In part I of “Steelers Drafts of the 21st Century: The Colbert Record,” we looked at the Steelers drafts from ’00 to ’03. Now we turn our attention to Kevin Colbert’s performance during the last four years.
The 2004 draft was simultaneously his biggest triumph and his biggest disappointment. It is his biggest triumph because it netted Ben Roethlisberger.
Big Ben is Pittsburgh’s first legitimate franchise quarterback since Terry Bradshaw. They recently signed Roethlisberger to a long-term deal and, provided they can protect him, Ben is poised to be a dominate quarterback for a long time to come. To understand this significance, consider: Mark Malone, Todd Blackledge, Andre Ware, Jeff George, David Klingler, Rick Mier, Health Shuler, Jeff Drukenmiller, Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cabe McNown. All of these can’t miss first round quarterbacks did.
The price of misfiring on a quarterback in the first round is extremely high, but perhaps the rewards of getting it right are even greater. The Steelers hit the nail on the head with Roethlisberger, and that remains Colbert’s crowning achievement.
Alas, the Steelers scored scant little else in the 2004 draft. The 2008 season should be the 2004 draft class’ moment to shine. But of the nine players Pittsburgh picked that year, only two remain with the team. Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks.
Ricardo Colclough flashed as a rookie, but never contributed as a corner, and failed miserably as a kick returner. Calk Colclough up as the second time Colbert laid an egg on day one of the draft. Indeed, tight end Matt Kranchick was the only other player from that draft to even make the team.
Colbert’s 2005 draft showed some improvement. Health Miller has been excellent thus far and he only looks to improve. As a second round pick, you’d like to see Bryant McFadden starting at this point in his career, but he has contributed, he has pushed for playing time, and he still might pay dividends.
Trai Essex is somewhat of a disappointment as a third round pick, but his play in late 2007 also shows that he is far from being a complete bust. The other notable pick from the 2005 draft is Chris Kemoeatu whose metal has yet to be tested. That will change soon.
The latter quarter of Colbert’s draft record is difficult to evaluate, because those players are still developing. However, it appears that he continues to do well on day one, with a drop off there after. Santonio Holmes caused a panic with his two arrests in two months of being drafted. Since then he has kept himself clean, and shown that he is someone who the Steelers can use to stretch the field.
Early on, third round draft pick Anthony Smith won fame as a big hitter. Of late his reputation is that of a big talker. Mike Tomlin appears intent on rehabilitating Smith, so Smith remains a work in progress. Willie Reid has gotten little playing time, largely due to injuries, so his potential is still unknown. With the departure of Cedric Wilson, Reid should have his opportunity.
The jury is likewise still out on Willie Colon. During Cowher’s final year, the coaching staff seemed intent on phasing out Starks in favor of Colon, and Tomlin’s first offensive staff followed through with that. However, Colon has thus far done little as a starter to justify the team’s faith in him.
It’s way too early to draw conclusions on the 2007 draft, although the first day again looks like a success. Injuries slowed Lawrence Timmons development, but coaches are projecting that he’ll push James Foote for playing time. With James Farrior approaching his mid-30’s an up an comer at inside linebacker would be a welcome sign.
LaMarr Woodley recorded four sacks in limited playing time and added two more during the payoffs – so we know why the Steelers let Clark Haggans go. Third round pick Matt Speath hasn’t done much more than catch touch downs. Indeed, of eight players taken, seven are still on the roster, although only punter Dan Sepulveda has gotten significant playing time. (Sepulveda has shown he has to tools, now he needs to be consistent.)
While Colbert does deserve criticism for the disappointments of the 2004 and 2005 drafts, the blame does not entirely fall on his shoulders. Steelers Digest's Bob Labroila has written extensively on Bill Cowher’s propensity to focus on filling training camp roster needs over picking the best player during the latter part of his reign.
It seems that the Steelers have rededicated themselves to avoiding drafting for need, and if that is the case it will be a welcome change for Steelers Nation, whose attention is now intensely focused on the on the 2008 draft.