Part two of 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 2000. 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 two of the series, we’ll work through 14 names today, #161 to #148. If you want to check out part one, click the link here.
#161 Doran Grant/CB Ohio State – Round 4, 121st Overall (2015)
Picking up with the failed fourth rounders from Part One of the list. Grant was the team’s fourth round pick in 2015, one of the many Ohio State Buckeyes the team has collected over the years. Grant looked good-enough on paper running a 4.44 40 with decent size.
But after a lackluster first training camp, the team cut him as they trimmed their roster down. He was re-signed to the practice squad and brought up to the 53-man roster in November, appearing in three games though he never showed up on the stat sheet. According to PFR, he played 17 special teams and a lone snap on defense, five fewer than Al-Hajj Shabazz had for the team. Grant was waived for good the next summer and bounced around the league a few more seasons before exiting it.
#160 Tony Hills/OT Texas – Round 4, 130st Overall (2008)
More fourth round, uh, fun? Hills, like Grant, was a fourth round pick who served as only a blip on the Steelers’ radar. Hills appeared in just four games for the Steelers in his three-year career with the team. And it’s not like that was a time in which Pittsburgh had a good offensive line. Hills appeared in four games in 2010 but never logged a start. One game saw him replace Max Starks and in this post-2010 recap, our Dave Bryan wrote that Hills struggled mightily.
“Hills received a chance early on in 2010 when left tackle Max Starks left the week 2 game against the Titans with an ankle injury. Hills replaced Starks at left tackle and played almost 30 snaps there. Hills was not up to the task as both his pass and run blocking were not up to the standard. In that game, Hills allowed a sack, a pressure and a quarterback hit. The Steelers won the game, but Hills performance was not good.”
Pittsburgh finally cut the cord in the summer of 2011. Hills stuck in the league for a couple more seasons but he didn’t do much good for the Steelers. The process drafting him was built on shaky ground, too. Hills had a dropfoot medical flag coming out of college but Pittsburgh took the chance anyway. And they got burned.
#159 Ryan McBean/DL Oklahoma State – Round 4, 132nd Overall (2007)
Our third straight non-descript fourth round pick. McBean did make the team out of camp, which really should be a given for a fourth round pick, but he made just one appearance and didn’t show up on the stat sheet. Pittsburgh cut him the next year. McBean found moderate success in Denver, along with a six-game suspension for failing a drug test, but with the Steelers, he left as quickly as he came. You could argue he should at least be ranked over Hills.
#158 Mathias Nkwenti/OT Temple – Round 4, 111th Overall (2001)
From the who? category and another fourth round failure. Despite being a mid-round pick and spending three years with the team, Nkwenti saw action in just two games, both as backups. He never appeared in another game again. His most notable draft note is being the first player from Cameroon to play in the NFL. There’s been six others since including Moise Foku and the Kouandjio brothers, Arie and Cyrus.
#157 Jarvis Jones/EDGE Georgia – Round 1, 17th Overall (2013)
We leave the fourth round bubble to talk first round busts. I don’t know if that’s any better. Jones is one of Kevin Colbert’s biggest misses. In fact, he’s the second-worst first round pick on this list, only ahead of Artie Burns.
Some will ask why Jones is even in this position on the list and not closer to the top/worst. There’s no doubt Jones was a big whiff. But the slight advantage he had here was for one memorable playoff moment, forcing a key fumble recovered by the Steelers in their 2015 18-16 Wild Card win over the Bengals. And it didn’t come against some woeful backup either. Jones did it versus Andrew Whitworth, who has an outside chance to make the Hall of Fame. It set up a third-quarter field goal by Chris Boswell, one of his six that day.
Jones had a couple of quality reps against Joe Thomas and wasn’t the league’s worst run defender, though he had his lapses, like losing his gap on Zeke Elliott’s game-winning score after Ben Roethlisberger’s fake-spike touchdown to Antonio Brown. But there’s just enough here to give him a couple points in his favor.
Still, Jones was a poor-athlete and bad process by the team, box score scouting and banking on his SEC production carrying over and ignoring how Georgia’s defense schemed him to produce. In four years with the Steelers, he had just six sacks and battled injuries. A Pittsburgh pass rusher who couldn’t produce is something of a sin and Jones’ failure pushed the organization to focus more on top-athletes in the early rounds of drafts.
#156 Terry Hawthorne/CB Illinois – Round 5, 150th Overall (2013)
We depart the fourth round misses and begin the fifth rounders. Hawthorne joins the long list of DB whiffs, of which there are many by this team. Fifth round picks can’t be counted on to turn into studs but Hawthorne failed to make the team out of camp. He battled offseason injury, needing surgery to remove bone chips in his knees that limited him throughout camp.
Pittsburgh didn’t even bother to sign him to the practice squad. As far as I can tell, Hawthorne was never picked up by another NFL team (the Patriots worked him out but never signed him). He spent time in the CFL with Winnipeg and Calgary but his NFL career was gone in the blink of an eye. Perhaps the medical was a real issue but the fact no other teams were interested speaks to how poor the Steelers’ evaluation was of him and the position during that time period.
If you’re wondering what Hawthorne is up to these days, he just left his alma mater Illinois to take a defensive assistant job at Arkansas.
