Could Omar Khan And The Pittsburgh Steelers Finally Show Interest In Small School Prospects?

If there was one thing you could expect from Kevin Colbert during his tenure as Pittsburgh Steelers’ GM, it was to focus on the FBS prospects. That’s not to say Colbert never drafted small schoolers but it was rare and when it happened, the pre-draft interest was often obvious.

In the first round, he almost exclusively drafted not just Division I players but those from the Power 5, college football’s major conferences. There was only one exception and it was a home run, drafting Miami OH QB Ben Roethlisberger 11th overall in 2004 and even then, it took the heavy hand of Dan Rooney to step up in and steer the team in the right direction.

2004 – Ricardo Colclough/CB Tusculum – 2nd Round
2006 – Willie Colon/OG Hofstra – 4th Round
2011 – Cortez Allen/CB The Citadel – 4th Round
2013 – Nick Williams/DL Samford – 7th Round
2014 – Robert Blanchflower/TE UMass – 7th Round
2016 – Javon Hargrave/DT South Carolina State – 3rd Round
2022 – Chris Oladokun/QB South Dakota State – 7th Round

It’s a list of players, this isn’t just one name, but over Colbert’s tenure as GM from 2000 to 2022, it’s still only seven selections and three of them came in the seventh round. Only two selections came on the first two days, Colclough in 2004 and not again until Hargrave in 2016. Though Colbert’s never said it, my suspicion is the miss on Colclough scared him off from small schoolers the rest of his tenure. He preferred players who were the easiest projections in a still-messy process. On top of everything else you have to make an educated guess at about a player, how they’ll transition to the NFL, adding sincere competition concerns only muddied the picture more.

Colbert’s now stepped down and though two of the team’s three key decision makers remain, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II, Omar Khan is the new GM. Though he doesn’t have a role in choosing the pick, Assistant GM Andy Weidl is responsible for setting the board and will have an influence on the team’s general direction. Throughout his career, Weidl was in Baltimore when they hit on Delaware QB Joe Flacco, Nicholls State CB Ladarius Webb, Missouri Southern DL Brandon Williams and in Philadelphia when they took North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz and South Dakota State TE Dallas Goedert. He can bring that type of perspective to the war room. Under Khan and Weidl, this team might be less cookie-cutter than it has, Khan already pointing out the fresh ideas brought to the room by new members of the front office.

Of the Steelers’ known pre-draft visitors, only one comes from that small school pool. North Dakota State offensive lineman Cody Mauch has a visit with the team and Pittsburgh sent Dan Colbert, who received a promotion last year, to the Bisons’ recent Pro Day. Given Mauch’s nasty run blocking attitude and Pittsburgh’s seeming desire to keep adding to the o-line, he’s someone worth considering around #32 or #49 if he slips a couple of spots.

While the data here is a little shaky, smaller sample size and the risk of things not being 100% certain, Pittsburgh did have scouts pop up at a couple of smaller programs this year, appearing at places like Shepherd, UT-Chattanooga, NDSU, and William & Mary. In total, we know they were at at least five FCS or below programs this year and probably at least one or two more (reportedly, they were slated to attend Incarnate Word’s workout but I couldn’t confirm their actual attendance).

It’s doubtful Pittsburgh will lead the league in drafting from the small school pool. Their top pick is still highly likely to come from the Power 5. But perhaps Khan will break from tradition just a little bit and be willing to take on the player who comes with added projection. It’ll be hard to conclude anything from just one year but five years out, there could be a slight shift in how the Steelers approach things.

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