Kevin Colbert professes two things when drafting players. Hearts and smarts. Guys who love the game and guys who know the game. He also doesn’t mind a bit of inexperience and youthfulness with his classes.
The Twitter account @felixzurek tweeted out the average age of prospects selected by GMs in the Top 100 of drafts from 2017 to 2021. That all sounds like a mouthful but the data is interesting.
Kevin Colbert has had the fourth-lowest age among his prospects across the NFL with an average age of roughly 22.25 years old.
One of his youngest draft picks over that span was JuJu Smith-Schuster, who was still 20 years old when the team took him in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He didn’t turn 21 until November of 2017, making him one of the youngest players to be drafted in recent memory. 2018’s first-round pick Terrell Edmunds was just 21 years old when Pittsburgh took him. Ditto for LB Devin Bush in 2019 while WR Chase Claypool was 22 in 2020. Last year’s first-round pick Najee Harris was a bit older at 23.
The benefit of a younger player is multi-fold. They’re more likely to be re-signed on their second contract. A 21-year-old will only be 25 after his rookie deal expires. A 23-year-old will be 27, perhaps going on 28, making it harder to justify a second contract that could take a player into his 30s. A younger player may simply have fewer bad habits to break and often times, are better players, underclassmen declaring early because they are viewed as top prospects in the class.
While Pittsburgh doesn’t exclusively draft underclassmen in the first round, they certainly don’t shy away from the chance, and this study shows how youth-minded the top of Colbert’s draft classes typically are. Though it pales in comparison to the data-driven Browns with GM Andrew Berry lapping the field at an average age of about 21.5 years old.
It’s worth noting drafting younger players this year could be a problem. This is an especially old draft class due to the pandemic. The NCAA allowed 2020 seniors to return to school for an extra year and this class is full of super seniors who are 23 or 24 years old. Overall, it’s lighter on youth. But if you’re looking for a couple of names who fit include: UNC QB Sam Howell (21 years old), RBs Snoop Conner and Ty Davis-Price (both 21), WRs Skyy Moore and George Pickens (both 21), OL Tyler Vrabel (20), OL Jamaree Salyer (21), EDGE Drake Jackson (21), LBs Quay Walker and Leo Chenal (both 21), CB Derek Stingley Jr. (20), CB Andrew Booth Jr. (21), S Nick Cross (20), and S Kyle Hamilton and Dax Hill (both 21).
In fact, according to Dane Brugler’s draft guide, the two youngest players in this draft are Nick Cross (20.63 years old) and LSU CB Cordale Flott (20.68 years old). Pittsburgh was at Flott’s Pro Day.