Ranking Kevin Colbert’s Draft Picks (Part 11): The Big Hit Line

Part eleven 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 eleven of the series, we’ll work through 11 names today, #27 to #17. If you want to check out part ten by clicking the link here.

#27 Marcus Gilbert/OT Florida – Round 2, 63rd Overall (2011)

Gilbert was part of the Steelers’ excellent offensive lines during the mid 2010s. He was one of Colbert’s highest investments, never using a first round pick on an offensive tackle in his history, but snagged Gilbert in the backend of the second round. He was an immediate contributor, starting 13 games his rookie season following Willie Colon’s season-ending triceps injury. Gilbert himself battled injury early in his career, limited to just five games his second season.

But he completely transformed his body and dropped a lot of weight. It paid off handsomely and though he only started all 16 games twice in his career, his play got much better. He was a good run blocker and very good pass protector at right tackle. All 88 of his NFL games came in a Steelers’ uniform, though he briefly spent time as a Cardinal before an injury ended his career.

In total, he started 87 games and though he never made a Pro Bowl, his play was at that level as his peak. Of Colbert’s second round picks, only Marvel Smith started more games as a Steeler than Gilbert.

#26 Clark Haggans/OLB Colorado State – Round 5, 137th Overall (2000)

Haggans won’t be one of the first dozen, heck, maybe even 30, names you think of when you look back on Colbert’s draft picks. But he was part of Colbert’s first class and still turned out to be one of the team’s best picks, a fifth rounder who bided his time as a backup and reserve his first two years. He hung around and became a rotational rusher in 2002, putting up 6.5 sacks despite starting just one game. He was never a superstar pass rusher but was steady and consistent, sort of the Alex Highsmith to the TJ Watt. He was solid against the run and rarely made a mistake.

Once be became a full-time starter in 2004, Haggans recorded between four and nine sacks in each of the next four seasons, including a combined 21 from 2004 to 2007, helping the Steelers win one for the thumb. He defected to Steelers West – Arizona – for 2008 only to have his Cardinals lose to the Steelers in that year’s Super Bowl. But he finished out his career there as a steady, consistent pass rusher.

As a Steeler, Haggans played in 107 games, starting 61, and recorded 32.5 sacks. Of fifth round picks drafted by Colbert, only William Gay appeared and started in more games than Haggans. Not bad for an inaugural draft.

#25 Vince Williams/LB Florida State – Round 6, 206th Overall (2013)

Williams was one of Colbert’s top Day Three gems, who went from supreme special teamer to quality thumping linebacker. Thrown into the fire his rookie year following Larry Foote’s season-ending injury, Williams started 11 games though Pittsburgh did their best to manage his snaps. Williams reverted to core special teamer the next three seasons before working his way back into the starting lineup, forming a fantastic duo and complement to Ryan Shazier, dubbing themselves Shake ‘n Bake.

He was a stellar fit in the Steelers’ system as an aggressive, blitzing linebacker. In 2017, he racked up a whopping eight-sacks, one of the top marks for a Steelers’ off-ball linebacker in team history. As a Steeler, he finished his career with 20.5 of them along with 479 tackles (333 solo) with an attitude and mentality perfect for Pittsburgh. He retired prior to the start of the 2021 training camp and is now a linebackers coach for nearby Pine-Richland High School.

#24 William Gay/CB Louisville – Round 5, 170th Overall (2007)

Part of Mike Tomlin’s first draft class, Gay was one of the team’s rare cornerback hits. The start of his career was a bumpy one, taking a ton of heat from Steelers’ fans and often picked on by opposing quarterbacks (especially Tom Brady). Gay was underappreciated for for the bulk of his career but fans began to love him late in it. He didn’t put up gaudy numbers but he was a pick-six machine. 45.4% of career interceptions, five of eleven, were housed.

Gay was a physical and solid run-stopping who was a great leader, mentor, and member of the Pittsburgh community. All wrapped up in a fifth round pick.

In ten years with the team, Gay appeared in 160 games, starting 86 of them, and notched over 500 tackles with 11 interceptions. His time in Pittsburgh was broken up by one year spent in Arizona before coming back to the Steelers. To date, he’s still an underrated player and the fact he bucked the Steelers’ DB curse is a minor miracle.

