Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Analyzing the Drafts of the Mike Tomlin Era

The Steelers finished their second consecutive 8-8 season and with the conclusion of the Scouting Combine, everyone is getting into NFL Draft mode. 2013 was somewhat of a bizarre season after an 0-4 start, everyone wanted to point the blame in one direction or another, from poor coaching to poor execution to poor draft picks. There were a variety of contributing factors from injuries to under-performing players to bad play-calling and being snakebit on the turnover front. The Steelers did turn things around with a strong second half of the season to finish 8-8 and just one game shy of the playoffs. One of the common refrains we have heard, and continue to hear, is that the Steelers have been a failure in the draft during the Kevin Colbert era (2000-present) or the Mike Tomlin era (2007-present). Usually this is voiced as "Mike Tomlin won with Cowher's players." This prompted me to take a look back at the draft data for the Tomlin era. Eventually I hope to go back and include a full analysis for the entire Colbert era as General Manager.

Determining the "value" of any player is a difficult metric because unlike sports like baseball or basketball where everyone has relatively equal abilities to produce points, over half of an NFL team is generally incapable of putting points on the board. Pro-Football-Reference has created one of the best metrics for comparison that I have found in their Approximate Value measure. All players are graded on this measure and it does a good job of weighting the contributions of non-scoring players like offensive linemen against high-stat players like quarterbacks. There is no top end to the scale, though in recent years the top single-season performers have scored in the low-to-mid 20s. Over a player's career, their Approximate Value (AV for short) numbers are added together to give a Career AV (CarAV). Due to the fact that CarAV is a cumulative number, players that have been in the league for a longer period of time have higher CarAV numbers. Pro-Football-Reference also has broken out the data into how much value players have provided to teams that drafted them. The Drafting Team Approximate Value (DrAV) includes all of the years the player suited up for the team that selected them in the draft. The Approximate Value is not a perfect measure of player performance, but it is one of the best ones out there so I am going to use it to frame this draft analysis.

Where Did We Pick?

Any time you analyze draft data, the most important factor to consider is where your team selected. Since 2000, the Steelers have consistently been behind the 8-ball in the NFL Draft. Of the 32 NFL teams, 28 have selected in the Top 10 more than once. Just the Steelers, Giants, Colts and Broncos have only made 1 selection in the Top 10. Here is a look at the last time each team made a pick in the Top 10:

In addition to only having one crack at a Top 10 pick, the Steelers have been picking outside of the Top 10 for a longer period of time than anyone else in the league. The last time the Steelers made a selection in the Top 10 was in 2000. Additionally, the Steelers have been so successful that they have not even owned a Top 10 pick since 2000.

Top 10 Picks 2000-2013
(click to enlarge)

Expanding our look to the first round as a whole, the Steelers have been one of the lowest-drafting teams for both the Tomlin era and the Kevin Colbert era. Since 2000, the Steelers average first round draft position - which includes trades up in 2003 for Troy Polamalu and 2006 for Santonio Holmes - is 21.7. The only team with a higher average draft position since 2000 is Indianapolis at 24.1. This has a ripple effect throughout the whole draft where picking at the back of the first round means picking at the back of all the later rounds as well. It is not just that elite talent is not available in the first round, but also players that are falling later in the draft might not reach you. The numbers are even worse when the scope is shortened to the Mike Tomlin era. Since 2007 the Steelers average draft position is 23.8, behind only the Giants and Ravens at 24.3.

From 2007 to 2012, the Steelers selected 50 players in the NFL Draft. For purposes of this analysis, I am excluding the 9 players selected in the 2013 draft because they have only had one season in the NFL which is not a large enough sample size.

Steelers Draft Picks By Round
(click to enlarge)

The Steelers have made first round picks in all 6 of these drafts but second round picks in only 5. This means that approximately 1/5 of the Steelers picks over this time have come in the top two rounds of the draft. On the other end, the Steelers have made 25 picks - a full half of their selections - in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds. Not only are the Steelers picking later in the early rounds, but the majority of their picks have been backloaded. In fact, over half of their picks (28 of 50) have come in the second half of the draft. Conversely, the Steelers have only had 19 Top 100 picks in the Tomlin era and only 7 Top 50 picks. The only time the Steelers have had a Top 50 pick that was not in the first round was 2007, Tomlin's first year as a coach, when they selected LaMarr Woodley.

