Steelers

Analyzing 20 years of Colbert drafts: 2000-04 ☕

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Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) with GM Kevin Colbert walk off the field after a win in Jacksonville, Fla. -- MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Twenty years ago, Bill Cowher won a front-office battle with director of football operations Tom Donahoe to stick with the Steelers.

The two men had become like oil and water. They could no longer coexist, with Donahoe trying to exert control over Cowher as if he were his boss, and Cowher balking at those overtures.

Dan Rooney, deciding it was easier to find a new director of football operations -- in essence, a general manager -- let Donahoe go, hiring Pittsburgh native Kevin Colbert, then a 42-year-old director of pro scouting with the Lions, as his replacement.

It's been 20 years since that move was made. In that period, the Steelers have gone 197-105-2, been to three Super Bowls and won two. They have advanced to the AFC Championship five times and had one losing season.

And it's been done largely with the same philosophy the Steelers have used for years: Build through the draft and use free agency sparingly.

As part of this series, we'll take a look at the drafts Colbert has overseen, judging the hits and misses over that period, and issuing a letter grade for each draft.

Today, a look at the first five drafts of Colbert's tenure, 2000-2004:

2000

Round 1, Plaxico Burress, WR, Michigan State; Round 2, Marvel Smith, OT, Arizona State; Round 3, Kendrick Clancy, NT, Mississippi; Round 3, Hank Poteat, CB, Pitt; Round 4, Danny Farmer, WR, UCLA; Round 5, Clark Haggans, LB, Colorado State; Round 5, Tee Martin, QB, Tennessee; Round 6, Chris Combs, DE, Duke; Round 6, Jason Gavadza, TE, Kent

Best Pick: Smith -- There are several picks to choose from here as the Steelers hit on their top three picks. Burress, the eighth-overall pick in the draft, was selected one spot ahead of Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, which hurts, but still had a solid career. He had 264 receptions for more than 4,200 yards and 23 touchdowns with the Steelers. He finished his career with more than 500 receptions for nearly 8,500 yards and 64 touchdowns, winning a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2008. But Smith was a nine-year starter at right and then left tackle for the Steelers, appearing in 111 career games and winning two Super Bowl rings with the team. He was never a star, going to the Pro Bowl just once in his career. But he was a solid player. Getting him with the 38th selection was a steal.

Best Value: Haggans -- Joey Porter's teammate at Colorado State, Haggans was reunited with his bookend with the Steelers. It took a few years for him to take over for Jason Gildon, but Haggans wound up being a nice Robin to Porter's Batman once Gildon was gone. The fifth-round pick started 61 games for the Steelers, recording 32.5 sacks.

Worst Pick: Martin -- Farmer could have been the choice here, but Martin is the pick, and not because he was a flop. A fifth-round quarterback can't be a flop. Martin is the pick here because of the quarterbacks selected after him. Pittsburgh-native Mark Bulger was taken five picks later by the Saints. Some guy named Tom Brady went with the first supplemental pick in the sixth round.

Overall Grade: B-plus

2001

Round 1, Casey Hampton, NT, Texas; Round 2, Kendrell Bell, LB, Georgia; Round 4, Mathias Nkwenti, OT, Temple; Round 5, Chukky Okobi, C, Purdue; Round 6, Rodney Bailey, DE, Ohio State; Round 7, Roger Knight, LB, Wisconsin; Round 7, Chris Taylor, WR, Texas A&M

Best Pick: Hampton -- Bell won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, but Hampton had the staying power and helped set the tone for a defense that was arguably the best of the decade. He was a five-time Pro Bowl player and started all three Super Bowls for the Steelers.

Best Value: Bell -- When you get the top defensive rookie in football in the second round, it's good value. The only issue with Bell was he didn't have staying power. But he was a three-year starter for the Steelers and produced 240 tackles and 18 sacks in 47 games. Okobi got some consideration here, but Bell was more impactful.

Worst Pick: Nkwenti -- The former Temple star looked the part, but appeared in just two career games. Yes, it was a fourth-round pick, but the next offensive tackle taken in the draft, Ryan Diem, played 10 seasons with the Colts.

