5 Smoldering Questions: The 2016 Draft Edition

via Post-Gazette

by Hombre de Acero

The Steelers 2016 Draft is now in the history books. The 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class has been signed and tweaked. While the Steelers do have another minicamp scheduled, formal activity will soon cease, only to restart at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe.

But  before arriving at NFL’s only true off season (also known in some parts as “The Void”), this corner of Steelers Nation must first resolve these 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers 2016 Draft.

1. It’s been two weeks since the Steelers made their first round draft pick, and unless your name is Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, you didn’t see Artie Burns coming to the Steelers. While all of us know the only true answer is “Time will tell,” the Steelers pick of Burns has been alternatively panned and praised.

What say you about the wisdom (or lack thereof) behind picking Artie Burns?

2. Our own Homer J has done us the annual favor of reminding us of how, the legendary Vito Stellino, practically condemned the Steelers historic 1974 draft the day after it was done. Fair point. But how long must serious draft evaluators really wait to grade an NFL Draft?

3. One of the attendees and later signees following the 2016 rookie minicamp was none other than veteran cornerback Donald Washington, who was last seen (in the NFL) playing safety for Todd Haley’s Kansas City Chiefs. As Ray Fittapaldo points out, Washington didn’t exactly tear it up in the CFL, yet the Steelers are giving him a shot. What’s going on here?

4. Our fourth question deals with the Kevin Colbert’s record in the 4th round.

Together, Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert drafted Danny Farmer, Mathias Nkwenti, Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, Nathaniel Adibi, Fred Gibson, Willie Colon and Orien Harris.

Some washouts there, particularly at wide receiver, but if my last name was Rooney and I was evaluating Kevin Colbert’s draft record, I’d be more than happy to accept those fourth round busts in exchange for getting Ike Taylor, Larry Foote, and Willie Colon.

However, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s 4th round track record looks like this:

Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean, Tony Hills, Thaddeus Gibson, Cortez Allen, Alameda Ta’amu, Shamarko Thomas, Landry Jones, Martavis Bryant and Doran Grant…

Even if we give Doran Grant a waiver, and accompany the pick of Bryant with a BIG asterix, it is hard to deny that Colbert and Tomlin have come close to striking out in the 4th round.

Can anyone hazard an insight in to this seeming bit of Tomlinbert vs. Colchower Steelers 4th round draft schizophrenia?

5. The Steelers attempted trade into the fifth round to draft a running back. Given their current running back depth deficit, should they have increased their offer or where they right to stand pat?   

The gauntlet has been thrown down, ladies and gentlemen. Please give your papers to the proctor at the door on your way out…


  • 1. Honestly, I don’t know. The two things I will say are this: The pressure and assumptions were pretty much universal that the team needed to take a defensive secondary player in the early rounds, and probably the first. Maybe they might have preferred some players who were taken earlier but I don’t see much sense in trading up. And not much conversation about passing over anyone who would be considered better. My second thought is that track record of the effectiveness of highly drafted defensive backs around the league, and especially in the AFC North is uneven at best. Some teams seem to be going back to the well on defensive backs much in the way the Steelers were constantly snatching up offensive linemen a few years back. This and the fact that Steelers’ first rounders with a few notable exceptions (Ben, Pouncey) don’t necessarily show out big their first year. Hopefully, he’ll show out in a positive way early, but we may be contemplating this same question next year this time.

    2. Dale Lolley has said that now might be a good time to begin evaluating the 2013 draft. I tend to agree. How did the players do in their first contract minus injury time. It is the injury time issue that makes me feel that the jury is still out on Jarvis Jones, for example.

    3. Who knows? Could be a camp body, could have shown something that might flourish in the Steelers’ system, could have special teams potential, could be that beyond William Gay and Mike Mitchell and the departures of both Allens, Blake and Boykin that the secondary is talented but somewhat short on veteran experience.

    4. See your point, but not ready just yet to put that much stock into the numbered rounds themselves beyond coincidence.

    5. I don’t consider our running back situation, or anything offensive related particularly dire at the moment. Given the evolution of the position, its hard to justify going too far out of your way for the sake of a running back in any case. Unless there are some deep seated concerns about injuries I believe they are okay.


    • Good answers. However, there is one additional point to make with respect to question 4.

      One of the beauties of analyzing the Steelers, as opposed to say, the Redskins or the Browns, is that organizational stability lends itself to long term analysis. Which is to say, you have long periods of similar activity, decision making and processes executed by the same people using the same standards.

      While that doesn’t negate the possibility of coincidence, it does reduce its likelihood.

      Frankly, given the nature of the 4th round, exactly in the middle of the draft, the type of performance we saw with Colbert and Cower could only be described as “above the line.” Some bad picks, but those are more than balanced out by the clear home runs.

      Under Colbert and Tomlin, performance has dropped, even if you accept Rebecca’s point (see below) that I was a little harsh in throwing Daniel Sepulveda in with that group. (I’d also concede that Landry Jones hasn’t been a “bust” given his draft status.)

      I don’t pretend to have an “answer” to my question, but the starkness of the disparity really struck me, hence the question.


    • Regarding running back, I see your point. And given Art Rooney II’s comments, the Steelers do not seem to be concerned about Bell’s ability to bounce back. And honestly, if the asking price for a 5th round pick was too high, then I trust their decision not to “overpay” to get into the 5th round….

