Taking a Closer Look at Kevin Colbert’s 4th-Round Draft Haul Since 2000

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.

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  • HoosierSteeler?s

    Expand! Also, include undrafted rookie free agents, cause my guess is the Steelers will be #1 there!

  • Sturmbock

    I think you’re going to find that rounds 2 and 3, which were considered premium day 1 picks not long ago the Steelers fair much worse than the results for the 4th round.

    IMO, 2nd and 3rd rounders represent the core players of your team in addition to the 1st round picks. It’s part of the reason the team may face some depth issues in the not too distant future. Relying on an aging starting cast without properly developing the your core replacment players which catch up to you eventually

    • Cols714

      I don’t know. Where are the Steelers lacking young depth? The main one I can think of is Hampton, but he’s good for this year plus two more. Aaron Smith is also old, but we have Ziggy Hood.

      I guess you can say RT since Colon is out, and maybe Hines Ward’s position, bu they drafted two WR this year.

      I think they are doing a pretty good job maintaining youngish depth.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_UR6KXGPFIFYZSVJNCXCJNHDQJQ Bob Costas

    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.

    Do it!

    Pretty please.

  • JCRODRIGUEZ

    Spoiled, spoiled little boys, why are we even dicussing this non-issue?, are you telling me that we should be questioning the guys that for the last 6 years have created a year-in-year-out contender?, good lord, take a look around and be thankful for the people that are calling the shots that set this roster together. 4th round drafting success rate?, give me a break!. Please lets go back to the analisys of the actual games.

  • Ted

    Ryan, good stuff. But doesn’t this chart give the Steelers credit for Orien Harris and Ryan McBean, who went on to have somewhat productive careers with other teams despite playing one game with the Steelers between them? I bet no team in the NFL has cut as many fourth-round picks as us over the last decade without ever having them contribute or in some cases even make the roster. That was the point of my blog, and the Steelers should not be praised for drafting a 4th-rounder, cutting him and then he becomes a contributor somewhere else.

    I was not upset about drafting Harris, McBean or Fred Gibson, because they were all good value-picks (based on draft experts) at positions of need. But drafting Thad Gibson to be the 9th LB at our deepest and best position and as our 2nd OLB in the same draft; and then cutting him due to that depth at the position, all made for a stupid use of a fourth-round pick for a team that could have used a young NT to groom. That being said, I still like Colbert drafting because of the first round.

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      Ted,

      Yep, I think that’s right. PFR doesn’t care about for whom the player plays, just their production. That said, if the Steelers had drafted a bunch of stiffs, they’d be out of the league and that would count against their CarAV. If anything, I think this points to the year-in, year-out depth on Pittsburgh’s roster that they sometimes have to cut young, potentially promising players.

      It doesn’t mean Colbert & Co. can’t identify talent, just that there’s not always enough room on the roster to keep them. In a league that’s all about trade-offs, that’s a good problem to have.

  • deljzc

    The use of CarAV from ProFootballReference also great weight OLDER players (drafted from 2000-2004) vs. newer players (2006-2010).

    No player drafted since 2008 has even a 10+ in CarAV yet.

    So what this really benefits is teams that hit home runs early in the 2000′s with a 4th round pick greatly benefit in the analysis.

    And even current critics of Colbert (myself one of them) give him and Cowher credit for good drafts in 2002 and 2003 – two years where Colbert and Co. had huge hits with 4th rounders Ike Taylor and Larry Foote. Those players have combined for 244 games played and provide 70.7% of our total CarAV.

    The truth is grading recent drafts is subjective. I am as curious as anyone if Colon stays on the team and how his CarAV ends up. Maybe he will be the weighted positive that keeps Colbert and Co. in the top 10 of this analysis. Do this test again in 3-4 seasons and Colbert’s numbers likely plummet as we know 2011-2013 drafts will provide little CarAV (to few seasons) and you take off Talyer/Foote from the analysis and are left with a pretty drab group from Fred Gibson on.

    My criticism of Colbert is not his performance in 2000-2004 with Cowher. He had some solid drafts that provided not only long-term starters, but also found a franchise quarterback. My criticism of Colbert has always lied with his 2006-2009 drafts, which I thought contained numerous frivilous picks in the later rounds, an arrogance that the team was “deep enough” and a failure to address problem areas on the team with a long-term strategy. In my opinion, his use of day-2 picks looked like a cheap way out to try and fix special teams at the expense of team depth and developing starter talent. And I haven’t even touched on his questionable selection of four (4) 5th round QB’s during the past decade that have pretty much amounted to nothing.

    • http://www.steelerslounge.com/ ryan

      Good point on old players vs. new players. And I agree, grading recent drafts is subjective, and it’s perfectly reasonable to wonder aloud why the front office did X instead of Y the past few years. That said, taken in totality, Colbert & Co. have been very good the last decade, much better than conventional wisdom suggested. Now, we’ll know more in five years about the 2006-2010 crop of late-rounders, but all in all, I have trouble getting too worked up about it.

      • deljzc

        Well, part of the fun is getting worked up about it. That’s kind of why sites like this exist – we over analyze every minute detail of games, drafts, personnel decisions, etc.

        In my opinion, the drafts from 2006 to 2009 have been disappointments. I have been 100% behind the 2010 draft class thinking it’s Colbert’s best in half a decade (by far) even if I’m shocked and dismayed at the Thaddeus Gibson decision. The fact we had 17 new faces from this roster to 2009 and that many of the draft picks in 2010 replaced those drafted during 2006-2009 tells me a lot.

        We are an old team and I am not as quick to brush away poor drafts in the last half decade so quickly. We’ll see how things work out and maybe another above average draft in 2011 can help provide the depth and developmental talent this team needs.

        I’m still hopeful. But I am also not going to be afraid in calling out Colbert in what I believe is average to below average drafting in the last half decade – particularly after round 1.

  • http://www.paddlebrush.net/choosing-a-brush-a-guide-for-the-beginning-artist/ round brush

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  • http://www.paddlebrush.net/choosing-a-brush-a-guide-for-the-beginning-artist/ round brush

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