The Definitive Kevin Colbert Draft Resource

While I agree with commenter JCRodriguez that we should be more focused on analyzing an upcoming game or a recently played game as opposed to the waiver claim of a fourth-round draft pick, or the draft in general, the bottom line is the Pittsburgh Steelers are an unstoppable conversation machine. The draft is one topic that will always be active, regardless of what the team’s record is or how well — or poorly — it’s playing.

That said, we’re going to get this all out of our system today and beat you over the head with it all at once. So let’s continue…

We’ve already had our impromptu point-counterpoint style arguments from Ted and Ryan offering two very different views of Kevin Colbert’s fourth-round record in the draft. In a vacuum, it doesn’t look that good with four contributing players out of 11 picks. But when compared to the rest of the NFL and how the Steelers competitors do in the same round, Pittsburgh has managed to get more value out of its picks than all but two teams in the league: Indianapolis and the New York Jets. Obviously, that’s pretty solid.

Ryan pointed out that we were thinking about an expanded look that takes all seven rounds of the Colbert-era (which included the second-most successful decade in the history of the franchise) into account. And here it is. We’re using the same metric that Ryan used in his fourth-round analysis, the Career Approximate Value that comes courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.

This chart shows the Steelers average CarAV by round, where that average ranks when compared to the rest of the NFL, and what the league average is in said round.

Steelers Draft Success: By Round In Colbert Era
1 38.2 3 27.5
2 23.0 6 18.7
3 13.6 10 12.1
4 14.5 3 10.3
5 6.7 17 7.7
6 3.7 21 6.8
7 6.1 15 5.7

Obviously, as you go deeper into the draft the value of each pick drops, which is demonstrated by the steadily declining league average CarAV. From rounds 1-4 the Steelers are consistently the best in the NFL, before dropping off to average to slightly below average in rounds 5-7. I’d love to go back and compare their track record with Undrafted Free Agents, but that would nearly impossible to track.

I also went ahead and compared the Steelers total drafts (rounds 1-7) to the rest of the league. Not surprisingly, they’re elite.

NFL Teams Draft Success: Colbert Era
New York Jets 17.9
San Diego Chargers 16.6
Pittsburgh Steelers 15.8
New York Giants 15.0
Arizona Cardinals 15.0
Indianapolis Colts 14.9
New Orleans Saints 14.6
Baltimore Ravens 14.5
Chicago Bears 14.2
New England Patriots 13.8
Jacksonville Jaguars 13.8
Carolina Panthers 13.7
Philadelphia Eagles 13.2
Cincinnati Bengals 13.1
Minnesota Vikings 12.9
Seattle Seahawks 12.6
Dallas Cowboys 12.5
Denver Broncos 12.4
Green Bay Packers 12.3
San Francisco 49ers 12.2
Cleveland Browns 11.9
Atlanta Falcons 11.7
Houston Texans 11.6
Buffalo Bills 11.4
Washington Redskins 11.3
Tennessee Titans 11.2
St. Louis Rams 10.7
Detroit Lions 10.4
Oakland Raiders 10.2
Miami Dolphins 9.7
Kansas City Chiefs 9.6
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 8.9
NFL Average 12.7

And there we have it. Despite picking near the back end of the draft for the past decade — because they’re always winning — the Steelers have still been one of the most efficient teams in the NFL and finding players every April. Not hard to see why they’ve been one of the most successful teams on the field over the past decade as well.

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  • Ted

    Great post and research, Adam. One contention, though, is that formula awards you for being a starter even if the starter sucks. Thus, Kendall Simmons is not a bust as a first-round pick because he started for several years. But yet, as far as first-round guards go, he had a bad career and was arguably the only first-round bust of Colbert’s tenure.

    Should Trai Essex have been considered a good third-round pick. Based on that formula, yes. Based on production and talent, then it is debateable.

    • Anonymous

      CAV accounts for those things, albeit crudely. If you are a starter on a good offense, you are likely to be above average. Not true for everybody, but it averages out.

    • Cols714

      Of course Trai Essex is considered a good pick. He’s a starting guard on a very good team. Even if he was just a backup swing type of tackle he’d be a good pick.