      …Still, I am concerned about running back depth, given that the franchise has now started its 4th string running back in its last 3 post season games, even if Fitzgerald Toussaint and Jordan Todman played extremely well vs. the Bengals.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) Now that I have calmed down, I like the pick. The kid looks like he has drive and a lot of upside. Classic Steelers pick in my mind.

    2) 3 years seems safe enough. I was originally going to say 10 years but that is extreme and less than 3 years seems a bit too soon as some players may not have really reached their potential in their first couple of seasons due to injuries, rawness and being stuck behind someone who is perceived as being better (at least in the short term a vet trumps a rookie if only because they are less likely to make rookie mistakes).

    3) It is an interesting situation. I am assuming Washington will be making his bones as a ST player though maybe he could be a back-up at S. I will be surprised if he has the speed to play CB.

    The CFL is not the NFL on many levels. A guy who is an in the box safety in the NFL is likely playing LB in the CFL because you need the speed. Height is less a factor at CB because you seldom get the size at WR but quickness and speed are very important as, other than the ends, the WR and RBs can be moving at speed when the ball is snapped. Top offences usually have the receivers hitting the line of scrimmage at speed as the ball is snapped.

    The probably is an article in the differences between the CFL and NFL highlighting how the have been changing over time and why. I think both leagues have been influencing each other though it may be that both are being changed by the changes in college football. I don’t know enough about the trends in college to know which is the tail and which is the dog in these situations.

    4) The trend in 4th rounds picks seem to be pointing more up than down lately though. I liked Sepulveda, other than the injuries. Maybe the 4th is their round to gamble on guys they think are high floor/low ceiling or maybe it is their need vs BPA round.

    5) I thought they had a decent set of RBs already. Who ever they got would likely have been a back-up/depth player. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to get an equivalent player when the player cuts start.


  • I’ll cover everything more fully later when I have more time, but just for now I can’t possibly see a downside to Daniel Sepuveda. Guys get injured, and they can’t help it. When he was healthy he was a great punter, and he was a football player as well. And a solid human being. I don’t think we’ve had a really solid punter since then.

    Although I have to say Jordan Berry has some promise. However, he failed when we really needed a good punt in the Denver playoff game. And guess what—he was injured earlier in the game. See what I mean?


    • First, I don’t suggest to throw Daniel Sepulveda on anyone else with injury issues under a bus. Football is brutal. With that said, if you take a punter in the 4th round, you’d better be getting an punter who’s “All World.”

      Looking at Pro Football reference, Daniel Sepulveda’s yards-per-punt career average (43.7) isn’t bad in terms of the career leaders, but I don’t know that it is good enough to put him in an elite category.


      • Agree. 4th round is entirely too valuable to be used on a specialist.


        • You know, that’s one of the things that struck me when I first read that Vito Stellino piece on the 1974 draft and it strikes me every time I read it — the fact that someone would call out a team for failing to get a punter in the draft.


        • So you think the Raiders struck out when they picked HOFer Ray Gay in the First Round? Or Reggie Roby wasn’t worth at least a four? These are very special cases, of course, but Robopunter appeared to be a special case.


  • roxannafirehall

    1. The Burns pick is fine. I look at it as a calculated gamble rather than a reach. We desperately need help at the corner. Burns has the physical ability to become our top corner. If he does not, perhaps he will at least be a solid starter. The value of a solid starter who can play on the outside may be less than a home run with the pick, but would still constitue an important upgrade for this up and coming defense.

    2. 3-4 years.

    3. Camp body with an outside shot at sticking in a position where depth must be found.

    4. No insight. Ivan puts it best, the number on a round is unimportant. If you whiff in the 4th, put pick AB, Beechum or even Jesse James in a later round, you’re doing fine.

    5. What more can you expect from a 3rd string RB than what we got with Toussaint or Todman? Why would you trade up to try to find it? I’m too with developing third stringers. Just because injuries have screwed us at the wrong time shouldn’t spark a quest for a third stringer who is capable of replacing a starter. It probably is a pipe dream anyway.


    • I’m almost draft illiterate and VERY much an old school advocate of LONG waits to evaluate a draft. But I tend to agree with the logic of those like Jim Wexell, who pointed out that the Steelers could have taken someone else in the 1st, and gotten a CB in the 2nd round who had similar liabilities to Burns, but did not have his measurables. That makes sense to me.

      Regarding the draft, your point is very valid. Picking and Antonio Brown in the 6th round MORE than makes up for wiffing on Thaddus Gibson in the 4th round; ditto picking a Beachum in 2012 in the 7th vs. Ta’Amu in the 4th. But that the premise of my question is that there’s a strong enough data set to rule out coincidence….

      …Let me be clear. The biggest contrast between Kevin Colbert and Tom Donahoe is that Colbert has NEVER drafted a first round bust. Sure, guys like Ziggy Hood and, perhaps, Jarvis Jones disappointed, but they’re not busts. Donahoe was hit or miss in the first round. In contrast, he knocked it out of the park in the third round….

      …2 Super Bowls and 1 other AFC Championship vs. 1 AFC Championship says that consistency in the 1st round beats consistency in the 3rd round any day of the week.


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