While the Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly shied away from surrendering draft capital in recent years, it still isn’t something they prefer to do. It’s no secret how crucial the draft is to the Steelers’ business model. In his last crack at putting together a Steelers’ draft class, retiring general manager Kevin Colbert reiterated that point in an interview released on the team’s social media accounts on Tuesday.
“I think it is both,” said Colbert when asked by Steelers’ reporter Missi Matthews on if not giving up draft capital in free agency was more tradition or if it was more about the talent in the 2022 draft class. “That’s the way this franchise was built. That’s the way it operates pre-Colbert and Tomlin and that’ll be that way post-Colbert and Tomlin as long as the Rooneys want it done that way. We believe in that direction—getting young talent, developing that young talent and hopefully, winning Super Bowls with that young talent as it matures.”
That strategy has paid dividends for a team that hasn’t finished with a losing record since 2003. There’s only a handful of teams who value the draft as much as the Steelers do, as evidenced by Colbert’s statement in Monday’s pre-draft press conference that the top three draft picks have to become starters. Looking at the 2021 class, for better or worse, that was the case. Running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth were indispensable pieces to the offense. Third-round pick Kendrick Green, who was thrust into the starting center role last season, appeared out of position, and left a lot to be desired. But, there’s room for improvement there and a position switch, at the very least, could help him become an average starter.
In the last five years, the Steelers have drafted five Pro-Bowlers, spear-headed by 2021 DPOY T.J. Watt. Harris, Diontae Johnson, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner were the others. All of those players have appeared in at least one playoff game during their time with the Steelers. That just reinforces Colbert’s point about gathering as much young talent as possible rather than overspending in free agency in order to compete.
“We have an idea when free agency starts what the draft class will be like,” said Colbert on the Steelers’ draft plans from free agency all the way to the start of the draft. “We don’t have the finalization because we don’t have physicals, pro-days, so on and so forth. So we’re guessing along the way.”
That perfectly describes what the draft is in its entirety. It’s truly a guessing game, and more often than not in his time with the Steelers, Colbert has guessed right on the young talent he has bet on.