Ranking Kevin Colbert’s Draft Picks (Part Six): Getting Closer To Something Good

Part six 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 six of the series, we’ll work through just 12 names today, #96 to #85. If you want to check out part five, click the link here. 

#96 Demarcus Ayers/WR Houston – Round 7, 229th Overall (2016)

Yes, Ayers appeared in only two games. Even for a seventh round pick, that isn’t great. But he’s done something most guys on this list haven’t achieved. Find the end zone. Ayers contributed real, actual points to the Steelers. Granted, it came in a relatively meaningless Week 17 game against the Cleveland Browns (back when those were season finales) to beat the Browns 27-24. Ayers’ fourth quarter touchdown broke a 14-14 tie, though the Steelers needed overtime to finish the job.

Ayers couldn’t make the team his second time around and has bounced between leagues since with other NFL clubs, the AAF, the IFL (briefly playing with Martavis Bryant) and CFL. This may seem high but if you find the end zone in the NFL, you’ve joined a relatively exclusive club. Since 2015, just 31.4% (11 of 35) of receivers drafted in the seventh round scored at least one touchdown. And I don’t believe all those came with their drafted teams, either.

#95 Baron Batch/RB Texas Tech – Round 7, 232nd Overall (2011)

Batch sits here for similar reasons as Ayers. Batch, though, played in 12 games, and carried the ball 25 times. He didn’t do a lot with them, just 49 yards, but he snuck over the goal line from one-yard out in a loss to the Tennessee Titans.

Batch bounced on and off the Steelers’ roster for the next two years before retiring and pursuing an art career.

Since 2010, just 22.9% of seventh round running backs scored at least one rushing touchdown (11 of 48). Batch is one of those guys.

#94 Carlos Davis/NT Nebraska – Round 7, 232nd Overall (2020)

Davis has appeared in 11 games in his first two years with the team, flashing a tiny bit along the defensive interior. A knee injury wiped out a large chunk of his sophomore season and he’ll have to fight hard for his roster spot in 2022. Still, he’s hung around, played a little bit, and that’s more than you can say for a lot of seventh round guys.

#93 Isaiah Buggs/NT Alabama – Round 6, 192nd Overall (2019)

Buggs accomplished something a lot of late-round picks don’t do. Play in 29 games and start a chunk of them, seven to be exact. Six of those starts came in 2021 as the team scrambled to replace the injured Tyson Alualu. Buggs finished his Steelers’ career with 31 tackles, including a key fourth down stop on Lamar Jackson, but never recorded a sack.

His tape and actual play was poor and he was, frankly, a frustrating player to watch who made a lot of mental mistakes. Pittsburgh released him late in the 2021 season and he recently participated in Vikings’ rookie minicamp.

#92 Josh Dobbs/QB Tennessee – Round 4, 135th Overall (2017)

I know several in the comments have been asking where Dobbs is at. And some will argue he should’ve appeared on this list awhile ago. After all, he’s a fourth round QB who threw 17 passes and zero touchdowns and is no longer a Steeler. Not exactly great return on investment for a fourth round pick.

But there’s a couple special notes with the Dobbs’ pick. While he didn’t often see the field, he provided an important role on the Steelers’ sideline, functioning as a quasi-coach throughout his career and was even credited as the spark for playcalls that led to touchdowns/big plays. Don’t get that out of every draft pick.

Importantly for this list, Pittsburgh also got real draft pick value out of him, sending Dobbs to Jacksonville for a 5th round pick early in the 2019 season. In hindsight, that may have been a regrettable move with Ben Roethlisberger’s season-ending injury less than two weeks after the deal was done. But Pittsburgh used a fourth round pick on him, got a 5th rounder for him two years later, and then claimed him back on the roster when the Jags dumped him the following year. That’s good value! You don’t see Willie Reid netting the team a fifth round pick. So for all those reasons, and the fact Dobbs has/had some real NFL talent, he moves a decent ways up the list.

#91 David Paulson/TE Oregon – Round 7, 240th Overall (2012)

A seventh round pick who appeared in 32 games for the Steelers is pretty solid value. Paulson wasn’t particularly good and fumbled away the longest reception of his career, a 34-yarder against the Bengals that had a sour ending, but he played a fair amount on special teams and even caught a fake punt from Mat McBriar, which was pretty cool. You can revisit those clips by clicking here. If you’re a man that has that kind of free time to watch David Paulson highlights.

