Dissecting the Pittsburgh Steelers Lack of Recent Success Under General Manager Kevin Colbert

NFL: CombineA Pittsburgh Steelers franchise that has had less turnover than any other team in the National Football League over the last half century may be on the verge of blowing up their front office after what appears to be a second consecutive down season.

We are hearing that there is a possibility that general manager Kevin Colbert may not be around for the 2014 NFL draft. A lot of this may just be conjecture from some within the organization, but according to the individual I spoke with, Colbert’s status following the 2013 season depends heavily on how the Steelers finish the season and the way their youngsters perform.

Colbert, who has been with Pittsburgh since 2010, took control of the general manager duties in 2010, but was its director of football operations in the previous 11 seasons. Organizational philosophy hasn’t changed one iota during that time. The Steelers focus is on the NFL draft and building from within, while avoiding free agency at all cost. This is evidenced by the fact that 72 percent of their 53-man roster are original members of the organization and haven’t played for another team.

While this is a sound philosophy and has been utilized by some of the most consistently good organizations in the NFL, it isn’t without risk. Teams must hit on the draft at a much larger rate than other teams who hit the free agent market on a consistent basis. An inability to do this can lead to a downswing in talent year to year.

This is exactly what we have seen from the now 2-6 Steelers. And Colbert is to blame. Let’s just take a look at some of his misses over the years.

Ta’amu is one of many misses for Kevin Colbert over the past few years.

 

2012: Alameda Ta’amu, Defensive Tackle, Washington (Fourth Round, 109th Pick) 

Career Statistics: Six games and three starts (zero regular season appearances with the Steelers)

Other Players Available: Brandon Boykin and Miles Burris

 

2012: Sean Spence, Linebacker, Miami (Third Round, 86th Pick

Career Statistics: Zero games

Other Players Available: Nick Foles, T.Y. Hilton, Brandon Thompson and Lamar Miller

 

2012: Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State (Second Round, 56th Pick)

Career Statistics: 17 games and 12 starts

Other Players Available: Lavonte David, Casey Hayward, Russell Wilson and Demario Davis

 

2011: Curtis Brown, Cornerback, Texas (Third Round, 95th Pick

Career Statistics: 31 games, zero starts and nine tackles

Other Players Available: K.J. Wright, Clint Boling, Jordan Cameron, Cecil Shorts III and Julius Thomas

 

Randall Cobb would like mighty good in the yellow and black.

2011: Marcus Gilbert, Offensive Tackle, Florida (Second Round, 63rd Pick) 

Career Statistics: 27 games and 26 starts

Other Players Available: Randall Cobb, Justin Houston, DeMarco Murray, Stevan Ridley and Chris Culliver

 

2011: Cameron Heyward, Defensive Tackle, Ohio State (First Round, 31st Pick) 

Career Statistics: 39 games, five starts, 35 tackles and 3.5 sacks

Other Players Available: Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Jabaal Sheard, Akeem Ayers, Rahim Moore, Shane Vereen and Randall Cobb

 

2010: Jason Worilds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech (Second Round, 52nd Pick)

Career Statistics: 50 games, 14 starts, 54 tackles and 13 sacks

Other Players Available: Carlos Dunlap, Sean Lee, Golden Tate, Brandon Spikes, Morgan Burnett and Ben Tate

 

2009: Kraig Urbik, Guard, Wisconsin (Third Round, 79th pick) 

Career Statistics: 46 games, 37 starts (didn’t play a single regular season game with Pittsburgh).

Other Players Available: Lardarius Webb, Henry Melton, T.J. Lang and Jared Cook

 

2008: Limas Sweed, Wide Receiver, Texas (Second Round, 53rd pick). 

Career Statistics: 20 games, seven receptions, 69 yards and zero touchdowns

Other Players Available: Ray Rice, Kendall Langford and Jamaal Charles

 

2008: Bruce Davis, Linebacker, UCLA (Third Round, 88th Pick)

Career Statistics: 15 games, zero starts

Other Players Available: Jermichael Finley, Cliff Avril, Thomas DeCoud and Tyvon Branch

 

While it’s subjective to look at where a team missed with draft picks and where they could have gone instead, the simple fact that Pittsburgh has selected three players in the first four rounds over the past five seasons that haven’t even suited up for them during a regular season game is pretty alarming. In addition, Colbert reaching for players he likely could have acquired later in the draft has been somewhat problematic.