  • ryan

    To be fair, PFR’s statistic does a lot more than award points for being a starter although they realize, like any metric, there are flaws. That said, it’s a vast improvement on counting “starts” or “Pro Bowls” or worse: guessing.Also: I don’t think anybody anywhere would call Kendall Simmons a Colbert draft bust since Simmons was a very good player for the Steelers until he was diagnosed with adult-onset diabetes and blew out his knee. Regarding Trai’s worth, PFR ranks him 15th in CarAV compared to his o-line 2005 draft class. That’s out of 29 guys. That makes him about average, which is pretty much what most of us would call him.

  • Mark

    Is it the drafting or maybe it’s the coaching and owner management that makes good players?


    WHAT???!!…are you telling me that Colbert is only 21st on the sixth round??!!…FIRED HIM!!!…like, NOW!!!, we can not stand THAT kind of draft results…bring Matt Millen!!!!

    • countertorque

      To be fair, no one was suggesting that Colbert is bad at his job overall. Ted’s claim was that Colbert was average after the first round. And the results show that he is average in the later rounds. The common perception that I have heard is that Colbert isn’t very good on the 2nd day. And 4th round (and recent restructuring of the draft format) aside, that turns out to be a pretty accurate assessment.

      Like everyone else has stated, I think he’s largely responsible for the Steelers’ recent success. But, clearly ability to make superior picks does have some limits. I seriously doubt any individual GM is going to be able to grade out much better on this metric.

  • HoosierSteelers

    I’m again pushing for doing the undrafted free agents. My suggestion is instead of finding the average CarAV for each year, just find the max for each year (this throws away a bunch of info, but finding one good undrafted player in a given year is much more important than the average of those undrafted players CarAV). Then average across 2000-2010.

    • Gretz

      I thought about trying to do something with UDFA’s but I have absolutely no idea where to begin for other teams, even if you’re just finding the best guy in a given year. You figure each team brings in what, 15 guys every year? And that’s for 32 teams over 10 years.

  • Anonymous

    Another useful modification that would of course be more work would be not to count the portion of a drafted players career following being cut. It’s less a pure draft metric and more a young talent metric.

  • EasyLikeSundayMorning

    I think Colbert has been very, very good in round three. Assuming Sanders and Lewis become at least average players, Colbert has picked 10 average-to-excellent players out of 13 third round picks in 11 years.

    I’d like to dig into the formula that puts this as only 10th best in the league, as that really seems hard to imagine. I only looked up the drafts for the Pats and Chiefs, and neither have been in the same planet. You can do your own research here:

    Here are the 3rd round picks under Colbert:
    2010: Emmanuel Sanders, WR, already a contributor, looks like a strong prospect
    2009: Mike Wallace, WR, starter, likely will be a Pro Bowler soon; Keenan Lewis, CB, unclear what his career will be but the coaches like him
    2008: Bruce Davis, LB, total bust
    2007: Matt Spaeth, TE, serviceable back up
    2006: Anthony Smith, S, bust; Willie Reid, WR, injured / bust
    2005: Trai Essex, T, currently our starting RG, average NFL guard
    2004: Max Starks, T, starting LT, a very good player
    2003: Ike Taylor, CB, starting CB, very good player
    2002: Chris Hope, S, was a starter, signed after Super Bowl with Titans and remains a borderline Pro Bowler
    2001: No picks
    2000: Kendrick Clancy, DT, still in the NFL on the Saints, used to be a serviceable starter for someone; Hank Poteat, DB, wasn’t good for us but was serviceable for other teams like the Pats and Jets through the 2008 season.

    Oh, and most of this was culled from the data I pulled for my comment post from a few weeks ago: I accidentally posted it there, too.

    • ryan

      ELSM,Two small things: Ike was a 4th-rounder in 2003. And Urbik was as 3rd-rounder in ’09 and, obviously, has been set free.

  • deljzc

    Any chance you have the spreadsheet data on this too like you did on the 4th round column?

  • TO

    Problem is, this is Colbert era versus multiple GMs on most other teams. I would like to see Colbert’s averages versus other GMs averages – not just teams. Such as Pioli, Loomis, etc.