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.

  • LucasY59

    Emmanuel or Gardner could be good late rd picks, Clear seems like a UDFA, (which would’ve been another good thing to look at in this article, If I remember priority FAs are brought in for visits fairly often also) I hope they are just doing some homework and setting smokescreens (which they have also been known to do) with some of the 1st rd guys, Clemmings and Ray would be if others are already taken type of picks for me, I would pass on Gregory, and Parker would be a luxury but possible pick. I would like them to bring in Peters and see how his side of the story sounds with his issues.

  • Steel PAul

    It would be unfortunate if the team continued to pick offense and defense evenly this year.

    In fact, while all drafts are crucial, this one, based on the window of opportunity to have Ben in a top flight offense, seems more important.

    If they can add talent that not only pans out on defense, but can do what most picks cannot in their first year or two – make an impact, this team could really make the most of this opportunity and be in the hunt for the next 4-5 yrs.

    If not, well I’m already planning on suffering thru a fair number of games that end up with both teams in the 40’s for 2015.

  • cp72

    I think Ray could be there at 22. It would not surprise me if Fowler, Dupree, Beasley, and Gregory all go before he does.

    Not saying I like him, just saying it’s possible he’s there. I have heard some Jarvis Jones comps, but I think he looks much more explosive.

  • cp72

    We could draft 8 defensive guys this year and they are not going to make us significantly better on defense in 2015.

    If our defense gets a boost next year it has to come from Jones, Shazier, C Allen, Tuitt, S Thomas, and Mitchell. If three or four guys from this group can make a jump in production we will be a better defense. If they don’t we can expect much of the same we’ve seen the last couple of years.

    I am all for improving talent. If the best player on the board isn’t a defensive player it’s a mistake to pass on him trying to force needs.

  • Steel PAul

    It sounds like the Steelers like Ray a lot. But I’m of the same mindset that he will most likely be long gone, along with the rest of your list (possible exception for Gregory with recent happenings).

  • cp72

    Could be. The good news if all of the pass rushers go we could have a pretty good list of DBs to choose from.

  • puCrepeaP

    I would love to know who the Steelers have on tap to visit. I’m suprised guys like Dupree, K Johnson, Peters haven’t been on their short list….yet

  • Steel PAul

    I mean, I agree to an extent. But If the best player on the board is a RB, QB or WR, I’m sure they can also find a defensive player instead.

  • PittsburghSports

    Exactly why when I do mock drafts for the Steelers I only bother with players they have interviewed at the Senior Bowl, Combine or upcoming visits.

  • Steel PAul

    I hope so. But the real question is: would the Steelers even use a 1st rd pick on a CB??

    History suggests they will draft a big body and look for DBs in later rounds.

  • falconsaftey43

    Sometimes guys they get a good look at during pro day they don’t bring in for a visit. Although it’s hard to ignore the high draft rate of those who do visit.

  • PittsburghSports

    I agree with Lucas. I would like, and think the Steelers just might, go 50/50 with their 8 picks. I want a G/T, WR, TE and RB or QB. The first 2 are the most important imo.

  • Steel PAul

    I believe they will. I just think it would be wise to break with some approaches this year, considering the state of the D.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Ray should be there and I’d compare him to Wimbley more, that’s more appropriate comparison. I don’t think he will be a bad pick but he’s a strictly ROLB so that left me with questions regarding LOLB. If I have to guess, Harrison and Jones both will be playing at LOLB.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    DeVante Parker will probably only be drafted if he’s BPA when the Steelers select, but it’s tough not to really like him on tape. He’s explosive, has tremendous body control, great vertical (and knack for high-pointing the ball), and would make an already potent Steelers offense that much more so.

  • Orlysteel

    He’s chosen to upgrade the defense through the draft, might need to double dip like he did 07, recent picks need to blossom the situation is dire.

  • Andrew

    Here’s what I show on players who visited and were drafted since 2010

    2014 – six; Shazier, Tuitt, Bryant, Richardson, Zumwalt, Blanchflower

    2013 – four; Jarvis, Bell, Shamarko, Vince Williams

    2012 – four; Adams, Paulson, Clemons, Beachum

    2011 – four; Glibert, Cortez, Curtis Brown, Keith Williams … three other visits signed as rookie free agents – Weslye Saunders, Mario Harvey, Anhony Gray

    2010 – four; Pouncey, Sanders, Antonio Brown, Thaddeus Gibson

  • Toddy Bravo

    Their draft trend in the 1st round is usually fooling everybody. They tell everyone they’re taking the BPA. Then nobody believes them and everyone predicts they’ll draft for need. Then they take the BPA just like they said they would.

  • Vinhuddle

    I haven’t looked to see who/if they’ve brought in any CBs yet. I wonder what the probability of them drafting CBs with their first two picks. Slim? 50/50? Just a stupid thought I have?lol

  • Vinhuddle

    If he can convince the staff, Peters could very well be an excellent selection. I’m actually kinda hoping he’s the pick. The D could use a “hothead” in the lineup. But I know they seldom take on players with character issues.

  • SnoopDogg123

    I’m sticking to my original 1st round prediction which is Maxx Williams. I know Williams hasn’t visited yet, but he has the credentials of a Colbert/Tomlin 1st round pick … 1) Big Ten Conference 2) Underclassmen 3) Good measureables 4) Not an immediate need but a player good for the long run 5) Top Rated Player at his position

  • Andrew

    Taking a further trip down memory lane in 2010 … here are some names of who also visited.

