrone, Illinois
2014: 5th round, Shaquille Richardson, Arizona
2015: 2nd round, Senquez Golson, Mississippi; 4th round, Doran Grant, Ohio State; 7th round, Gerod Holliman, Louisville
2016: 1st round, Artie Burns, Miami; 2nd round, Sean Davis, Maryland
Two major busts, as neither made it past their first contracts with the Steelers. It looked like Burns and Davis were going to establish themselves nicely in the Steelers secondary, but after promising starts, both players fell out of the starting rotation. A major waste of draft capital. Which is why they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick.
2017: 3rd round, Cameron Sutton, Tennessee; 5th round, Brian Allen, Utah
2018: 1st round, Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech; 5th round, Marcus Allen, Penn State
2019: 3rd round, Justin Layne, Michigan State
2000-2020 secondary draft breakdown
Total selections: 29
Years selecting DB: 19/20
Selections by round:
1st round: 3
2nd round: 4
3rd round: 7
4th round: 4
5th round: 7
6th round: 1
7th round: 3
Selections by conference:
Big 12: 2
Big 10: 5
PAC 12: 4
Power 5: 24
Group of 5: 5
The Steelers have largely eschewed Big 12 secondary, except for Texas’ Curtis Brown. Ryan Mundy was selected from WVU, but they were in the Big East at the time. … Colbert keeps going back to the ACC for picks, 10/29 have been from the conference. … Chris Hope and Troy Polamalu are the only Steelers drafted secondary to make a Pro Bowl in the last 20 years. … Troy Polamalu made four All-Pro teams.