Part eight of a series I’ll be exploring over the next several weeks. Kevin Colbert is calling it a career as GM, or de facto GM, of the Pittsburgh Steelers. His career has so much in it, running the team since 2000s. Lots of highs, two Super Bowls added to the trophy case, and the occasional low, but overall, a fantastic career for a – by all accounts – fantastic person.
What I’ll continue doing today is recapping and ranking all the draft picks Colbert made in his tenue with the team. Every. Single. One. That’s 176 picks from 2000 to 2021. I am, obviously, leaving out the 2022 draft class since they are impossible to judge in any capacity. But the rest are fair game. We’ll revisit and remember the best picks, the first round studs, Day Three steals to the busts and the guys who simply never did anything in Pittsburgh.
There’s a slight method to my madness. In creating the rankings, I considered *only* what the player did in a Steelers’ uniform. Even if the selection had a good or great career elsewhere, and you’ll see examples of that, it is excluding from consideration. The player may have worked out but not to Pittsburgh’s benefit and that’s the only thing that matters. What we won’t consider are circumstances that led to a player’s success of failure. If a player got hurt or traded or cut or whatever, we’ll accept it without examining it. Players struggle for different reasons but it’s too subjective trying to make those kinds of excuses.
I also weighed the round/selection the player was drafted in, slight consideration to positional value, the process in which the player was picked, and of course, the quality of the players Steelers’ career.
We’ll work down this list #176 to #1, meaning we’ll begin with the worst selection Colbert’s ever made until we get to his best pick. There may be some surprises, controversy, and plenty of blasts from the past along the way. These articles will include roughly 15 names at a time, though the number may sometimes change based on the grouping.
In Part eight of the series, we’ll work through 17 names today, #72 to #56. If you want to check out part seven, click the link here.
#72 Tre Norwood/S Oklahoma – Round 7, 245th Overall (2021)
We’re entering what I now like to think of as the “hey, that guy wasn’t so bad line.” The ones who weren’t objective failures or you had to convince yourselves they weren’t that bad. Hey, Lee Mays made a couple of plays! That kind of thing.
Norwood is just one year into his NFL career and like everyone else part of that ’21 class, he’s still tough to judge. But the early returns are promising for a seventh round pick. He’s shown versatility, a high IQ (those things often go hand-in-hand) with third down man coverage abilities. He’ll battle for slot role duties this year while likely serving as Minkah Fitzpatrick’s backup at free safety. Norwood carries a good deal of promise heading into Year 2.
#71 Rodney Bailey/DE Ohio State – Round 6, 181st Overall (2001)
One of Kevin Colbert’s first late round, I don’t want to call it a “hit”, but a decently successful Day Three pick. Bailey started just one game in his three years with the Steelers but became a rotational pass rusher who picked up 9.5 sacks, including 5.5 of them in 2002, the same number Aaron Smith had that year. He signed with New England in 2004, earning a Super Bowl ring while on IR, lost to the Steelers in Super Bowl XL as a member of Seattle, and then came back to Pittsburgh in 2006 as a backup defensive lineman.
He ended his Steelers’ career with 60 career appearances and 75 tackles. In all, pretty good for where he was drafted.
#70 Ziggy Hood/DE Missouri – Round 1, 32nd Overall (2009)
This one might generate some debate and there’s no doubt Hood didn’t reach the team’s expectations. That’s more the Steelers’ fault than Hood’s, making him a base 3-4 end when that really wasn’t his style or how he was used in college.
Despite that reality, Hood didn’t have that bad of a career. He gets a bad rap. In five years, he appeared in 80 games, starting more than half of them at a time when Steelers’ rookies didn’t see the field unless they had to. His sack production was meager, 11.5 over that span, but he was a decent player who didn’t have the lows of Artie Burns or Jarvis Jones. Hood never had the highs but his career has been, to a degree, misremembered.
Hood went on to start another 27 games, all with Washington, and was in the league through the 2018 season.