Were They Any Good?

When we look at how the Steelers have drafted in comparison to the rest of the league, we see that despite selecting later than almost every other team, their results are actually not that far from average.

Looking at the Career Approximate Values for each round of the draft, summed across the Tomlin era, we see that the Steelers first round picks have actually out-performed the league average. Their second round picks are slightly below-average. The Steelers have drafted well in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds with their picks totaling out higher than average in CarAV. The Steelers have been below average in the 4th and 7th rounds, but on the whole have been an above-average drafting team during the Tomlin era. Considering they have been selecting in the later portions of every round during this time, this is a positive indicator of the Steelers drafting ability.

First Round - Lawrence Timmons
Career AV - 49

The Steelers had the 15th overall pick in the 2007 draft and selected Lawrence Timmons. Timmons was the second linebacker taken behind Patrick Willis (CarAV 89). Interestingly, by CarAV numbers, Willis has been the best player taken in the draft, even though an eye test would likely put Willis behind Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis. Timmons is actually the 12th-highest rated player from the 2007 draft but is the 4th highest-rated linebacker (behind Willis, David Harris and Jon Beason). Interestingly, of the 11 players rated higher than Timmons, 5 of them were drafted after him, including the Steelers second round pick.

Second Round - LaMarr Woodley
Career AV - 52

By the Career AV standards, Woodley has been the 10th best player from the 2007 draft. For the Steelers to land him with the 46th overall pick was a steal. The only player selected after Woodley with a higher CarAV is David Harris (CarAV 59) who the Jets took with the very next pick. Woodley is the highest rated "defensive end" selected in 2007 (Woodley is categorized as a DE because he played DE in college, not because of his NFL position). Woodley has not only been the most successful second round pick of the Tomlin era, he has also been one of the best players on the defense when he has been healthy.

Third Round - Matt Spaeth
Career AV - 2

Spaeth was the third tight end selected in the draft, and another one was not taken for over 50 picks. Spaeth has been primarily used as a blocker and played in tandem with Heath Miller. This was a bit of a reach for a player that never really developed and he currently rates as only the 8th best tight end from this draft. He has been out-performed by several tight ends taken after him, including Scott Chandler (CarAV 12), Kevin Boss (CarAV 16), Dante Rosario (Car AV 10), Brent Celek (CarAV 30) and Ben Patrick (CarAV 4). The Steelers could have waited and selected a better-performing tight end as late as the 5th round when Boss, Rosario and Celek were taken. Nine of the ten players taken directly after Spaeth out-performed him, including James Jones (Packers WR), Charles Johnson (Panthers DE), Brandon Mebane (Seahawks DT) and Marshall Yanda (Ravens OT).

The Rest 
Daniel Sepulveda (CarAV - 7)
Ryan McBean (CarAV - 11*)
Cameron Stephenson (CarAV - 0)
William Gay (CarAV - 29*)
Dallas Baker (CarAV - 0)

* - Ryan McBean was cut by the Steelers and gave them no value. After spending a year out of football in 2008, McBean was picked up by the Denver Broncos where he started 21 games over a 3-year span and earned all of his Career Value for the Broncos. William Gay was cut by the Steelers and signed by the Arizona Cardinals in 2012 where he had one of his best statistical season with an Approximate Value of 7 then returned to the Steelers in 2013. His CarAV for the Steelers was 22.

On the whole, this was a mixed bag. The Gay selection in the 5th round was the only above average pick from the back half of the 2007 draft. There were some diamonds in the rough to be had in the later rounds of this draft, including Jermon Bushrod (Saints OT), Ahmad Bradshaw (Giants RB) and Dashon Goldson (49ers SS). Bushrod and Goldson were taken back-to-back in the 4th round between the Steelers selections of Sepulveda and McBean and Bradshaw was taken in the 7th, well after the Steelers last selection. The first two picks really carried this draft as the Steelers had a net 132 CarAV from the 2007 draft while the league average was 109.3.