#23 Ryan Shazier/LB Ohio State – Round 1, 15th Overall (2014)

Shazier is certainly a difficult player to rank. A tremendous talent and career before suffering a devastating spinal cord injury against the Cincinnati Bengals in 2017. Before that play, Shazier was rounding into the prime of his career, making the Pro Bowls in 2016 and his final season in 2017. A hyper-athletic linebacker, Shazier was developing his playmaking ability and a menace in coverage, once picking off a pass in four straight games.

His career-ending injury makes Shazier one of football’s biggest “what-ifs” in franchise history. Though we’re not ranking this based on what he could’ve been, just what he was, he was a dynamic and dominant player in his four years with the team, making two Pro Bowls along the way. That resume, while brief, was a joy to watch and still puts him high on the list. Had he avoided that terrible fate, he easily would’ve been in the top ten.

#22 Javon Hargrave/DT South Carolina State – Round 3, 89th (2016)

One of Colbert’s few small-school attempts, Hargrave was a clear hit. John Mitchell seemed sold on him and so were the Steelers. A squatty body with a funny running style, he was explosive and strong, a new-age nose tackle who didn’t just take on blockers but beat them silly.

Pittsburgh didn’t use him as an everydown player which capped his numbers and Hargrave only had more than five sacks in a season once, putting up 6.5 in 2018. The Steelers would’ve loved to keep him but Hargrave predictably left after his rookie contract expired, cashing in big with the Philadelphia Eagles. Last year, he earned his first Pro Bowl big and set a career-high with 7.5 sacks.

As Dave Bryan recently suggested with Stephon Tuitt retiring, Tyson Alualu in almost certainly his final season, and Hargrave’s contract voiding this upcoming offseason, maybe there’s a reunion in order in 2023.

#21 Mike Wallace/WR Ole Miss – Round 3, 84th Overall (2009)

Speed, speed, and more speed. That was Mike Wallace. A true and fearless burner, Wallace not only led the Steelers but the entire NFL averaging 19.4 yards per catch his rookie season. He bested that number in 2010, hitting 21 yards even despite a larger volume of catches, 60 of them. Chuck it up, let him run under it, and Wallace did the rest.

He was one-third of the Young Money crew and helped make Pittsburgh one of the most explosive offenses for a several-year stretch. He wasn’t a complete receiver nor the type of #1 who caught 100+ passes a season but he was a perfect #2. Wallace was fast and good. There’s a lot of speedsters out there but most of them never put it together.

With Wallace turning down a contract extension that went to Antonio Brown, he left the team after four years, signing with the Miami Dolphins. He bounced around the rest of his career with the Vikings, Ravens, and Eagles and last played in 2018.

Just as Wallace did to defenses, his speed is something the Steelers are still trying to chase and find again.

#20 Antwaan Randle El/WR Indiana – Round 2, 62nd Overall (2002)

I know Randle El didn’t put up impressive numbers that you’d expect for someone sitting in the Top 20 of this list. But come on, the dude threw a Super Bowl touchdown and had one of the most iconic plays of the decade.

Pittsburgh gambled in drafting Randle El, a college quarterback, and turning him into a receiver. He was a good one, lacking overwhelming numbers due to Hines Ward and the Steelers’ run-first approach, but he was always a solid #2 in the offense. His gadget ability was perfect for Bill Cowher, a man not afraid to roll the dice.

On top of that was Randle El’s return ability, which was about as impactful as what he did as a wideout. He had five career return touchdowns in his first four years as a Steeler. Four punts and one kick and he was always a threat to take one back to the house, zig-zagging his way to paydirt.

He did it all for Pittsburgh. Receiving, rushing, returning, throwing. His rookie year, he attempted eight passes and completed seven of them. He threw four touchdowns in his Steelers’ career, including two in his return to the team – his final NFL season – in 2012.

In terms of variety and versatility, few matched what “El” accomplished. That puts him this high on Colbert’s list. Not bad for a college quarterback.

#19 Max Starks/OT Florida – Round 3, 75th Overall (2004)

Starks was a perfect for what and who the Steelers were in 2004. They were big, tough, physical, and wanted to run the ball down your throat and they didn’t care if you knew it or not. Starks was the biggest dude on the field, listed at 6’8, 345 pounds (and he probably played heavier than that (his weight at least ballooned up by the end of his career).

Like most rookies back then, Starks sat his rookie season. But he entered the starting lineup in 2005 as the Steelers went on their Super Bowl run with Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis leading the charge. Starks was the team’s right tackle and the dude you could reliably run behind all game long. He eventually shifted to left tackle and as Ben Roethlisberger took over the offense, Starks’ play and fit slipped. So did his health and a neck injury eventually led to his release.