#69 Jonathan Dwyer/RB Georgia Tech – Round 6, 188th Overall (2010)
This series has been fun because it’s jogged me memory about a guy like Dwyer. By no means was he a good running back but his numbers were better than I ever thought, leading the team in rushing in 2012 with 623 yards. That was his only year being the team’s top back and overall, Dwyer was at best an average player, but for a sixth round pick, there was a fair bit of productivity.
Of the 54 running backs drafted in the sixth round since 2010, Dwyer’s 1022 yards (971 of them came in Pittsburgh, the remainder with Arizona), are ninth most, which puts into perspective the success here, even if it isn’t overly obvious.
#68 Jaylen Samuels/RB NC State – Round 5, 165th Overall (2018)
Back-to-back running backs here with Samuels. Though billed and listed as a tight end out of NC State, he was really a running back and used as such by the Steelers. Samuels’ calling card was a level of offensive versatility, carrying and catching the ball at similar clips. In 2019, he rushed 66 times with 47 receptions.
Samuels never had a key and defining trait, lacking big plays in the run game and was a worse receiver than people thought of him, dropping far too many passes (five on 57 targets in 2019, for example). His best game came in his rookie year, rushing for 142 yards in a big win over the Patriots.
I was as critical of Samuels as anyone but for a fifth rounder, Samuels gave the team a decent amount of value for a short period of time.
#67 Benny Snell/RB Kentucky – Round 4, 122nd Overall (2019)
The third running back in a row, it’s a reminder the Steelers loved drafting big and slow Day Three running backs. Snell has been a plodding runner for his career, averaging just 3.5 yards per carries and was quickly shuffled to the bench last year once Najee Harris was drafted.
Where Snell has done his best work is on special teams, becoming a pretty core guy there. Credit to him for embracing and excelling there, going from big-man-on-campus at Kentucky to the NFL’s grunt work. In 2021, he set a career high with seven total tackles.
Snell is essentially at his ceiling and he’s best as a #3 RB who sees fewer than 100 offensive snaps but there are worse career arcs for fourth round picks. Despite being the higher draft pick, Snell slots in ahead of Dwyer and Samuels because he’s been better on special teams than the others ever were on offense or special teams.
#66 Dan Moore Jr,/OT Texas A&M – Round 4, 128th Overall (2021)
Another name from the 2021 class, Moore – ready or not – was the Steelers’ starting left tackle out of the gate. He was more “not” than “ready” the first eight weeks of the season but greatly improved down the stretch. Still plenty for new o-line coach Pat Meyer to work with him on, including dealing with power/bull rushes, but he’ll enter this year as the team’s starter again. Though he’s likely never to be an All-Pro, Moore could end up starting multiple years on the blindside.
#65 Kevin Dotson/OG Louisiana-Lafayette – Round 4, 135th Overall (2020)
I sure wish Dotson would be higher on this list. His rookie season looked promising, holding his own at both guard spots after only playing right guard throughout his college career. Dotson pushed his weight around in the run game and looked more comfortable and consistent in pass pro than expected. But Dotson didn’t play particularly well last year when healthy and then missed the back half of the season due to a high ankle sprain. With the focus on quarterbacks and Devin Bush, not many have talked about how important of a year it is for Dotson. It’s a big Year Three.
#64 Landry Jones/QB Oklahoma – Round 4, 115th Overall (2013)
Everyone loves the backup quarterback. Except in Pittsburgh. Before Mason Rudolph, there was Landry Jones. I don’t know if Jones quite has the scorn Rudolph has generated but he certainly wasn’t beloved by Steelers’ Nation. Jones was the ultimate backup. Even when he was the starter, he became the backup, like in mid-2015 when he started against the Browns, got hurt, and an ever-injured Ben Roethlisberger came off the bench to route Cleveland.
In five years with Pittsburgh, Jones started five games, going 3-2 (again, credited with one of those Browns’ wins that Roethlisberger deserves), and threw 169 total passes. The numbers were the definition of average, eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. Really, that’s below average by today’s game. But he had staying power, was a trusty backup, and that’s not too bad for a fourth round pick the team didn’t trade up for, unlike current-backup Mason Rudolph. Jones was never billed as Ben Roethlisberger’s heir. He was Ben Roethlisberger’s backup. Mission accomplished.
