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2021 NFL Draft

Steelers Offensive Draft Tendencies Under Kevin Colbert



Steelers WR Chase Claypool

Since Kevin Colbert joined the Steelers in 2000, the team has had some great selections in the NFL Draft. Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu, future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger and possible future Hall of Fame inductee Maurkice Pouncey are just a few of the names that have helped propel the Steelers to multiple Super Bowl championships and over 200 regular season wins.

When you hit on generational players like Colbert has with the Steelers, you don’t need to spend too much of your draft capital on those positions. Ben Roethlisberger has allowed the Steelers to mostly eschew the position since 2004. Having a player like Maurkice Pouncey at center makes drafting anyone else there a luxury rather than a necessity. The same can be said about guard, as the selection of David DeCastro in 2012 lead to the Steelers not picking another for seven years. Heath Miller manning the tight end spot for 11 seasons allowed the team to use their picks on tight ends sparingly, and usually on the 3rd day of the NFL Draft.

Some positions require a restock more often, as the team has been less successful drafting running backs. On the other hand, the Steelers have been so good at picking receivers, that they often let them walk away after four years (Plaxico Burress, Antwaan Randle El, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders) and replace them with newer ones. The only outliers were Antonio Brown, who played nine years with the team and 1998 pick Hines Ward, who played his entire 14 year career with the Steelers.

With 21 drafts in the books, tendencies and patterns have emerged from the noise.

Here are all of Colbert’s offensive picks, arranged by position and by round.


Total picks: 8
Most common round: 5th
First rounders: 1
Rounds selected: 1st-1, 2nd-0, 3rd-1, 4th-2, 5th-4, 6th-0, 7th-0

1st: Ben Roethlisberger (2004)
2nd: None
3rd: Mason Rudolph (2018)
4th: Landry Jones (2013), Joshua Dobbs (2017)
5th: Tee Martin (2000), Brian St. Pierre (2003), Omar Jacobs (2006), Dennis Dixon (2008)

Having Ben Roethlisberger on the roster has greatly reduced the team’s need to draft quarterbacks. However, in the past five years the team did use a fourth-round pick (Joshua Dobbs) and third (Mason Rudolph) on quarterbacks. Rudolph at number 76 overall was the highest selection other than Roethlisberger (11). There have been a few mocks showing the Steelers trading up for Justin Fields, but for the most part, this doesn’t seem to be a year for Colbert to spend a first-round pick on one.


Total picks: 13
Most common round: 7th
First rounders: 1
Rounds selected: 1st-1, 2nd-1, 3rd-1, 4th-2, 5th-3, 6th-1, 7th-4

1st: Rashard Mendenhall (2008)
2nd: Le’Veon Bell (2013)
3rd: James Conner (2017)
4th: Benny Snell Jr. (2019), Anthony McFarland Jr. (2020)
5th: Verron Haynes (2002), Frank Summers (2009), Chris Rainey (2012)
6th: Jonathan Dwyer (2010)
7th: J.T. Wall (2003), Noah Herron (2005), Cedric Humes (2006), Baron Batch (2011)

From 2000-2007 the Steelers picked four running backs in the draft, none higher than the fifth-round (Verron Haynes). Rashard Mendenhall in 2008 remains the team’s only first-round pick in the Colbert era. From 2013-2020 the team picked four running backs, all before the fifth-round, including James Conner in 2017 (3rd), Benny Snell Jr. in 2019 (4th) and Anthony McFarland Jr. in 2020 (4th). Second-round pick Le’Veon Bell remains the team’s most successful selection.

Predictions of Alabama running back Najee Harris to the Steelers at number 24 have been plentiful and this could be the year the Steelers spend that important first-round pick on a running back. It would go against Colbert’s drafting history. But if there was ever a year to do it, it would be this one after losing James Conner to free agency and having only Snell Jr., McFarland Jr. and a few backups on the roster.


