Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Draft Mythbusters: The Steelers and Small School Players

If you have ever read a mock draft or seen a national columnist try to predict what the Steelers will do in the draft, there are a few sentiments that are often echoed. One of those is that the Steelers love players from small schools.

(Note: For purposes of this post, I use the term "BCS school" to refer to a school in one of the 6 Automatic Qualifier conferences (Big Ten, Big XII, Big East, SEC, ACC, Pac-12). FBS is the "Football Bowl Subdivision," formerly known as "Division 1" while FCS is the "Football Championship Subdivision" formerly known as "Division 1-AA." ) 

It's easy to understand where the Steelers get that reputation, but is it actually the case? We've hired a crack team of investigators to look into this.

Unfortunately for us, both sides decided to hire lawyers and settle the dispute in court.

The Proposition

Arguing for the proposition in this case will be the most widely recognized legal authority on loose gravel and icy sidewalks in the Pittsburgh region....
Edgaaaaar Snyyyyyderrrrrr

Thank you, your honor. This should be a simple argument. All you have to do is look at the Steelers roster. Look at their starters. Ben Roethlisberger went to Miami (Ohio). He was a first round pick. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both went to non-BCS schools (Central Michigan and SMU). Willie Colon went to Hofstra, which isn't even an FBS school. Doug Legursky went to Marshall, another MAC school. If you assume Isaac Redman is going to start the season in place of Mendenhall, that' s 6 of 11 offensive starters from non-BCS schools. On the other side of the ball, you have Brett Keisel (BYU), James Harrison (Kent State), and Ike Taylor (Louisiana-Lafayette). If Steve McLendon (Troy) starts the year at nose tackle for Casey Hampton, that will be 4 of 11 starters from non-BCS schools. Cortez Allen (The Citadel) was the 4th defensive back for much of last year. On the whole, we could have 10 of our 22 starters be from non-BCS programs next year. That's a significant number and it's fair to say that the Steelers do in fact love small school players.

The Opposition

That was a solid argument by Mr. Snyder, but the Opposition has its own heavy-hitter. Possibly the greatest lawyer of all time....
Atticuuuuuussss Finch

First off, my opponent brings up a commonly cited point - the current roster. While this is the case that the Steelers have a roster stacked with players that went to small schools, let's look at how those players came to be on the Steelers. Big Ben was a first round pick, and deservedly so. Sanders was a 3rd round pick. Colon, Allen and Taylor were taken in the 4th, Brown in the 6th and Keisel in the 7th. Harrison, Legursky, Redman, and McLendon were all undrafted free agents.

It boils down to this: while the Steelers may have a roster that is full of small school talent, they don't tend to draft small-school players, particularly in the early rounds. Since Kevin Colbert took over in 2000 the Steelers have drafted 95 players, 73 of which were from BCS conferences (77%). Of the 22 players from non-BCS schools, only 3 (Ricardo Colclough, Willie Colon, Cortez Allen) were from non-FBS schools. Even though almost half of the Steelers starting roster is from non-BCS programs, only 23% of their draft class comes from this category. This stat shows the excellence of the Steelers scouting department, particularly when it comes to small school guys.

Another factor to consider is that the Steelers don't spend high draft picks on small school guys. Of their 36 first round picks in the Colbert era, only 3 (Ben in the 1st, Colclough in the 2nd and Sanders in the 3rd) were not from BCS conferences. The numbers increase as you move further into the draft, but the Steelers have proven that they don't risk high draft picks on small school players very often. The most common occurrence of the Steelers taking players from non-BCS conferences is the 5th round where 7 of Colbert's 18 selections have come from non-BCS schools, including 3 players from the Mountain West, the most of any conference other than the Big East in the 5th round.

Speaking of conferences, let's take a minute to talk about where the Steelers have drafted their players from under Colbert. In the first round, the Steelers tend to look towards the power conferences. Four of their 12 first round picks have come from the Big Ten, with 2 coming from the SEC, ACC, and Big XII. Troy Polamalu (Pac-10) and Ben Roethlisberger (MAC) are the only two first rounders not to come from one of these four leagues. Interestingly, the Steelers have not taken a player from a Big East school in the first or second round under Colbert. On the whole, the Steelers have drafted the most players from the Big Ten (20), followed by the SEC (14), ACC (12), and Big XII (10). To say that "the Steelers love small school players" is simply a fallacy of logic. The truth of the matter is, they are very good at scouting small school prospects so when they do select one, they tend to be successful. On top of that, of the 22 non-BCS players Kevin Colbert has selected, 19 of them were selected in the 4th round or later, meaning that the Steelers haven't used high draft picks on players from small schools, making the risk-reward factor a lot lower.

And with that, we close our case and hand it over to the honorable judge.

The Verdict:

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