A Look At Steelers Draft Trends During Tomlin/Colbert Era

Over the last several years, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has progressively gotten worse and worse, and is now without question the Achilles’ Heel of the team. With less than a month to go, the die-hard fans will demand that the front office go with defensive selections with the first few picks, but that’s just not how Kevin Colbert operates. In the eight seasons he’s worked with Mike Tomlin, the results are very even, with 13 offensive and 12 defensive players picked from rounds 1-3. Another note that will likely receive some flak from fans is the fact that they’ve never went strictly offense or strictly defense with those three consecutive picks, instead focusing on both sides.

However, when there’s an area screaming for devoted attention, the team has shown a willingness to double-dip on it, such as in 2007, when the team selected linebackers Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in the first and second rounds, respectively. Also, in 2012 it happened again when they spent their first two picks on offensive linemen David DeCastro and Mike Adams. With needs at both cornerback and at outside linebacker, this could be a sign of good fortune for fans hoping for help at those respective spots.

Another trend of the team is the selections of players from major BCS conferences, or the Power Five, consisting of the Big Ten, the Big 12, the ACC, the Pac-12, and the SEC. There’s only a handful of small school players Colbert has picked, with some notables being Willie Colon (Hofstra) and current underachiever, Cortez Allen (The Citadel). What this shows is he places value in bigger schools where the level of competition is top-tier, and doesn’t value nearly as much the smaller-school types. It doesn’t preclude them from doing it, as evidenced by a predraft visit with North Dakota State’s Kyle Emanuel is scheduled, but it is a rarity, and almost always in the late rounds.

Which brings up the next trend, and that’s predraft visits. The league allows each team to host up to 30 official predraft visits, not including local players, such as player at the University of Pittsburgh. Running through a recent sample size of the prospects the team has met with prior to the draft will feature a list including Jarvis Jones, Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams. In fact, dating back to 2010, they’ve selected 17 players, with whom they visited with prior to the draft. The past two years alone, six of the nine selections met with the team prior to the draft.

Now, I’m no mathematician, but a rough estimate will yield a scenario where approximately five of the team’s eight draft picks this year will be players who were in for a visit. Thus far, the Steelers reportedly have several visits that have either already occurred, or are planned. The list of names includes Pitt tackle T.J. Clemmings, Texas A&M tight end Cameron Clear, Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker, Missouri linebacker Shane Ray, North Dakota State linebacker Kyle Emanuel, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory and Michigan wide receiver Devin Gardner. This list will obviously swell in the coming weeks leading up to the draft, and a quick glance at the 2014 visit list should give Steelers fans a reason to keep an eye on it. It’s no coincidence last year’s visits included Shaquille Richardson, Martavis Bryant, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Jordan Zumwalt and Rob Blanchflower. So with a month left, instead of paying attention to someone who calls themselves a draft expert, the proof should be in the pudding in the form of the visits, as they obviously carry some substance when it comes draft day.