Total picks: 24
Most common round: 3rd
First rounders: 2
Selections by round: 1st-2, 2nd-5, 3rd-7, 4th-3, 5th-0, 6th-3, 7th-4

1st: Plaxico Burress (2000), Santonio Holmes (2006)
2nd: Antwaan Randle El (2002), Limas Sweed (2008), JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017), James Washington (2018), Chase Claypool (2019)
3rd: Willie Reid (2006), Mike Wallace (2009), Emmanuel Sanders (2010), Markus Wheaton (2013), Dri Archer (2014), Sammie Coates (2015), Diontae Johnson (2019)
4th: Danny Farmer (2000), Fred Gibson (2005), Martavis Bryant (2014)
5th: none
6th: Lee Mays (2002), Antonio Brown (2010), Justin Brown (2013)
7th: Chris Taylor (2001), Dallas Baker (2007), Toney Clemons (2012), Demarcus Ayers (2016)

The Steelers love picking a wide receiver in the first three rounds. They’ve done that 14 out of 21 years, having most of their success picking in those rounds as only Antonio Brown (6th round) and to a lesser extent Martavis Bryant (4th round) made any impact of the 10 receivers they picked outside the first three rounds. First-round picks Plaxico Burress and Santonio Holmes had success in the organization (and outside it), and out the of the team’s second-round picks, only Limas Sweed could be considered a bust.

This season, with JuJu Smith-Schuster returning and the presence of Washington, Claypool and Johnson, the Steelers may forego spending a pick on a wide receiver until the later rounds.


Total picks: 11
Most common round: 5th
First rounders: 1
Selections by round: 1st-1, 2nd-0, 3rd-1, 4th-0, 5th-4, 6th-2, 7th-3

1st: Heath Miller (2005)
2nd: None
3rd: Matt Spaeth (2007)
4th: None
5th: Jesse James (2015), Jaylen Samuels (2018), Zach Gentry (2019)
6th: Jason Gavadza (2000), Matt Kranchick (2004), David Johnson (2009), David Paulson (2012), Rob Blanchflower (2014)

When you have Heath Miller, you don’t really need to spend your draft capital on other tight ends. From 2005 to 2015 the team drafted six tight ends with third-rounder Matt Spaeth in 2007 being the highest pick outside of Heath Miller. Since Miller retired, the team has gone tight end twice, Jaylen Samuels, who converted to running back in 2018 (5th round) and Zach Gentry in 2019 (5th round).


Total picks: 14
Most common round: 3rd
First rounders: 0
Selections by round: 1st-0, 2nd-3, 3rd-4, 4th-3, 5th-1, 6th-1, 7th-2

1st: None
2nd: Marvel Smith (2000), Marcus Gilbert (2011), Mike Adams (2012)
3rd: Max Starks (2004), Trai Essex (2005), Kraig Urbik (2009), Chukwuma Okorafor (2018)
4th: Mathias Nkwenti (2001), Tony Hills (2008), Jerald Hawkins (2016)
5th: none
6th: Bo Lacy (2004)
7th: Kelvin Beachum (2012), Derwin Gray (2019)

There have been 76 tackles drafted in the 1st round since 2000. The Steelers are the only team in the league not to use a first-round pick on a tackle in that time. Their highest pick, second-rounder Marvel Smith, was their best with a 53 Career approximate value. The team has been good at finding value in the second and third rounds with Smith, Gilbert, and Starks.


Total picks: 8
Most common round: TIED 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th
First rounders: 2
Selections by round: 1st-2, 2nd-0, 3rd-0, 4th-2 5th-2, 6th-2, 7th-0

1st: Kendall Simmons (2002), David DeCastro (2012)
2nd: none
3rd: none
4th: Willie Colon (2006), Kevin Dotson (2020)
5th: Cameron Stephenson (2007), Chris Scott (2010)
6th: Chris Kemoeatu (2005), Keith Williams (2011)

It’s first-round or wait for the Steelers, who have used two picks in the first-round and zero in the second and third rounds. After hitting a home run with David DeCastro in 2012, the Steelers had a seven year gap before picking guard Kevin Dotson in the fourth-round in 2020. Raise your hand if you knew that the Steelers had spent more first-round picks on guards since 2000 than any other position other than wide receiver, which they also used two on.


Total picks: 5
Most common round: 6th
First rounders: 1
Selections by round: 1st-1, 2nd-0, 3rd-0, 4th-0, 5th-1, 6th-2, 7th-1

1st: Maurkice Pouncey (2010)
2nd: none
3rd: none
4th: none
5th: Chukky Okobi (2001)
6th: Drew Caylor (2004), Marvin Philip (2006)
7th: A.Q. Shipley (2009)

Maurkice Pouncey’s selection in round one of the 2010 NFL Draft has precluded the Steelers from needing to draft any other players at the position in the past 10 years. Now, with his retirement, the Steelers could very well use one of their first few picks on a center.

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