#90 Sean Spence/LB Miami (FL) – Round 3, 86th Overall (2012)

Spence is one of those ultimate “what could’ve beens.” That doesn’t impact his standing on here but still, you can’t help but wonder. Spence suffered a devastating knee injury late in his rookie year. You have to give him credit for getting back on the field at all, returning in 2014. He’d start 17 games over the next four years, including being brought back in 2017 after Ryan Shazier’s career-ending injury, totaling 90 tackles and three sacks. His play was often below the line and he was never the same player post-injury. He was a bit of a difficult player to rank.

#89 LT Walton/DL Central Michigan – Round 6, 199th Overall (2015)

Walton was, well he was there. 36 games, four starts, just 22 tackles. A ho-hum run stuffer who wasn’t that great at it, Walton gets props for playing out his rookie contract, relatively rare for such a late-round pick, but he was a rotational player and wholly replaceable. If WAR was a football stat, Walton would’ve logged a 0.0.

#88 Buddy Johnson/LB Texas A&M – Round 4, 140th Overall (2021)

Like the rest of Colbert’s most recent class that’s played (so excluding the ’22 crop, of course), Johnson is hard to rank. His career though isn’t off to the sterling start Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth are experiencing, though of course, those were higher draft picks.

Johnson was an afterthought his rookie year, logging just six snaps defensively and struggling to get a helmet on gameday. An injured foot late in the season didn’t help matters. He’s now part of a highly crowded off-ball linebacker room and there’s no guarantee Johnson makes the team out of camp. If not, he’ll certainly be considered one of Colbert’s worst fourth-round selections, though not the worst.

#87 Dennis Dixon/QB Oregon – Round 5, 156th Overall (2008)

Dixon was by no means a great quarterback but for a fifth rounder, he accomplished something most didn’t. Start and win a game for the team that took you. Now, Dixon by no means was the catalyst for Steelers’ victories and he started out of necessity, injury and Ben Roethlisberger’s 2010 suspension. He’s credited with a 2-1 career record, though his second win came against Tennessee in 2010, a game he left early due to a knee injury after completing just four passes

Still, for a fifth round QB to throw a touchdown pass and win games for his team isn’t a small feat. It’s beating the odds. Of QBs drafted between the 5th and 6th rounds since 2005, only 12 of 57 of them (21%) have won multiple games as starters.

And – get this – of QBs drafted between the 5th and 7th rounds over the same timespan, Dixon is only one of two (!!) QBs with winning records. It’s hit and Tyrod Taylor (26-25-1). That counts for something, doesn’t it?

#86 Hank Poteat/CB Pittsburgh – Round 3, 77th Overall (2000)

One of the few Pitt Panthers drafted in the Colbert era, Poteat fell somewhere between hit and disappointment. Closer to the latter than the former, Poteat never recorded a start as a defensive back and never picked off a pass in a Steelers’ uniform (in fact, he didn’t record a NFL INT until his age-30 season). The saving grace here is what he accomplished in the return game. He wasn’t elite but a starter in the punt and kick return game. He found the end zone once, a punt return score against Washington his rookie season.

Overall, Colbert probably didn’t feel great about picking Poteat but at least there was some value squeezed out of him in his three years with the team.

#85 Daniel McCullers/NT Tennessee – Round 6, 215th Overall (2014)

One of Colbert’s strangest draft picks, McCullers wasn’t here for a good time but he was here for a long time. Six years in Pittsburgh, 73 games, but only three starts. He never played more than 190 snaps in any one season and often, his snap count came in right around the 100-mark. A mountain of a man, he played too timid, and lacked athleticism to move down the line or get after the QB. Javon Hargrave passed him up with lightning speed after being drafted. McCullers became the invisible backup and had just 41 tackles in his Steelers’ career. But you won’t find a lot of sixth rounders last six years. Pure staying power pushes him into the mid-80s.

Of the 2014 6th round class, the only non-specialists to appear in more games than McCullers 76 (for this stat, I’m including his brief time in Chicago) are OL Zach Fulton and Matt Paradis.

As you guys requested, I have added the round each player was taken in recapping my list below.

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

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