#63 Verron Haynes/RB Georgia- Round 5, 166th Overall (2002)
This list was getting too present-day so it’s a good time to throw in an old-school name in Haynes. A third-down back in the Bettis days when Pittsburgh needed such a player. He didn’t catch the ball a ton, never more than 18 in a season, but he seemed to make those receptions count while occasionally seeing carries. He was also a solid special teamer and spent six years with the team as one of the Steelers’ backup backs. We can argue about who was slightly better – Haynes, Dwyer, Samuels, Snell – but they’re all birds of the same feather without much separation between. Haynes’ staying power slightly gives him the leg up.
#62 Daniel Sepulevda/P Baylor – Round 4, 112th Overall (2007)
Mike Tomlin’s first draft class included a punter. One the Steelers traded up to get, sending a sixth-round pick to Green Bay to move up seven spots. Sepulevda was a good punter but two ACL tears cut short his career, causing him to miss all of the 2008 season and the back half/front half of the 2010-2011 seasons. He was just finding his stride in his last two years, averaging over 45.5 yards per punt each season. His linebacker background was also an asset with four tackles in 2009.
Sepulevda should’ve had a better career than he had. And while that won’t boost his ranking, the Steelers drafted a good player. He just had some crappy injury luck.
#61 David Johnson/TE Arkansas State – Round 7, 241st Overall (2009)
After Chidi Iwuoma, Johnson was one of my early obscure Steelers’ man crushes. Stockily built but with great length, he was a blocker first, second, and third in Pittsburgh and only caught the ball when there was no other option. He spent his first stint in Pittsburgh, four seasons, catching just 22 passes, before returning in 2016 after two years in San Diego. Johnson was a tight end/H-Back type who moved around the formation to lead the way. At least he caught a touchdown pass. As a seventh round pick, Johnson had a commendable career.
#60 Trai Essex/OL Northwestern – Round 3, 95th Overall (2005)
What bumps Essex up the list here isn’t a great run of starts, just 28 of them, but his ultra-versatility. A Swiss Army Knife before the likes of Chris Hubbard, Essex could – and did – play everywhere, even center in a pinch in a 2011 game against the Rams, earning a game ball and Mike Tomlin’s praise for his efforts.
He spent the 2009 season as the team’s starter but most of the time, he filled in when and where needed. It might not be ideal for a Top 100 pick but he spent seven years for the team, which is an overall win.
#59 Anthony Chickillo/OLB Miami (FL) – Round 6, 212th Overall (2015)
Chickillo very easily could’ve quickly flamed out of the league. He was an interesting selection by the Steelers, a base 3-4 end at Miami who dropped weight and stood up in Pittsburgh as a pass rusher, a semi-similar transition as Alex Highsmith has recently gone through.
No joke, Chickillo had some of the best training camps I’ve seen from a Steeler, consistently winning with a variety of pass rush tools and a hot motor. But those flashes at St. Vincent didn’t translate to Sundays and Chickillo spent his career as a rotational backup chipping in the occasional sack, a career-high of three of them in 2017.
He became a very good special teams player though and that’s where he held most of his value. From 2016 to 2019, he logged 67%+ of the team’s special teams snaps and was annually at the top of the list in tackles. He spent five years in Pittsburgh, playing in 60 games. Only nine of those were starts but for a sixth round pick changing positions, Chickillo was a successful pick.
#58 James Washington/WR Oklahoma State – Round 2, 60th Overall (2018)
Washington didn’t quite meet second round expectations, though it’s worth pointing out he was a late second round selection bordering on Round Three. Washington was the first Cowboy drafted before teammate Mason Rudolph the following round, who we visited earlier on this list. Washington’s rookie season was a quiet one though his first NFL reception found the end zone. After injuries galore in 2019, Washington became a lone bright spot on offense, leading the team with 735 yards and routinely winning vertically.