#155 Cameron Stephenson/OG Rutgers – Round 5, 156th Overall (2007)
Truthfully, there isn’t much to say about Cameron Stephenson. Like Hawthorne, he was a fifth round pick who couldn’t crack the 53 man roster. As far as I can tell, he didn’t even make the Steelers’ practice squad. If he did, it wasn’t for long, signed by the Packers to their ten-man taxi group in mid-September. Stephenson played for nine teams throughout his career everything from the Steelers to Chargers to the AFL’s Los Angeles Kiss squad.
The best thing I can say about his football career is he had some pretty sweet dance moves. No word if that was in his Steelers’ scouting report.
#154 Shaq Richardson/CB Arizona – Round 5, 157th Overall (2014)
I’ll see your Terry Hawthorne and raise you a Shaq Richardson. Ok, Richardson technically ranks “better” than Hawthorne here but they’re one in the same. A year after taking Hawthorne in the fifth round, Pittsburgh took another crack at it with Richardson. And they got the same results. Richardson didn’t make the team out of camp. He, unlike Hawthorne, at least made the Steelers’ practice squad but was never elevated to the 53 and was released in mid-October. Kansas City signed him to a futures deal in February of 2015.
#153 Charles Davis/TE Purdue – Round 5, 167th Overall (2006)
Davis is easily one of my most forgotten draft picks of the Colbert era. He didn’t make the team out of training camp and was immediately signed to the New York Giants’ practice squad, meaning Pittsburgh lost him months after drafting him. That’s really all there is to note here so check out this random touchdown he had at Purdue.
#152 Omar Jacobs/QB Bowling Green – Round 5, 164th Overall (2006)
Three picks before taking Davis, the team drafted Jacobs. One of several Day Three dart throws the team made at QB during the Ben Roethlisberger era. Jacobs never appeared in a NFL game, not for the Steelers or any other club. In fact, he’s so off the radar that he doesn’t even have a Pro Football Reference player page. Jacobs didn’t make the team out of camp but landed on the practice squad before the team severed ties the following summer. Jacobs found his most success in the AFL, throwing 31 TDs for the Jacksonville Sharks in 2012.
The only reason I put Jacobs slightly ahead of Richardson, Stephenson, and the like is he did spend his rookie season on the practice squad. And I understand it is harder for QBs to see the field than other positions so Jacobs gets a slight point in his favor. Still, this fifth round pick turned to dust in a hurry and the Jacobs/Davis selections were among the most fruitless in Colbert history.
#151 Wesley Johnson/OG Vanderbilt – Round 5, 173rd Overall (2014)
Unlike Davis or Jacobs, Johnson did make the team as a rookie. The Steelers envisioned him as a hyper-versatile swingman. But Pittsburgh cut him as part of mid-season roster shuffling in October. The team may have been trying to stash Johnson on the practice squad but the Jets intervened, claiming him off waivers. He remained a Jet for several seasons and start 24 games but none of them came in Pittsburgh, meaning they reaped none of the benefits of the selection.
#150 Mike Adams/OT Ohio State – Round 2, 56th Overall (2012)
We step away from mid-round duds to talk about Adams, one of the bigger early-round misses over Colbert’s times. After initially removing him from their draft board following a failed drug test, Pittsburgh reconsidered Adams after he wrote the team a note explaining his situation and why the Steelers should give him a chance. They made Adams the 56th pick of the 2012 draft. Adams started six games as a rookie but did not play well. Things didn’t get better in 2013 and he was benched a month into the season. The Steelers tried him again with another four starts in 2014 but his play never improved. Meanwhile, his health got worse and he underwent back surgery in 2015. Pittsburgh released him with a failed physical the following offseason.
Adams did play a fair amount of football for Pittsburgh. But playing and playing well are two different things and Adams certainly didn’t do the latter.
#149 Joe Burnett/CB UCF – Round 5, 168th Overall (2009)
Returning to home base with uneventful fifth round picks. On the plus side, Burnett made the team after an impressive preseason, including a near pick-six and blocked FG. He appeared in 15 games as a rookie, recording 17 tackles and mostly seeing time on special teams. But he never built on that small glimpse of rookie success and failed to make the team out of camp his sophomore season. He didn’t stay in the NFL for much longer after that and spent the rest of his pro football days in the CFL. Pittsburgh at least got something out of him but still only amounted to meager special teams value.
#148 Sammie Coates/WR Auburn – Round 3, 87th Overall (2015)
A bit more exciting of a name to close out Part Two. Coates legitimately had impressive moments, almost all of them coming in his sophomore season with the team. That year, he averaged over 20 yards per catch, caught a pair of touchdowns, and when he hit, he hit big. But like Vegas slot machines, he missed far more often than he hit triple 7’s. Hands were his downfall and perhaps he had a mental blocking to catching the ball.
I don’t have exact drop data for Coates’ Steelers career but in 2018 with the Texans, PFR has him down for two targets. One was a catch, the other was a drop, which sums up his Pittsburgh career to a T. After two difficult years with the team, the Steelers dealt him to Cleveland right before the 2017 season, sending him and a 7th round pick for a Browns’ 6th round selection. What a pointless trade.
Coates ended his Steelers’ career with 22 receptions. And probably 22 drops.
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
#161. Doran Grant
#160. Tony Hills
#159. Ryan McBean
#158. Mathias Nkwenti
#157. Jarvis Jones
#156. Terry Hawthorne
#155. Cameron Stephenson
#154. Shaq Richardson
#153. Charles Davis
#152. Omar Jacobs
#151. Wesley Johnson
#150. Mike Adams
#149. Joe Burnett
#148. Sammie Coates