Ranking Kevin Colbert’s Draft Picks (Part Ten): The ‘Pretty Good’ Line

Part ten 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 ten of the series, we’ll work through 11 names today, #38 to #28. If you want to check out part nine, click the link here.

#38 James Conner/RB Pittsburgh – Round 3, 105th Overall (2017)

A feel-good story who stayed local, Conner was more than that. After a quiet first year that saw him backing up Le’Veon Bell, Conner became the guy in 2018 when Bell refused to sign the franchise tag. Conner showed up ready to work, slimming down and looking rocked up for that 2018 camp. He had all the traits of a quality NFL running back. Size, power, receiving, pass protection (which greatly improved starting his second year.

Conner’s biggest problem, as I know you know, was health. He never played more than 13 games in a season as a Steeler. His stellar 2018 season was cut short due to an ankle sprain, though he still made the Pro Bowl that year. His numbers were always above average and when healthy, his play was good, but that availability was fleeting. It was a question of when he’d get hurt, not if, and he was more prone than your typical runner to visit the trainer’s table.

In four years with the Steelers, Conner rushed 532 times for 2302 yards and 22 touchdowns while catching another 124 receptions and four touchdowns on top of that. But he never passed the 1000 yard mark and despite Mike Tomlin’s wishes, the Steelers let him walk in 2021. He signed a one-year, prove-it deal with Arizona and flourished, finding the end zone 18 total times with the Cardinals this past year, making his second Pro Bowl and securing a long-term deal this March.

Conner was a good back in Pittsburgh but injuries prevented him from being anything more than that.

#37 Cameron Sutton/CB Tennessee – Round 3, 94th Overall (2017)

Another solid pick from an impressive 2017 class, Sutton has shown health and staying power in Pittsburgh. Sutton worked his way up the defensive ladder, playing in dime packages and on third down early in his career but moving to the nickel spot (to help cover for an injured Mike Hilton) and eventually, becoming the team’s starting right cornerback last year.

Sutton is a high-IQ player who has improved his tackling, taking it from a weakness to a strength of his. He earned a two-year contract extension last summer and started 16 games last season, recording 52 tackles and picking off two passes. He lacks high-end athleticism to be a #1 corner in the league and ideally, he’ll bump back into the slot this year with Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon on the outside.

Overall, Sutton was a rock solid third round pick for Kevin Colbert, one of several starters to come out of his draft class.

#36 Chris Hope/S Florida State – Round 3, 94th Overall (2002)

Going a little older school now. Before there was Troy Polamalu, there was Chris Hope. Obviously, Hope was no Hall of Famer like Polamalu but Polamalu’s selection one year later makes it easy for Steelers’ fans to forget about him.

Hope was a backup the firs two seasons before cracking the starting lineup in 2004. His two seasons in Pittsburgh were excellent, picking off four passes across 2004 and 2005 with well over 180 total tackles. He helped the team win Super Bowl XL starting opposite Polamalu. Hope left after the season to sign with the Tennessee Titans, where he started for the next six years. Pittsburgh replaced him with Ryan Clark, one of Colbert’s best free-agent signings.

It’s a bit disappointing Hope’s time in Pittsburgh really only amounted to two years as the team’s starter but they were sure two good ones.

#35 Bryant McFadden/CB Florida State – Round 2, 62nd Overall (2005)

Talk about underrated Steelers’ corners. McFadden was rarely a full-time, starting corner for the Steelers but he was a steady, solid player with the team. In six total years with the team, he started 35 games, intercepting nine passes and racking up 234 total tackles. He made some key plays along the way, perhaps none bigger than his end zone breakup in the 2005 AFC Divisional Game, forcing Mike Vanderjagt to attempt – and miss – a game-tying field goal.

McFadden spent his first four years with Pittsburgh before defecting to Arizona. The Steelers brought him back via a draft-weekend trade and he spent two more years with the team, starting all 16 games in 2010. McFadden played an active role in both of the Steelers’ Super Bowl wins this century, including starting in 2008 in the team’s win over the Cardinals.

McFadden wasn’t the top-end cornerback like an Ike Taylor nor did he have the splashy numbers like a William Gay but he was a solid corner in his own right and what the team needed at that time.

#34 Kelvin Beachum/OT Southern Methodist – Round 7, 248th Overall (2012)

One of Colbert’s greatest seventh round gems, Beachum was a bit of a tweener early in his career. Considered too small to play tackle, he tried his hand at guard without much success. Tackle became his home and by 2013, he was the team’s blindside protector. He started 39 career games in Pittsburgh and though he never was a Pro Bowler, he was a good tackle and player for the Steelers.

His Steelers’ career ended on a sour note, tearing his ACL mid-way through the 2015 season. That opened the door for Alejandro Villanueva, the team’s next hidden gem at left tackle. Off the field, Beachum was also a great member of his community and has carried that on throughout his career. He’s still playing and is in line to start his third straight season along the Cardinals’ line.

#33 Kendall Simmons/OG Auburn – Round 1, 30th Overall (2002)

One of Colbert’s most forgotten first round picks, Simmons wasn’t a home run but far from a bust. Pittsburgh made solid contact and hit a double to the wall with Simmons, a late first round pick who became a 14-game starter out of the box. He started the majority of games each of the next four seasons and was part of the starting line to take home Super Bowl XL’s Lombardi Trophy.

