In his press conference yesterday Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert mentioned that the inside linebacker position isn’t very deep for this upcoming draft. It’s a belief that contradicts what most draft experts have been saying leading up to the draft combine. This statement got me to thinking, does Colbert have a blind spot for evaluating linebackers? His draft record there has been spotty at best over the years. Colbert has had no problem with other positions on the football field. Wide receivers seem to be his specialty, but linebackers have been quite a struggle over the years.
Since taking over in 2000, Colbert and the Steelers have drafted 24 linebackers by my count. This includes both inside and outside linebackers. Of those, none have been selected first team all-pro. Only two on this list have managed second team all-pro. Ironically both those players were drafted in the same year, Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley in 2007. The only other linebackers drafted by Colbert to even make the pro-bowl were Kendrell Bell and Ryan Shazier. Bell was drafted in 2001, and went on to win defensive rookie of the year that year. He quickly flamed out unfortunately, lasting only three seasons with the club. The best linebacker ever acquired in the Colbert era was James Harrison. Harrison was an undrafted free agent who bounced around a bit before flourishing in Pittsburgh.
So here we are with 17 years of drafts and only four pro-bowl linebackers produced. This on a team where linebacker is the most important position on the defense. In fairness, there have been some solid picks along the way. Clark Haggans and Larry Foote were both reliable contributors during their Steelers careers. Overall though, linebacker has been a bit of a disappointment for the Steelers GM. It doesn’t appear that Colbert is improving his linebacker evaluations in recent years either. The Jarvis Jones selection may very well be his worst ever considering how high he was taken and how bad he turned out to be. At this point, we can throw Bud Dupree into the pile of missed evaluations. He has been average at best, not something you look for in a first round selection. Of course Ryan Shazier was a hit in 2014, and was clearly Colbert’s best selection at that position. Shazier certainly was on his way to several all-pro nominations before his tragic injury. Again though, that would have been the first and only all-pro linebacker ever in Kevin Colbert’s tenure in Pittsburgh. TJ Watt showed flashes of being a big time player in his first season, and that’s encouraging. Time will tell if he becomes the answer at one of the edge linebacker spots.
Once again it’s almost a lock the Steelers will select at least one, if not two linebackers in the upcoming draft. A pro-bowl caliber linebacker from this draft would go a long way in solving the big needs of this team. I know Kevin Colbert is telling us there’s not many in this draft, but forgive me if I’m skeptical of his opinion. Maybe he’s trying to throw other teams off his scent. Trying to make teams behind him believe he’s not interested in the position so they won’t feel the need to trade up ahead of him. Let’s hope that’s the case, and not a misevaluation of the talent.