A new 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 begin 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.
With all that out of the way, let’s begin the list. Colbert’s picks, #176 through #162.
#176: Senquez Golson/CB Ole Miss – Round 2, 56th Overall (2015)
I place Golson here without any meanness or malice in my heart. If we’re going to have a best pick of all-time, someone must be considered the worst. And I can’t think of anyone more appropriate to put here than Golson. It’s almost inarguable to place him here. He didn’t come with first-round shine but was still a top 60 pick and he’s one of only a handful of top prospects over the last 20 years to never appear in a game. Take that literally. Golson never stepped onto the field for a game. Injuries destroyed his career, everything from a shoulder to a foot and finally, a hamstring.
Golson participated in just seven career training camp practices and never made it to a preseason contest, much less a regular season one. Pittsburgh finally gave up three seasons in, releasing him in September of 2017. The only other Top 60 guy I can even think of who never saw preseason action with their team was Seattle’s Malik McDowell, who suffered severe injuries in an ATV accident prior to his first camp (he’s now resurfaced with the Browns). Even Christian Hackenberg put on a Jets’ uniform.
It’s impossible to judge what kind of player Golson could’ve been. And that’s sorta the reason why he’s here. Pittsburgh used a second rounder on him and in return, got seven practices and a bunch of trips to IR. I’m not sure if that’ll happen over the next Steelers’ 30 draft classes.
#175: Alonzo Jackson/LB Florida State – Round 2, 59th Overall (2003)
A name long-forgotten by now, he was one of Colbert’s first busts. After a strong senior season at Florida State, racking up 18.5 TFL and 13 sacks, the Steelers snagged him in the second round of the ’03 draft. But Jackson struggled to switch to the Steelers’ 3-4 system as a standup, drop-into-coverage rush linebacker and he rarely saw the field.
Jackson spent just two years on the Steelers’ regular season roster. He never started a game and worked almost exclusively on special teams, recording eight tackles (five solo) across nine games in 2003 and 2004. Pittsburgh cut him heading into the 2005 season, meaning he wasn’t even around to earn a Super Bowl ring.
#174: Fred Gibson/WR Georgia – Round 4, 131st Overall (2005)
Putting a fourth round pick so high (or is it low?) on this list might seem surprising. Fourth round picks miss all the time. They’re the Day Three guys, the day of the draft where you lay on your couch and eat leftover pizza and try to keep your eyes open through it all.
But imagine it this way. Pretend 2022 fourth round pick Calvin Austin, an exciting player, was outright released at the end of training camp. That’s Fred Gibson. Now, Gibson was a much different body type than Austin. Gibson was a power forward at 6’4, 202, and a playmaker at Georgia. Pittsburgh loved his upside and downfield ability as Plaxico Burress’ potential replacement.
“This guy has a big upside,” Bruce Arians told the PPG’s Ed Bouchette. “He has height, jumping ability and the speed to go long.”
That upside existed only on paper. Gibson had a poor training camp and Bill Cowher cut him as they trimmed the roster to 53. A surprising move at the time but Gibson hardly caught on anywhere else, bouncing around with a handful of other teams before falling out of the league, proof of the scouting staff’s poor evaluation of him. One of the few fourth rounders to not make the initial roster and personally, the guy I always think about for quirky moments like this.
#173: Danny Farmer/WR UCLA – Round 4, 103rd Overall (2000)
You can say nearly the same things about Farmer as you can Gibson. A fourth round pick who immediately flamed out, Farmer was actually a higher draft pick than Gibson, 103 vs 131, though both were taken in the fourth round. Farmer had a solid Bruins’ career but couldn’t make the NFL jump and lost out to Courtney Hawkins in the 2000 camp.
“Fourth-rounders are high draft choices,” Bill Cowher told Bouchette of the decision. “But in this case, when you looked at Courtney and Danny, it was probably just a case of weighing what was in the best interests of this team. Courtney gives us a lot of experience at a position right now that’s very young.”
According to the PPG’s article, Farmer became the highest draft pick to be cut out of camp since third-round S Liffort Hobley in 1985.
I wrestled whether to put Gibson or Farmer above the other. Farmer was the higher selection but two things slotted him one spot below. Farmer was at least claimed off waivers when released, snatched up by the Cincinnati Bengals, so in theory, the Steelers may have kept him on their practice squad. Gibson went unclaimed (though was shortly after added by Miami). And while this might sound silly, 2000 was Colbert’s first draft so maybe he was a little more prone to missing on players being brand new to the process. Gibson edges him out by a nose but either way, these were terrible selections.
