The draft is a contentious issue with Steelers fans, especially when a rookie makes the team out of training camp, ends up getting cut during the season, and worse: is signed by another team. It happens just about every year, and just about every year some of us end up defending Kevin Colbert against the charges that he drafts lemons after the first round.
I think most of us are, in general, happy with the job the front office does identifying talent and fielding a team. In fact, ecstatic might be a better word. Just look around the NFL; plenty of organizations have their heads up their collective asses when it comes to putting together a roster, working the salary cap and striking the right balance between draft picks and free-agent acquisitions. It’s a cliche, but the whole process is an art. There are going to be misses.
I was thinking about all this after Ted’s post on Thaddeus Gibson’s untimely departure. The Steelers 2010 fourth-round pick was released last week to make room for fat body Steve McLendon, and Mike Tomlin’s reasoning went something like this: We’re deep at linebacker, Gibson’s low man on the totem pole, sorry dude.
Other folks were calling for Tony Hills to get the ax, and I was partial to Jonathan Dwyer. Tomlin went with Gibson, and I assume he did so knowing full well that another team would make a waiver claim for him. And that’s exactly what happened.
In Ted’s post he made it clear that Colbert “is arguably the best in the league in the ultra-important first round, in large part because he drafts on college production, filling needs with players who fit the Steelers’ schemes while taking few risks in the opening round.”
But after round 1, “Colbert has essentially been an average drafter, with plenty of hits and more misses, like almost everyone else in the league. But in the fourth-round, I’d rather have any reader of this blog draft for the Steelers in that one round based on Colbert’s history.”
Well, this sounds like an empirical question. In September, I wrote about the first-round offensive lineman draft myth, and today seems like as good a time as any to take a look at Colbert’s record with fourth-round picks.
(Before getting into this, let me state that, knowing some of you folks, I wouldn’t want you making my fantasy fourth-round selections. Much less decisions that would directly effect my happiness 17 weeks a year. Hey, just being honest.)
Alright, let’s get to this…
First things first: all data are courtesy of Pro Football Reference, as is the methodology for determining a player’s value based on their NFL productivity. I used PFR’s Career Approximate Value (CarAV), which is explained in great detail here.
The short(ish) version (if you don’t care about such things, please skip this paragraph — you’ve been warned): “Essentially, AV is a substitute for — and a significant improvement upon, in my opinion — metrics like ‘number of seasons as a starter’ or ‘number of times making the pro bowl’ or the like. You should think of it as being essentially like those two metrics, but with interpolation in between. That is, ‘number of seasons as a starter’ is a reasonable starting point if you’re trying to measure, say, how good a particular draft class is, or what kind of player you can expect to get with the #13 pick in the draft. But obviously some starters are better than others. Starters on good teams are, as a group, better than starters on bad teams. Starting WRs who had lots of receiving yards are, as a group, better than starting WRs who did not have many receiving yards. Starters who made the pro bowl are, as a group, better than starters who didn’t, and so on. And non-starters aren’t worthless, so they get some points too.”
In the table below I averaged the CarAV of each team’s fourth-round picks dating back to 2000 since that was Colbert’s first year in Pittsburgh. I understand that general managers and personnel types across the league have come and gone, but in the interest of time, I looked at players taken between 2000-2010.
Rank Tm CarAV # Picks 1 IND 16.75 12 2 NYJ 15.88 9 3 PIT 14.50 8 4 ATL 14.10 10 5 NOR 14.00 7 6 CHI 13.50 13 7 MIN 12.82 12 8 JAX 12.56 9 9 DEN 12.40 15 10 CIN 11.92 15 11 NYG 11.50 10 12 HOU 11.22 9 13 SDG 11.18 11 14 GNB 10.82 11 15 BAL 10.64 12 16 DAL 10.50 13 17 NWE 9.93 16 18 KAN 9.90 10 19 STL 9.55 12 20 ARI 9.38 9 21 MIA 9.29 7 22 BUF 9.27 11 23 SEA 9.08 14 24 CLE 8.79 14 25 TEN 8.52 22 26 TAM 7.25 9 27 PHI 7.23 14 28 CAR 6.75 9 29 SFO 6.33 9 30 DET 5.67 3 30 WAS 5.67 3 32 OAK 2.29 8
(Note to nerds: here’s a link to the data.)
The takeaway? Based on CarAV, the Steelers and Colbert ranked third in the NFL from 2000-2010 when it came to drafting — and getting production from — fourth-round picks. Third. Overall. Behind the Colts and the Jets.
Obviously, this doesn’t address issues like, “Why the hell did they take a guy who plays (any position five-deep on the depth chart) when they could have addressed the offensive line (it’s always the offensive line)!”
Fair enough. As I’ve said before, though, there’s a reason nobody asks us for personnel advice when assembling a roster. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk about it, just reiterating the point that Colbert & Co., despite the occasional whinging from the torch-and-pitchfork crowd, know what they’re doing.
Are they perfect? Nope. But on average, they’re among the best in the NFL at what they do. To paraphrase Tomlin: When he gets to work everyday, he doesn’t walk past six draft titles, he walks past six Lombardi trophies. Just saying.
*One more thing: there’s a chance we’ll expand this little post to look at the entire draft, rounds 1-7, to settle — once and for all (!) — where the Steelers and Colbert rank as a personnel department.