    Mike Iupati
    Navarro Bowman
    Golden Tate
    Dez Bryant
    Rob Gronkowski
    Earl Thomas
    Bryan Bulaga
    Koa Misi
    Kareem Jackson
    Mike Neal
    LaGarrette Blount (yep)

    Also – Not 100% certain Thaddeus Gibson visited. My notes show Colbert and Tomlin were at OSU’s Pro Day.

  • ATL96STEELER

    I wouldn’t be shocked, but I really expect them to take Kevin Johnson @ 22 if he’s on the board which he is likely to be.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Idk if they’ve brought him in, but Tomlin apparently met with Kevin Johnson at his pro day and had dinner with the parents…that might be telling.

  • SnoopDogg123

    That pick would make sense, but I wouldn’t say it’s likely that Kevin Johnson will be on the board at #22. A lot of Teams might have him ranked as their 2nd best CB behind Waynes because of Jalen Collins foot injury Peters attitude problem.

  • steeltown

    I know it’s just a popular belief that Cleveland will take Maxx, but it really does appear that they might go that route with their second 1st Rd selection. They have nobody of merit on roster right now.

  • SnoopDogg123

    Cleveland is also dumb, haha. So who knows! It wouldn’t surprise me if they trade one of those 1st round picks to jump up & get Mariota.

  • steeltown

    I cant argue with that

  • steeltown

    I’d be surprised if they don’t bring in all 3 names mentioned.

  • ATL96STEELER

    Likely might be too strong…it is too strong, but imo Peters will still come off the board before Johnson unless he just blew the team meetings. I’d take Peters as well.

    I think 4 CBS will go 1st round.

  • Devon Day

    If we are accounting pre-draft visits, does this mean Pittsburgh has all but stated either Darby or Collins for 1st, Danielle or Kikaha for 2nd, etc.? If using that, chances are Darby, Johnson, Collins, or even Jones has a legitimate shot then. Save 2nd pick for either Hunter or Kikaha.

  • Devon Day

    “I want a G/T”

    Should Ifo drop towards the fourth round ( I doubt he will), Donovan Smith heeds the call. A ‘Diamond’ if there ever was one. Only issues reside in tech. Mike Munchak is the guy to teach him. Should he start, place him LG or RT, depending on the situation, and watch the results come mid season.

    If not, and I cannot believe I am saying this, Tyler Lockett isn’t a bad choice either. Ait assault in Pittsburgh confirmed with him? Definite yes. Pretty much Antonio Brown for the slot role, should Wheaton fail, or be a nightmare in a 4 WR set. RB would be David Johnson. Again, mirrors Le’veon Bell in every way, and has the production to prove it as well. A mismatch in passing situations, as well as a quality backup, Johnson can help Bell’s lefty load should Williams get injured.

  • Devon Day

    Highly unlikely. Johnson, Darby, Collins or Jones are the 4 current options at this point. Round 2 will most definitely go towards a pass rusher. Round three is between a safety or Ifo.

  • Devon Day

    Colbert is going to. He has no choice. To obtain higher success, one must tend to their vineyard. If they only tend towards one section, the other vines will suffer as a result. If he doesn’t, the chips will fall where the will.

  • Vinhuddle

    Good plan. I’d be excited if they drafted Ifo in the third, being the second CB they would have drafted. Besides L.Collins, I haven’t too much praise or hype on any other safeties.

  • Devon Day

    Tarquitt is the other, but haven’t really cared for this safety class to be honest. No one else screams ‘draft me’ other than Collins, and his skillset most likely isn’t going to match up well with whatever Butler is formulating.

  • Devon Day

    Ohh… safety. I meant Jalen from LSU, not Landon.

  • Toddy Bravo

    I thought for sure we were taking Golden Tate when he was there in the 2nd. I was 100% certain. Nope…Jason Worilds. The WR situation turned out ok though when we drafted the best one in football in the 6th round.

  • Orlysteel

    Grapes take a while to mature .

  • Devon Day

    But the vines that need the most help must be tended to first. 😉

  • Interesting. And yet they didn’t blink at pulling the trigger on DeCastro, which means they can love a player but think he’ll never fall to them so why waste a visit. I wonder whom among the elite this year they haven’t visited [or plan to schedule a visit] that they’d jump on if given the opportunity.

  • What scare me about Tomlin and Colbert re draft trends is their penchant for picks out of left field that ignore major team needs. Here I cite using a third round comp pick last year on an undersized one-dimensional return man when the team seriously needed CB depth/young CB/S talent. The year before it was giving away last year’s 3rd round pick for a fourth round Clev pick and Shark Thomas…only to totally waste our fourth round pick on a project third string QB whom the had to hope would never see the field [or the season in question would be toast]. In other words,it seems to me as if Tomlin and Colbert have strong delusional streaks…or at least they do NOT see the team needs as does the rest of Steelers Nation. Therefore, no fan can ever take the draft fro granted where the current Steelers regime is concerned. This is the perfect draft to snag a promising OLB/edge rusher in rounds one or two and remake our secondary in rounds one, two, three, and four…and STILL fit a high-quality BPA [hopefully an upgrade OL or a beast DL for Butler to play with], However, Mike or Kevin to blow this scenario to Kingdom Come if they indulge in another of their ‘left field whims.’

  • Toddy Bravo

    He is fun to watch. It would be hard for me to pull the trigger on him if a top CB is there, but he would instantly take the offense from very good to scary good.

  • I know they like Big Ten so I’ll add they also seen Heuermann at Ohio State’s pro day

  • Jeff Burton

    Great article. Great insight. Thanks!