#172: Kraig Urbik/OG Wisconsin – Round 3, 79th Overall (2009)
Good news. Kraig Urbik at least made the team. Bad news. Everything else. Wisconsin road-graders like him typically perform well but Urbik is the exception. A Top 100 pick in 2009, Urbik was quickly beaten out by UDFA Ramon Foster, who went on to have a great NFL career. He was cut by the team after his second training camp, never even appearing in a game for the Steelers.
While he did have a decent post-Steelers career, 63 total starts, none of that does the Steelers any good. Perhaps this could be pinned on coaching a bit more than scouting but a miss is a miss all the same.
#171: Bruce Davis/EDGE UCLA – Round 3, 88th Overall (2008)
The third rounds weren’t kind to Colbert during this era. Before Urbik came Davis, who had a simialarly unsuccessful career. Like Alonzo Jackson, Davis didn’t transition well to the Steelers’ scheme and his poor testing (4.78 40, 7.34 three cone) didn’t help matters.
Davis appeared in five games as a rookie, didn’t start any of them, and according to PFR, never showed up on the stat sheet. The good news is the Steelers had LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison rushing off the EDGE at the time so they didn’t miss a guy like Davis too terribly much.
#170: Artie Burns/CB Miami (FL) – Round 1, 25th Overall (2016)
The first first round pick on the list. Some will argue Burns should be at the top of the list as the worst pick in team history. He was bad but not the worst. Burns at least started a full season and intercepted three passes during a not-horrible rookie season. Still, his time on the field more often hindered than helped and whatever raw traits the team saw in him never materialized. He lost all confidence and ended his Steelers’ career as a special teamer and gameday inactive.
Pittsburgh’s process picking him was also poor. The team wanted to drafted Houston’s William Jackson III but the Bengals took him one spot ahead. Though the team will deny it, this was a panic move to fit a need, making Burns a reach. When Colbert said he would need time to adjust to the Steelers’ system, it was a red flag proven true over the next four years.
#169: Orien Harris/DT Miami (FL) – Round 4, 133rd Overall (2006)
A name you probably haven’t thought about since, well, 2006. Like other names on this list, Harris was a mid-round pick who never appeared in a game for the Steelers. As we noted back in 2016, Harris, like Farmer or Gibson, failed to even make the team out of camp. He did at least get signed to the practice squad, joining several of the 2006 draft picks who failed to make the roster, including QB Omar Jacobs and RB Cedric Humes. Cleveland signed Harris off the Steelers’ practice squad in December following an injury to Orpheus Roye.
#168: Alameda Ta’amu/NT Washington – Round 4, 109th Overall (2012)
A bad pick for all sorts of reasons. Coming into the NFL with off-the-field issues, Pittsburgh still took a chance on him in 2012. In fact, the Steelers traded up for him, the most obvious showing of banging the table for a player. It didn’t work. Ta’amu struggled to see the field and spent the first half of his rookie season as a gameday inactive.
In October of 2012, he was arrested after allegedly evading police and driving while intoxicated, hitting five parked cars in the process. Pittsburgh suspended him for two weeks and released him one month later. Though he was brought back to the team, he never took a snap, and was claimed off waivers by Arizona the following summer. An ugly pick all around and frankly, you could argue he should be higher. The fact he was at least on the roster saves him but only by a little.
#167: Dri Archer/RB Kent State – Round 3, 97th Overall (2014)
Dri Archer was fast. And that’s about it. A track guy on a football field, Archer was a legitimate threat at Kent State. But that 4.2-something speed wouldn’t play as well in the NFL as it did in the MAC. Pittsburgh had no plan for Archer, unable to decide if he was a running back or wide receiver while the present-day horizontal pass game/RPO world wasn’t nearly as common as it is today.
Pittsburgh tried him as a RB but he was too small to block and was removed during backs on ‘backers drills, trotting towards the receiver group. He flashed speed in his first preseason game against the New York Giants but the “red alert light” flashed whenever he took the field in a regular season game. He was small, had no power, and Pittsburgh simply didn’t have a role for him. He wasn’t even a solid return man.
In two years with the team, he played 53 offensive snaps with just two first downs on 17 total touches. Newly signed Ben Tate and Josh Harris playing over him in the Steelers’ Wild Card loss to the Ravens told you everything there was to know. Archer was signed by Buffalo but never reported to the team.
#166: Limas Sweed/WR Texas – Round 2, 58th Overall (2008)
I get it. You’ve already met me at the comments wondering why it took so long for me to mention Sweed’s name. On most lists, he’d be a top-three worst pick. And hey, #166 is still a bad place to be.