Washington lacked blazing speed you’d expect from a deep threat but he played big and won jump-ball situations. From there, his production waned and he curiously became an afterthought in 2021 as Chase Claypool, despite his struggles, dominated the snap count. Washington’s lack of versatility hurt him and he became the backup Z receiver without much of a role. He reportedly requested a trade in camp, was denied, and spent his final season in Pittsburgh catching just 24 passes, his fewest since his rookie year. He took a one-year prove-it deal in Dallas this offseason. Washington’s Steelers’ career ends with 114 receptions for 1629 yards and 11 touchdowns.
#57 Markus Wheaton/WR Oregon State – Round 3, 79th Overall (2013)
Similar to Washington, Wheaton never became the player the Steelers hoped they were getting. But he wasn’t a complete whiff either. He had the wheels and big-play ability, averaging a very healthy 17 yards per catch in 2015, finding the end zone four times on just 44 receptions.
Wheaton’s downfall was a lack of health, either missing games or playing through injury, and for whatever reason, he just didn’t have great chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger. And if you lack that, you’re going to struggle and won’t be a featured piece of the offense. Wheaton spent two more years in the NFL after his Steelers’ days but caught three total passes.
#56 Cortez Allen/CB The Citadel – Round 4, 128th Overall (2011)
Allen was a rare dip into the FCS waters by Colbert over the last decade or so, a long corner with good athleticism. He turned out to basically be the defensive version of Wheaton. After spending his rookie year as a special teamer, he worked his way into the defensive fold his sophomore season while starting half the team’s games the following year in 2013.
Despite battling some nagging injuries, Pittsburgh awarded him a five-year, nearly $25 million contract extension right before the 2014 season. He started just seven games that year though he became a presence behind the line of scrimmage, recording seven QB hits and three tackles for loss.
But that contract extension quickly blew up in the team’s face. Allen never stayed healthy and spent all but one game of the 2015 season on injured reserve with a knee injury. Pittsburgh released him in April of 2016, making it one of the worst extensions Colbert has handed out.
Still, Allen is one of the few players on this list to receive a contract extension by the team, and a big payday at that, which is uncommon for a fourth round selection. And when healthy, he made a handful of plays for the team.
Kevin Colbert’s Draft Rankings
#176. Senquez Golson – Rd. 2
#175. Alonzo Jackson – Rd. 2
#174. Fred Gibson – Rd. 4
#173. Danny Farmer – Rd. 4
#172. Kraig Urbik – Rd. 3
#171. Bruce Davis – Rd. 3
#170. Artie Burns – Rd. 1
#169. Orien Harris – Rd. 4
#168. Alameda Ta’amu – Rd. 3 (Trade Up)
#167. Dri Archer – Rd. 3
#166. Limas Sweed – Rd. 2
#165. Thaddeus Gibson – Rd. 4
#164. Nathaniel Adibi – Rd. 5