A 2008 Achilles injury ended his Steelers’ career and essentially, his time in the NFL. Pittsburgh released him the following offseason and he started just three more games, all with Buffalo.

As a Steeler, Simmons appeared in 80 games, starting each one of those contests. Of Colbert’s first-round picks, Simmons has started the ninth most games with the team. It’s not superstar but it’s solid.

#32 Najee Harris/RB Alabama – Round 1, 24th Overall (2021)

I know this is pretty high just one year in but Harris is the real deal. Harris didn’t cure all of the Steelers’ run game ills last year but his talent was easy to spot from the outset. He came into camp capable of being a workhorse back, not even needing a second year the way Le’Veon Bell and James Conner did. One of the league’s few bellcows, he carried the ball 307 times while setting the Steelers’ rookie record for receptions in a season. His conditioning is off the charts and allowed him to routinely play 90% of the time. In his first NFL game against Buffalo, he never came off the field.

Harris lacked efficiency but it wasn’t often his fault, plagued by a Steelers’ offense stuck in the mud with an offensive line underdoing serious changes. He enters Year Two as the Steelers’ #1 back and they could lean on him even more in 2022. He might not be in Pittsburgh for a long time but the team should get four more quality years out of him. You can debate the value but you can’t debate the talent.

#31 Diontae Johnson/WR Toledo – Round 3, 66th Overall (2019)

Johnson was just another and one of the final examples of Kevin Colbert and the Steelers’ ability to draft receivers. Johnson was Antonio Brown’s replacement, though he lacked Brown’s strength, but overall profiled as the team’s X receiver, a shifty, nuanced route runner who could beat tight man coverage.

He’s improved year-by-year in both production and play. Drop issues plagued him in 2020 and briefly got him benched. He bounced back in 2021, first in, last out during camp, to improve his hands and it wasn’t nearly the issue, though things popped up again down the stretch. Still, he’s a #1 receiver who put up big numbers a year ago and is a dangerous man after the catch. His hands aren’t bad, in fact they’re good, but his focus has lacked a bit, especially over the middle of the field.

Now it’s a question of if the team will re-sign him as he enters the final year of his rookie deal.

#30 Bud Dupree/EDGE Kentucky – Round 1, 22nd Overall (2015)

Dupree was a hyper-athletic, hyper-raw player coming out of Kentucky who didn’t even have a dedicated positional coach in college. It took several years and injuries for him to turn the corner in 2019, busting down the door and reaching 11 sacks. He was on track to match or best that number in 2020 but tore his ACL against Baltimore late in the year and ended the year with eight sacks. Dupree’s run defense was excellent and his closing speed made him a weapon in backside pursuit of runs.

Despite the knee injury, Dupree signed an $80 million+ deal with Tennessee. So far, they haven’t gotten a return on investment. Dupree benefitted from the Steelers’ scheme and was a good fit for that defense. It just required more patience than ideal to get the best out of him.

#29 Plaxico Burress/WR Michigan State – Round 1, 8th Overall (2000)

It’s taken awhile, and that’s a good thing, but we’ve finally reached Colbert’s first ever draft pick. In fact, it was the highest draft pick he ever selected, a testament to how well Colbert drafted and put together his roster. Burress was a big-play receiver out of Michigan State and burst onto scene his sophomore season, going over 1000 yards and finding the end zone six times. He took things to the next level in 2002, crossing the 1300-yard mark and averaging a whopping 17 yards per catch that year. It’s the third-highest yards per catch of any Steeler in a single season who caught at least 70 passes, trailing only Yancey Thigpen and John Stallworth.

Burress had his on-field dumb moments, like spiking the football without ever being touched down, turning it over, and he left for New York the year before Pittsburgh won its Super Bowl, meaning he played just one year with a then-rookie Ben Roethlisberger. He made his hay with worse quarterbacks and in a more run-heavy era and that’s what helps boost him into the top 30 even if his overall numbers aren’t the best in the world.

Including a very brief second stint with the team in 2012, Burress finished his Steelers’ career with 264 receptions for 4206 yards and 23 touchdowns.

#28 JuJu Smith-Schuster/WR USC – Round 2, 62nd Overall (2017)

Smith-Schuster was one of the youngest players in the 2017 draft, not even turning 21 until well into his rookie year. He began his career as a physical deep threat, posting 97-yard touchdowns in back-to-back seasons in 2017 and 2018. He also chipped in a kick return touchdown against the Browns. The latter season was his golden year, playing opposite Antonio Brown and becoming one of the league’s best duos. Smith-Schuster finished the year with 111 receptions for over 1400 yards and seven touchdowns.

He battled nagging knee injuries over the next couple of seasons and transitioned from exciting downfield player in an efficient passing offense into an exclusive short-route slot receiver doing the dirty work underneath. By 2020, his yards per catch was nearly cut in half, 15.8 to 8.6, and he ran more of a tight end route tree. But he became a dependable third down and “gotta have it” target in big moments. He was tough and routinely made the big play between the numbers.

Smith-Schuster surprisingly re-signed in 2021, taking less money to do so, but suffered a severe shoulder injury five games into the season. He worked hard to return for the Wild Card loss but finally bounced this offseason, taking a one-year deal with the Chiefs in the hopes of playing in a high-flying offense. Smith-Schuster spent five years in Pittsburgh and hey, maybe he returns one day. I won’t rule it out.


#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

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