But overall, he started 96 games in Pittsburgh, by far the most of any third-rounder Colbert drafted. Here’s the list of the top five.

Most Starts In Pittsburgh By Kevin Colbert Third-Round Pick (2000-2021)

1. Max Starks – 96
2. Matt Spaeth – 66
3. Javon Hargrave – 52
4. Mike Wallace – 48
5. Diontae Johnson – 39

Starks is lapping the field. He was a two-time Super Bowl champ and started both of those games. Look at his resume big-picture and he is every bit deserving of a top 20 spot.

#18 Larry Foote/LB Michigan – Round 4, 128th Overall (2002)

Foote was never an elite NFL linebacker and was often overshadowed by whoever was playing next to him be it James Farrior or Lawrence Timmons. Foote never made a Pro Bowl and it was rare he ever earned serious contention. But he was a steady, consistent force and durable as heck until injuries struck very late in his career.

Put it this way. Foote started all 16 games five seasons in a row, 2004-2008. I can’t pinpoint it exactly, not easily anyway, but I doubt many non specialists/offensive lineman have put together such a streak. Year-after-year, he put up anywhere between 70-100 tackles a season and playing a well-rounded game while molding into a defensive leader in his later years.

Foote appeared in 158 games as a Steeler, starting 105 of them. Of fourth round picks, only Ike Taylor started more of them. Foote tore his bicep in Week One of the 2013 season, effectively ending his Steelers’ career. He spent one year in Pittsburgh 2.0, Arizona, before getting into coaching. He’s now a co-defensive coordinator of the Bucs.

#17 Stephon Tuitt/DL Notre Dame – Round 2, 46th Overall (2014)

For what it’s worth, I’ve had this list created for weeks, long before the news of Tuitt’s retirement. Even knowing his career ended sooner than what fans would’ve liked to see, and even knowing all the injuries he dealt with, Tuitt’s highs were nearly as high as any player Colbert’s ever taken. A rare blend of size and athleticism, Tuitt was a freak and couldn’t be blocked when healthy. That was proven in his final NFL season, 2020, when he played in 15 games and racked up 11 sacks. In only one other season did he ever record more than five sacks but he and Cam Heyward made up for a dynamic duo inside and a nightmare for guards tasked to block them. Tuitt could defend the run and rush the passer at equally high levels while his effort and passion were off-the-charts.

But injuries were persistent, playing hurt or missing time, and his career came to an end on June 1st when he announced his retirement from football. Despite all that, he still played in nearly 100 games and started 79 of them, finishing his career with 34.5 sacks


#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
#55. Sean Davis – Rd. 2
#54. Keenan Lewis – Rd. 3
#52. Jesse James – Rd. 5
#52. Chukwuma Okorafor – Rd. 3
#51. Jason Worilds – Rd. 2
#50. Tyler Matakevich – Rd. 7
#49. Emmanuel Sanders – Rd. 3
#48. Rashard Mendenhall – Rd. 1
#47. Chris Kemoeatu – Rd. 6
#46. Chase Claypool – Rd. 2
#45. Matt Spaeth – Rd. 3
#44. Alex Highsmith – Rd. 3
#43. Terrell Edmunds – Rd. 1
#42. Pat Freiermuth – Rd. 3
#41. Kendrell Bell – Rd. 2
#40. Martavis Bryant – Rd. 4
#39. Willie Colon – Rd. 4
#38. James Conner  – Rd. 3
#37. Cameron Sutton – Rd. 3
#36. Chris Hope – Rd. 3
#35. Bryant McFadden – Rd. 2
#34. Kelvin Beachum – Rd. 7
#33. Kendall Simmons – Rd. 1
#32. Najee Harris – Rd. 1
#31. Diontae Johnson – Rd. 3
#30. Bud Dupree – Rd. 1
#29. Plaxico Burress – Rd. 1
#28. JuJu Smith-Schuster – Rd. 2
#27. Marcus Gilbert – Rd. 2
#26. Clark Haggans – Rd. 5
#25. Vince Williams – Rd. 6
#24. William Gay – Rd. 5
#23. Ryan Shazier – Rd. 1
#22. Javon Hargrave – Rd. 3
#21. Mike Wallace – Rd. 3
#20. Antwaan Randle El – Rd. 2
#19. Max Starks – Rd. 3
#18. Larry Foote – Rd. 4
#17. Stephon Tuitt – Rd. 2

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