#163. Willie Reid – Rd. 3
#162. Ricardo Colclough – Rd. 2
#161. Doran Grant – Rd. 4
#160. Tony Hills – Rd. 4
#159. Ryan McBean – Rd. 4
#158. Mathias Nkwenti – Rd. 4
#157. Jarvis Jones – Rd. 1
#156. Terry Hawthorne – Rd. 5
#155. Cameron Stephenson – Rd. 4
#154. Shaq Richardson – Rd. 5
#153. Charles Davis – Rd. 5
#152. Omar Jacobs – Rd. 5
#151. Wesley Johnson – Rd. 5
#150. Mike Adams – Rd. 2
#149. Joe Burnett – Rd. 4
#148. Sammie Coates – Rd. 3
#147. Colin Holba – Rd. 6
#146. Sutton Smith – Rd. 6
#145. Bo Lacy – Rd. 6
#144. Roger Knight – Rd. 6
#143. Mike Humpal – Rd. 6
#142. Jordan Zumwalt – Rd. 6
#141. Keith Williams – Rd. 6
#140. Drew Caylor – Rd. 6
#139. Marvin Philip – Rd. 6
#138. Jason Gavadza – Rd. 6
#137. Ra’Shon Harris – Rd. 6
#136. Quincy Roche – Rd. 6
#135. Travis Feeney – Rd. 6
#134. Chris Scott – Rd. 5
#133. Brian St. Pierre – Rd. 5
#132. Shamarko Thomas – Rd. 4 (Trade Up)
#131. Chris Rainey – Rd. 5
#130. Anthony Smith – Rd. 3
#129. Frank Summers – Rd. 5
#128. Devin Bush – Rd. 1 (Trade Up)
#127. Jerald Hawkins – Rd. 4
#126. Gerod Holliman – Rd. 7
#125. Eric Taylor – Rd. 7
#124. Lavar Glover – Rd. 7
#123. Chris Taylor – Rd. 7
#122. Nick Williams – Rd. 7
#121. AQ Shipley – Rd. 7
#120. Shaun Nua – Rd. 7
#119. Rob Blanchflower – Rd. 7
#118. Toney Clemons – Rd. 7
#117. Cedric Humes – Rd. 7
#116. Doug Worthington – Rd. 7
#115. JT Wall – Rd. 7
#114. Josh Frazier – Rd. 7
#113. Terence Frederick – Rd. 7
#112. Keion Adams – Rd. 7
#111. Derwin Gray – Rd. 7
#110. Crezdon Butler – Rd. 5
#109. Noah Herron – Rd. 7
#108. Tee Martin – Rd. 5
#107. Brian Allen – Rd. 5
#106. Chris Combs – Rd. 6
#105. Dallas Baker – Rd. 7
#104. Anthony McFarland – Rd. 4
#103. Antoine Brooks Jr. – Rd. 5
#102. Matt Kranchick – Rd. 6
#101. Curtis Brown – Rd. 3
#100. Chris Carter – Rd. 5
#99. Rian Wallace – Rd. 5
#98. Justin Brown – Rd. 5
#97. Kendrick Clancy – Rd. 3
#96. Demarcus Ayers – Rd. 7
#95. Baron Batch – Rd. 7
#94. Carlos Davis – Rd. 7
#93. Isaiah Buggs – Rd .6
#92. Josh Dobbs – Rd. 4
#91. David Paulson – Rd. 7
#90. Sean Spence – Rd. 3
#89. LT Walton – Rd. 6
#88. Buddy Johnson – Rd. 4
#87. Dennis Dixon – Rd. 5
#86. Hank Poteat – Rd. 3
#85. Daniel McCullers – Rd. 6
#84. Justin Layne – Rd. 3
#83. Ulysees Gilbert III – Rd. 6
#82. Marcus Allen – Rd. 5
#81. Chukky Okobi – Rd. 5
#80. Stevenson Sylvester – Rd. 5
#79. Lee Mays – Rd. 6
#78. Kendrick Green – Rd. 3
#77. Mason Rudolph – Rd. 3 (Trade Up)
#76. Pressley Harvin III – Rd. 7
#75. Isaiahh Loudermilk – Rd. 5 (Trade Up)
#74. Ryan Mundy – Rd. 6
#73. Zach Gentry – Rd. 5
#72. Tre Norwood – Rd. 7
#71. Rodney Bailey – Rd. 6
#70. Ziggy Hood – Rd. 1
#69. Jonathan Dwyer – Rd. 6
#68. Jaylen Samuels – Rd. 5
#67. Benny Snell – Rd. 4
#66. Dan Moore – Rd. 4
#65. Kevin Dotson – Rd. 3
#64. Landry Jones – Rd. 4
#63. Verron Haynes – Rd. 5
#62. Daniel Sepulevda – Rd. 4 (Trade Up)
#61. David Johnson – Rd. 7
#60. Trai Essex – Rd. 3
#59. Anthony Chickillo – Rd. 6
#58. James Washington – Rd. 2
#57. Markus Wheaton – Rd. 3
#56. Cortez Allen – Rd. 4