If you want to use a Mike Tomlinism and talk about players being "below the line", this draft is the perfect depiction. None of the players the Steelers drafted were above the league average for the round they were taken in. To make matters worse, 3 of the Steelers 7 draft picks gave the team zero value and two others were below 3.

First Round - Rashard Mendenhall
Career AV - 29 (CarAV 26 with the Steelers, 3 with the Arizona Cardinals in 2013)

With Willie Parker coming off a broken ankle in late 2007, the Steelers used their first round pick on Mendenhall, a do-it-all back out of Illinois. Mendenhall was the 4th of 5 running backs taken in the first round and the Steelers took him with the 23rd overall pick. With Fast Willie Parker on the team, there was no way the Steelers were going to take Chris Johnson, who went to the Titans right after the Steelers took Mendenhall. Mendenhall is the 34th-ranked player from the 2008 draft and he out-performed 9 of the players that were taken ahead of him. One of the biggest complaints about the Steelers selection of Mendenhall is that more successful backs (Ray Rice, Matt Forte and Jamaal Charles) were all taken in the 2nd and 3rd rounds.

Second Round - Limas Sweed
Career AV - 1

I know what you're thinking, that a Career Value of 1 is a bit high for Sweed. For all the running backs that were taken in the first round, no Wide Receivers went off the board until the Rams took Donnie Avery at the top of the second round. That sparked a run of 10 WRs being taken in the next 25 selections, with Sweed being the next-to-last of the group. On the whole, the 2008 WR class has been underwhelming. Of those available when the Steelers took Sweed, the best ones (Pierre Garcon and Stevie Johnson) weren't taken until the 6th and 7th rounds respectively. Sweed was a clear miss

Third Round - Bruce Davis
Career AV - 0

Davis is another player in the litany of failed defensive ends that the Steelers have selected early with the hopes of converting them to outside linebacker. There weren't many quality linebackers available in this draft, but the name to remember here is Cliff Avril, who was selected 4 picks after the Steelers took Davis and has 47.5 career sacks and is the 35th-ranked player from 2008 and the 3rd best linebacker from the class (behind Jerod Mayo and Curtis Lofton). That said, Avril has had his success as a 4-3 Defensive End in Detroit and Seattle whereas the Steelers were looking for 3-4 OLBs.

The Rest
Tony Hills (CarAV - 1)
Dennis Dixon (CarAV - 2)
Mike Humpal (CarAV - 0)
Ryan Mundy (CarAV - 12*)

Mundy, a 6th round pick, was the best player the Steelers landed in the back half of the draft. He was a solid backup and special teams player though he never quite elevated his play to starter-level, even when given the opportunity with injuries to Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark. Mundy finally became a starter in 2013 with the Giants where his CarAV jumped from 7 to 12. As surprising as this may sound, Dennis Dixon actually has more career starts (3) than all but 4 of the 13 Quarterbacks selected in 2008. Outside of the two first-rounders (Ryan and Flacco), only Chad Henne has significantly out-performed Dixon. The Tony Hills pick leaves a bit of a sour taste because the Packers took Josh Sitton (who started all but 2 games from 2009 to 2012) 5 picks later. Sitton was the second biggest steal of this draft, behind the Saints taking Carl Nicks in the 5th round who they moved from tackle to guard and he became one of the top interior linemen in the league.

It has become commonly accepted fact that the 2009 draft sucked. Outside of Matthew Stafford, the rest of the top 10 was Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Eugene Monroe, BJ Raji and Michael Crabtree.

First Round - Ziggy Hood
Career AV - 26

When people start to name draft "busts" on the current Steelers team, Hood's name usually finds its way to the top of the list. However, in the context of the 2009 Draft, Hood should not be considered a bust. Coming off the Super Bowl XLIII victory over Arizona, the Steelers had the 32nd overall pick. Hood's CarAV of 26 actually makes him the 35th best player from 2009. Hood was the 6th defensive lineman taken but is the 3rd rated defensive lineman, out-performing all but 3 players - BJ Raji, Michael Johnson and Terrance Knighton (all with CarAV 28). Additionally, Ziggy's Career AV of 26 is right in line with the average for players drafted in the first round in 2009 (26.3) which is good return for the last pick of the first round.  Prior to 2013, Ziggy had been the highest rated defensive lineman from this draft, but his numbers suffered when he lost his starting job to Cam Heyward. Ziggy has also out-performed 13 players selected ahead of him. Has his play been inconsistent and below the expectations set by Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel? Absolutely. But in the scope of the 2009 Draft, Hood was not a bust and actually was selected about where his value indicates he should have been.