The sole reason why Sweed is slightly hire on this list is for one play. One memorable, exciting play. His crackback block on this Heath Miller catch-and-run in the AFC Title Game against the Ravens. It’s one more positive play made than just about anyone ahead of him on this list.
But of course, the bad far outweighed the good, including an ugly drop in that game against Baltimore. Sweed had one of the worst case of the drops we’ve seen in recent memory to the point where the pressure seemed to get to him. Thought of as a draft day steal when Pittsburgh took him 58th overall out of Texas, Sweed caught just seven passes in Pittsburgh and never found the end zone. Of the 73 second round receivers drafted between 2005 and 2021, only two had fewer than Sweed’s seven career receptions: Terrence Murphy (five) and Dexter Jackson (zero).
#165: Thaddeus Gibson/EDGE Ohio State – Round 4, 116th Overall (2010)
Another failed 4th rounder, Gibson at least made the initial roster. Inactive his first six weeks, the team waived him to make room for NT Steve McLendon during the 2010 season. The intent was to get him back to the practice squad but the 49ers foiled those plans, claiming him off waivers. Pittsburgh tried to get him back in 2011, putting in an August waiver claim for him but lost out to Washington. Funny enough, that roster spot for Gibson was created by releasing Sweed, who Gibson is looking straight up at on this list. Pittsburgh stopped trying to get Gibson after that, meaning he never appeared in a game for the team and obviously never recorded anything on the stat sheet.
#164: Nathaniel Adibi/EDGE Virginia Tech – Round 5, 145th Overall (2004)
The first fifth rounder on the list. I admit it seems a little high to put a fifth rounder on here. But there’s good reason. Adibi, as you’d expect, never made the Steelers’ roster. It’s hard to blame him or frankly, the team. He broke his hip during his first training camp and never fully recovered.
But I put him on here for one big reason. The process. In a nugget of info shared by Steelers.com’s Bob Labriola, Bill Cowher badly reached to take Adibi. Intent on drafting a linebacker no matter what, Pittsburgh ignored their board and focused on position and need. Here’s what Labriola wrote in 2018:
“Coach Bill Cowher made it clear that he wanted an outside linebacker with the Steelers’ next pick, which was to be the 13th overall in the fifth round. Even though seven more linebackers were picked between the selection of Phillips in the fourth round and the Steelers’ turn in the fifth round, Cowher remained adamant. The fifth-round pick was to be an outside linebacker.”
We’ll never know how good Adibi may have been. But Pittsburgh was punished for their draft board departure.
#163: Willie Reid/WR Florida State – Round 3, 95th Overall (2006)
Oh Willie Reid. The forgotten receiver miss, probably in part due to his proximity to Limas Sweed, a bigger receiver bust. But Reid actually had fewer receptions than Sweed did in his career, catching just four passes with the team.The 95th pick of the 2006 NFL Draft, Reid lasted just two years in Pittsburgh. His stat sheet is almost invisible. He caught four passes for 54 yards in his rookie year and returned six kicks his sophomore season. Pittsburgh traded for Allen Rossum in 2008 to be the team’s return man. You know it’s bad when Mike Tomlin is letting defenders return kicks.
Reid was a classic workout warrior, running a 4.37 40, but never translating that game to the pros. He honestly could be several rungs higher on this list.
#162: Ricardo Colclough/CB Tusculum – Round 2, 38th Overall (2004)
No one should be happier about Ben Roethlisberger’s Hall of Fame career than Ricardo Colclough. Roethlisberger made Colclough’s disappointing career a much easier pill to swallow. The Steelers went small school by taking Colclough out of D2 Tusculum one round after choosing Big Ben. He played a bit his first two years and served as the team’s starting kick returner. But he never stuck on defense and quickly fell out of favor, playing just three games by his third year in 2006. He never started a game at corner and picked off just one pass, jumping in front of a Billy Volek pass in a blowout Steelers’ win.
Colclough feels like one reason why Colbert rarely drifted into the small-school waters, especially for early picks. Just too much of a projection of how those guys will make the jump.
Kevin Colbert’s Draft Rankings
#176. Senquez Golson
#175. Alonzo Jackson
#174. Fred Gibson
#173. Danny Farmer
#172. Kraig Urbik
#171. Bruce Davis
#170. Artie Burns
#169. Orien Harris
#168. Alameda Ta’amu
#167. Dri Archer
#166. Limas Sweed
#165. Thaddeus Gibson
#164. Nathaniel Adibi
#163. Willie Reid
#162. Ricardo Colclough