Kevin Colbert took the silver medal in NFL.com’s 2021 rankings of the best general managers in football. In Gregg Rosenthal’s rankings, Colbert finished second only behind the Colts’ Chris Ballard. Rosenthal’s rankings were judged solely off draft classes and not overall team success, important context to note in this rankings.
In Rosenthal’s explanation of Colbert’s ranking, he writes:
“Colbert never finished below third in my previous iterations of the GM Power Rankings, and the new parameters in this year’s exercise doesn’t change his standing. His first-round picks since 2015 include T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, as well as one used to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Colbert’s legendary run of drafting wideouts has continued apace, with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in the last six years, none in the top 45 picks. Even his poor drafts, such as in 2016, usually have a gem (Javon Hargrave), while classes like the Steelers’ 2020 group (included starters Kevin Dotson, Alex Highsmith and Claypool) are a regular occurrence. Colbert’s draft record is the biggest reason why the Steelers have the third-most wins in the NFL since he became the team’s GM in 2010. His place this high despite some lost drafts (2018) is also a sign there’s not that much separating the best drafting teams and the middle of the pack.”
Rosenthal also ranked the best and worst draft picks since 2015. For Colbert’s best selection, Rosenthal gave him T.J. Watt, the team’s first round pick in 2017. For his worst, he landed on Senquez Golson, the second round pick in 2015. If you want to relive Golson’s brief career, check out this video we did in our “greatest busts” series. It’s hard to argue with either of Rosenthal’s selections.
His overall assessment is very fair, too. Colbert and the Steelers overall consistently produce strong draft classes. The 2017 group was one of his strongest. In the first four rounds, he netted T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, and James Conner. And last year’s group looks promising despite not having a first-round pick. Chase Claypool, Kevin Dotson, and Alex Highsmith should all enter 2021 as starters. Colbert’s decision to break history and trade a first for Minkah Fitzpatrick is one of the NFL’s best trades of the last decade.
Because of Rosenthal’s draft-only criteria, Bill Belichick fell all the way to #18 overall. Rounding out the top five were Tampa Bay’s Jason Licht, Buffalo’s Brandon Beane/Sean McDermott, and New Orleans’ Mickey Loomis.
From a draft standpoint, it’s probably fair to put Colbert up so high. But if you ranked GMs based on the totality of their job, Colbert wouldn’t stay in that second spot. He’d still be ranked high, but with the Steelers not winning a playoff game since 2016, even keeping him in the top five would be difficult to justify.