Second Round - no selection, trade with Denver

This trade worked out great for the Steelers. The Broncos gave the Steelers two 3rd round picks in exchange for the Steelers 2nd and 4th round selections. The Broncos took TE Richard Quinn here (CarAV 0) and used the Steelers 4th round pick to take OT Seth Olsen (CarAV 3, DrAv 0). The Steelers used the Broncos third rounders to take Kraig Urbik and Mike Wallace. Given the return they got for this pick, you could argue this was the second-best use of a second round pick in the Mike Tomlin era. During his time here, Wallace alone gave the Steelers more value than all of Mike Tomlin's second round picks not named "LaMarr Woodley" combined.

Third Round
Kraig Urbik (CarAV 20, DrAV 0)
Mike Wallace (CarAV 38, DrAv 32)
Keenan Lewis (CarAV 18, DrAV 10)

Urbik was actually a good selection and has been a very good player.....for the Buffalo Bills. Urbik lost the competition for backup guard to undrafted rookie Ramon Foster and was cut by the Steelers after training camp in 2010. The Bills scooped him up on waivers and he has become a constant in their starting lineup, starting 44 games between 2010 and 2013.

Setting aside Mike Wallace's ego and the case of drop-itis he came down with in 2012, Wallace was one of the best players from the 2009 draft. Wallace was one of the steals of the draft, rating as the 8th best player and 2nd best wide receiver, behind only Percy Harvin. This was a fantastic return on the 84th overall pick and the 11th receiver taken.

Keenan Lewis had one good season for the Steelers, which enabled him to land a big contract with his hometown New Orleans Saints in 2013. Lewis was a bit of a surprise in 2012 after having not shown much in his first 3 seasons, he was second in the league in passes defended and started to emerge as a starting-capable corner. Urbik, Wallace and Lewis were all above-average players in the scope of the rest of the 3rd round. Sadly, roster numbers and salary cap tightness did not enable the Steelers to retain any of these three to long-term deals and they are feeling the effects. That said, landing 3 players that became starters in the league makes this one of the best individual rounds of any draft.

The Rest
Joe Burnett (CarAV 1)
Frank Summers (CarAV 1, DrAV 0)
Ra'Shon Harris (CarAV 0)
A.Q. Shipley (CarAV 7, DrAV 0)
David Johnson (CarAV 2)

As has been the story of the Steelers 2009 draft, they just weren't able to retain the players they drafted. Joe Burnett played as a reserve corner for one season and dropped what would have been a game-winning interception against Oakland and was cut the next year. Frank "The Tank" Summers bounced around the league before finding a home in Buffalo this past season where he had 2 touchdowns from the fullback position. AQ Shipley was a journeyman reserve lineman before earning starting time in Philadelphia due to injuries in 2012 and started 9 games at guard for the Ravens in 2013. David Johnson was a serviceable H-Back for the Steelers that lost the last two seasons due to injuries.

In the grand scope of the 2010 Draft, the Steelers hit a home run. By Career AV numbers, the Steelers have landed one of the top 5 draft classes from 2010 and by far their best class of the Mike Tomlin era.

First Round - Maurkice Pouncey
Career AV - 35

Before his season-ending injury in Week 1 of 2013, Maurkice Pouncey was the highest rated player from the 2010 Draft. Currently, he still ranks 6th in this draft class. For the Steelers to land him with the 18th overall pick was not only a great success but a huge improvement for the team. Before Pouncey we were forced to suffer through the Sean Mahan disaster at Center. His status as "best player in the draft" declined after his injury this year, but the fact remains that the Steelers landed a big-time player in the middle of the first round. In fact, it took the whole extra season for Mike Iupati (who was taken right before Pouncey and was the first interior lineman taken) to catch him in Career AV.