Overall Grade: B-plus

2002

Round 1, Kendall Simmons, G, Auburn; Round 2, Antwaan Randle El, WR, Indiana; Round 3, Chris Hope, S, Florida State; Round 4, Larry Foote, LB, Michigan; Round 5, Verron Haynes, RB, Georgia; Round 6, Lee Mays, WR, Texas El-Paso; Round 7, LaVar Glover, S, Cincinnati; Round 7, Brett Keisel, DE, BYU

Best Pick: Keisel -- There's a lot to choose from in this draft, as Simmons, Randle El, Hope, Foote and Haynes all became contributors to Super Bowl wins. But we'll go with Keisel, the 242nd player selected in the draft, as the pick here. A seventh-round pick with 114 career starts? That works.

Best Value: Foote -- If Keisel was the best pick, Foote, the 2001 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, was the best value. He wasn't the biggest. He wasn't the fastest. But he was a football player. Foote appeared in 187 career games, including 158 with the Steelers over two stints.

Worst Pick: Mays -- We had to pick someone from this class, so we went with Mays, whom I dubbed Mr. May at one point in his career. He looked great in shorts and would show off his speed in minicamp settings. Despite sticking around four years, he caught just 11 passes. He also averaged just 20.8 yards on 38 career kick returns. How did he stick around that long?

Overall Grade: A

2003

Round 1, Troy Polamalu, S, USC; Round 2, Alonzo Jackson, LB, Florida State; Round 4, Ike Taylor, CB, Lousiana-Lafayette; Round 5, Brian St. Pierre, QB, Boston College; Round 7, J.T. Wall, RB, Georgia

Best Pick: Polamalu -- Anytime you draft a first-ballot Hall-of-Fame player, it has to be the best pick. The Steelers traded up to get Polamalu. And though he struggled in his rookie season, he was the key defensive player on two Super Bowl wins and won an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

Best Value: Taylor -- Taylor appeared in 174 career games, including 140 starts. Although he intercepted just 14 passes in his career, he was a very solid corner for a long time. The Steelers gave up their third-round pick to go up and get Polamalu. Taylor more than made up for that, giving the Steelers back-to-back fourth-round hits after Foote in 2002.

Worst Pick: Jackson -- In two years with the Steelers (how did he last that long?) Jackson appeared in nine games and recorded eight tackles. It's long been rumored Jackson was a player Cowher pushed for. But the bust still goes on Colbert's ledger. That bust drops this class a letter grade.

Overall Grade: B-plus

2004

Round 1, Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami (Ohio); Round 2, Ricardo Colclough, CB, Tusculum; Round 3, Max Starks, OT, Florida; Round 5, Nathaniel Adibi, LB, Virginia Tech; Round 6, Bo Lacy, OT Arkansas; Round 6, Matt Kranchick, TE, Penn State; Round 6, Drew Caylor, C, Stanford; Round 7, Eric Taylor, DE, Memphis

Best Pick: Roethlisberger -- Cowher wanted offensive tackle Shawn Andrews, who went to the Eagles with the 16th selection. Rooney overruled him. And while Andrews was a good player, he's not headed to the Hall of Fame as Roethlisberger is. The Steelers got their franchise quarterback 11th overall, setting the stage for a whole lot of winning.

Best Value: Starks -- Starks appeared in 123 career games for the Steelers, starting 96. He also started both Super Bowl wins. Some fans only remember the Steelers overpaying for him with the franchise tag, but he was a very solid player for them.

Worst Pick: Colclough -- We nearly went with Adibi here, as he didn't make it out of training camp and never appeared in an NFL game. But the Steelers traded up to get Colclough. He appeared in 36 games over four seasons with the Steelers, intercepting one pass. Colclough did serve as the team's primary kick returner his first two seasons, but that didn't justify the second-round pick. This was a draft in which Colbert said on draft day the team was taking guys late who would battle for the practice squad. That wound up being the case. But getting a franchise QB and a longtime starter at OT helped offset some of the bad selections.

Overall Grade: B

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