With the NFL Scouting Combine just a week away, the offseason train is rolling in full effect, and before we know it, free agency and the draft will be upon us. Much has been made of general manager Kevin Colbert’s reported departure immediately after the draft, with multiple candidates already having been interviewed, and more surely to follow. Recently, Colbert went to the record stating his replacement won’t be hired until after the draft, which is key because this draft is perhaps his most important one at the helm.
This thought alone brought me to another popular GM who stepped down recently in the Baltimore Ravens’ Ozzie Newsome, who hit the jackpot in his finale after the 2018 Draft. As highly regarded a GM as Colbert is, there were many leaguewide who felt, at the time that Newsome was equal to, or perhaps even better. His first draft netted two Hall of Famers in first-round tackle Jonathan Ogden and inside linebacker Ray Lewis.
Coincidentally, his finale also was comprised of two first-rounders, in tight end Hayden Hurst and future league MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. Utilizing multiple trades in this draft, including jumping back into the first for Jackson, Newsome was also able to acquire Pro Bowlers in tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown. Like any GM, there were the occasional swings and misses, but overall, Newsome saved his best act for last, helping to ensure the future of Pittsburgh’s archrival was set up for the future.
“I told Ozzie just as we finished this thing up, I feel like this is his best draft since I’ve been here — heck, maybe the best ever,” coach John Harbaugh said, according to ESPN.
This is important because, just four years later, here sits Pittsburgh, in almost the same exact scenario as Baltimore was-in search of their next franchise quarterback. It’s easy to play the “what-if” game, but looking back to that draft, the team opted for safety Terrell Edmunds at the 28th pick. Do you know who was there for the picking at 30, where Baltimore scooped him up? Jackson. In retrospect, that move alone would likely have Pittsburgh in immediate contention as we sit here today. However, Jackson wasn’t a rock-solid sure thing, and many pundits still pick apart flaws in his game, even labeling him as a running back playing QB.
What Newsome did was provide a roadmap of sorts for the Steelers to try and mimic, if you will, as Colbert obviously wants nothing more than to provide the ultimate answer, and that’s an immediate successor to Ben Roethlisberger.
“You have to take advantage of whatever opportunity you have to get the best quarterback you can find,” Art Rooney II said according to ESPN. “And you don’t always have the luxury of saying, ‘I want A, B and C and go to the grocery store and order a quarterback.’ We’ll evaluate all the options we have.”
Not only did Newsome’s shrewd array of trading back several times in that draft net him additional draft capital, he hit home runs on the picks with Andrews and the since-traded Brown. They even traded Hurst to Atlanta for a future second, which they then used on running back J.K. Dobbins. With immediate needs along the offensive line, as well as playmakers with receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington both unrestricted free agents, perhaps trading back would be a wise course of action? Some food for thought as well is the team’s shortage of draft picks this year. Moving back in the first if their draft board doesn’t align, to pick up an extra second- or third-rounder would be a wise move.
Colbert certainly doesn’t need any endorsements leaguewide, with a treasure trove of NFL draft picks over the years that perhaps was only rivaled by Newsome.
“It was ‘masterful’ – the way it happened in the draft room in the first round,” Newsome told ESPN of that draft night in 2018. “The trades came to us, and we were able to acquire some picks in the third and fourth round, then having the ability to go back up and get the quarterback at the end of the round — it was unbelievable.” Hopefully, in Colbert’s swan song, the front office can look no further than the plan of action their hated rivals employed, and hope to emulate it.