Here are the total number of starters on Pittsburgh’s current roster from each of the last six drafts.

Steelers hope David DeCastro bucks the trend of early-round picks struggling.

2013: Le’Veon Bell, Jarvis Jones and Vince Williams

2012: David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum

2011: Marcus Gilbert and Cortez Allen

2010: Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown

2009: None

2008: None

That’s a total of just nine starters over the past six season. Center Maurkice Pouncey is among the best at his position, but is currently sitting on injure reserve. Of those nine starters, at least four have to be considered less-than-average NFL starters at this point. Meanwhile the likes of Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis have moved on in free agency because Pittsburgh was unable to retain them.

That’s just not sustainable.

For comparison’s sake, here are the players Pittsburgh was able to get in the six drafts prior to 2008…

2007: Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley

2006: Santonio Holmes

2005: Heath Miller

2004: Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks

2003: Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor

2002:  Larry Foote and Brett Keisel

When you have more starters on your team in drafts that took place close to a decade ago than over the past four seasons, that’s going to be an issue. These players have aged and aren’t going to be around for too much longer. The reality is, Colbert has failed to build a stockpile of young players to replace these veterans. This is one of the primary reasons someone like Vince Williams is starting as a rookie at linebacker.

Now take a look at some of the consistent contenders in the NFL and what they have done since Pittsburgh aced a draft (2007). It’s rather stunning…

 

Courtesy of SF Gate: 49ers nabbed more quality starters in one draft than the Steelers have in their last six drafts combined.

San Francisco 49ers

2013: Eric Reid, Tank Carradine, Vance McDonald, Corey Lemonier, Quinton Patton, Marcus Lattimore, Quinton Dial and Marcus Cooper (now with Kansas City).

2012: LaMichael James

2011:  Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, Chris Culliver, Kendall Hunter and Bruce Miller

2010: Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati and NaVorro Bowman

2009: Michael Crabtree and Ricky-Jean Francois

2008: N/A

2007: Patrick Willis, Joe Staley. Ray McDonald, Dashon Goldson and Tarell Brown

 

Seattle Seahawks

2013: Christine Michael and Luke Willson

2012: Bruce Irvin, Bobby Wagner, Russell Wilson and J.R. Sweezy

2011: K.J. Wright, Richard Sherman and Malcolm Smith

2010: Russell Okung, Earl Thomas, Golden Tate, Walter Thurmond and Kam Chancellor

2009: Max Unger

2008: Red Bryant

2007: Brandon Mebane

 

 

Courtesy of ESPN: Where Green Bay has nabbed multiple Pro Bowl-caliber players in single drafts, Pittsburgh has acquired just one in its last six.

Green Bay Packers

2013: Datone Jones, Eddie Lacy and David Bakhtiari

2012: Nick Perry and Casey Hayward

2011: Randall Cobb

2010: Bryan Bulaga, Mike Neal, Morgan Burnett and James Starks

2009: B.J. Raji, Clay Matthews, T.J. Lang and Brad Jones

2008: Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley and Josh Sitton

2007:  James Jones and Mason Crosby

 

New England Patriots

2013: Jamie Collins and Aaron Dobson

2012: Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower and Alfonzo Dennard

2011: Nate Solder, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley and Ryan Mallett

2010: Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Spikes

2009: Sebastian Vollmer and Julian Edelman

2008: Jerod Mayo

2007: N/A

 

I chose to look at these four teams because they have followed Pittsburgh’s MO of building through the draft, which is a philosophy that represents the best chance at sustained success over a long period of time. These teams haven’t hit on every picks and have even had some pretty bad drafts.

A prime example of this would be San Francisco’s 2012 draft. The only players currently on its roster from that draft are LaMichael James and Joe Looney, both of whom haven’t made any type of impact for the defending champs. The same could be said for Justin Harrell and Derek Sherrod in Green Bay, Patrick Chung and Ron Brace in New England and Aaron Curry in Seattle.

With that said, these four teams have hit on a ton more draft picks over the past six or seven seasons than the Steelers. In the end, the blame must be placed on Colbert and the scouting department in Pittsburgh. Short of firing head coach Mike Tomlin, which isn’t in the cards, the Steelers may have to go in another direction in the front office.

In the end, losing 11 of your last 15 regular seasons games won’t get it done for this proud franchise. As unfair as it might sound, Colbert and Co. may have set the bar too high. It’s now up to him to live up to those expectations if he’s given a little more time.

Honestly, we just don’t see that happening.