Omar Khan’s First Draft – Here’s What Changed

The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books and we can take a step back and review the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class and, just as importantly, the team’s process. That’s especially notable in Omar Khan’s first draft season and class, replacing Kevin Colbert who held that role from 2000 to 2022.

So what’s different? Even Khan himself said things were different, about 15% or so, though he didn’t elaborate on details. While we won’t know the team’s inner workings, we can note the changes that appear on the surface. Here are some of the things we noted and tomorrow, we’ll highlight the things that remained the same.

1st-Round Visitors

Generally speaking under Kevin Colbert, first-round selections did not come in for pre-draft visits. Steelers Depot has been tracking them since 2010 and only four of Colbert’s first round picks were brought to the team facility ahead of the draft: Maurkice Pouncey in 2010, Jarvis Jones in 2013, Ryan Shazier in 2014, and Kenny Pickett in 2022 (though he was a local visit and didn’t officially count).

Largely, Colbert and Mike Tomlin would go see their first-round pick instead of him visiting them. And while that still held true in 2022 — Khan and Tomlin attended Georgia’s Pro Day and had a dinner with Broderick Jones — he also came in for a pre-draft visit.

Perhaps Khan wants as thorough a vetting as possible with anyone he is considering taking with a first-round pick. Jones was far from the only first-round candidate who came in this year. Other names include OT Darnell Wright, CB Christian Gonzalez, CB Deonte Banks, and Joey Porter Jr., though he was a local visit. Having Jones in for a visit offers more time with him, the ability to meet positional coaches (to our knowledge, OL Coach Pat Meyer wasn’t at the Georgia Pro Day) and the possibility of further medical evaluation if warranted. I like the approach and desire to know a player as much as possible before making him head of your draft class.

We did see more visits from Day One-Day Two candidates this year than others, though it’s hard to say if that was due to Pittsburgh’s draft capital – four picks in the top 80 – while not holding a fifth- or sixth-round pick. Something to watch for next year’s draft cycle.

Trading Down

Here’s a crazy fact. The Steelers’ trade down from #80 to #93 to recoup a fourth rounder lost in the move up for Jones in Round One was the first move down Pittsburgh made since 2010. And even then, that trade involved a player, Colbert sending a fifth rounder to the Arizona Cardinals in exchange for CB Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick that turned into Antonio Brown. The last trade down Pittsburgh had that strictly involved picks came the year before that in 2009 when Colbert’s Steelers moved down in the second round. For Colbert’s entire Steelers tenure, he only traded down five times.

Colbert was willing to trade future picks and move up in the draft but he had a very conservative approach to trading down and acquiring more draft capital. It isn’t inherently bad but it certainly is debatable and notable to see Khan immediately move down in his first draft. Truth be told though, I think Colbert would’ve made the same calculation considering that if the Steelers had made the pick at #80, they wouldn’t have picked again until #241. But Khan made the move, still grabbed TE Darnell Washington, and managed to pick up Nick Herbig in the fourth round. It was really good maneuvering by him.

Drafting an OT Round One

Maybe a little overly specific here that focuses on results, not process, but Colbert never drafted an offensive tackle in the first round. The only other positions Colbert didn’t use a first-round pick on were fullback, kicker, punter, and long snapper. So tackle was the one position any sane GM would consider in the first round that he never drafted.

Now, there’s a bunch of reasons for that. Picking later in drafts when blue-chip tackles were often gone, finding gems like 7th rounder Kelvin Beachum and DE convert Alejandro Villanueva, and also finding value with Marvel Smith and Marcus Gilbert, who were solid second-round picks. Still, Jones is the first 1st tackle taken by Pittsburgh in the first round since Jamain Stephens in 1996. Let’s hope Jones has a better career than Stephens.

New Scouting Staff

Though we’ve covered all these moves already, ones that occurred last summer, it’s worth revisiting all the new faces that make up the scouting staff. Ones like Mark Sadkowski, a long-time friend of Khan, Sheldon White, Casey Weidl (Andy Weidl’s brother) and area scout Chris Watts. The remaining area scouts covered different regions this year. For example, Mark Gorscak (the “40-time” guy at the Combine) had covered the South/Southeast for years under Colbert. This year, he was focused on the Midwest. There was predictable turnover at the top that brought in fresh faces, new ideas, and different perspectives, though the vision seemed to be aligned well to build a big and physical football team.

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