Second Round - Jason Worlids
Career AV - 15

Worlids has spent most of his career with the Steelers as a backup and has seen limited game action when filling in for an injured Harrison or Woodley. Worlids is actually just slightly above average for a second round pick in this draft. He has had an up-and-down career and didn't really come on until the second half of the 2013 season. The general public did a complete 180 on Worlids, going from demanding to know why he was taken instead of Sean Lee to believing that Worlids should be retained at the expense of LaMarr Woodley. Part of the difficulty in the analysis comes from looking at the next few picks. The Bengals took DE Carlos Dunlap two picks later at 54th overall and the Cowboys took LB Sean Lee at #55 overall. Just 10 picks after the Steelers took Worlids, the Patriots took Brandon Spikes and the Colts took Pat Angerer, both of whom have become anchors of their linebacker units. It's funny how quickly opinions change.

Third Round - Emmanuel Sanders
Career AV - 16

Interestingly enough, the dropoff between the 2nd and 3rd round in this draft - at least according to the Career AV metric - is very minimal. The average Career AV of 2nd rounders is 14.4 and the average of 3rd rounders is 12.9. With a Career AV of 16, this makes Sanders an above-average player in the 2nd round, so getting him in the 3rd was huge. Sanders has struggled with injuries and was surpassed on the depth chart by 6th round pick Antonio Brown (who I'll get to shortly). Sanders was the 8th receiver chosen in a draft loaded with WR talent and has out-performed 2 of the players drafted ahead of him, but was surpassed by 3 players picked after him, including Mike Williams (Tampa), Eric Decker (Denver) and Brown. Decker was taken by Denver just 5 picks after the Steelers took Sanders.

The Rest
Thaddeus Gibson (CarAV 0)
Chris Scott (CarAV 4, DrAV 0)
Crezdon Butler (CarAV 1, DrAV 0)
Stevenson Sylvester (CarAV 5)
Jonathan Dwyer (CarAV 8)
Antonio Brown (CarAV 31)
Doug Worthington (CarAV 0)

The Steelers absolutely dominated the 6th round of this draft, landing Dwyer and Brown. Brown has become their #1 receiver and Dwyer, despite being in and out of Tomlin's doghouse, has been one of their more consistent running backs. Brown has been the 3rd best wide receiver from this draft class and landing him in the 6th round with the 195th overall pick was an absolute steal. Brown was the best player taken in the 6th round and Dwyer is actually the 6th-highest rated player from the round. As a footnote to the Brown pick, he was selected as the end result of the Santonio Holmes trade. The Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets (where he was subsequently suspended for 4 games) for a 5th round pick. The Steelers traded that 5th round pick to Arizona for Bryant McFadden and a 6th round pick which they used to take Brown. The end result? Holmes to the Jets, McFadden and Brown to the Steelers and John Skelton to the Cardinals.

The worst pick of this draft was Thaddeus Gibson, the second DE that the Steelers selected (after Worlids) and he didn't even make the team out of camp. What makes this pill hard to swallow is that the Bengals took Geno Atkins 4 picks later and he turned into one of the top 5 players from the draft while the Steelers got absolutely nothing from Gibson. The Steelers also got nothing from their 3 5th round picks (2 of which were non-tradeable compensatory picks). Sylvester was actually an average player in the scope of the 5th round. However in retrospect, the Chris Scott pick seems particularly puzzling as he was coming off an injury and had to sit out his rookie season. The best player taken in the 5th round was offensive lineman Marshall Newhouse, who the Packers took with the very last pick of the round.

The Steelers had the 31st selection of each round in the 2011 draft and did not make any moves to trade up or down. Because of this, gauging their picks against the "average" for each round doesn't necessarily tell the whole story of the caliber of players that were available for them to pick because they were picking at the end of each round.

First Round - Cameron Heyward
Career AV - 11

Assessing Heyward's career to date is difficult. He was just anointed with a starting role and has been stuck in the middle of the depth chart behind Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood. Heyward's production to date has been well below the average of 2011 first rounders, and but he has out-performed 5 of the players drafted in the 8 picks before he was selected.

Second Round - Marcus Gilbert
Career AV - 15

The Steelers went back to the well of Florida linemen at the end of the second round and selected Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert was the 13th offensive lineman taken in the 2011 draft and rates as the 39th best player from the draft to date. By Career AV numbers he has been marginally out-played by 2 players taken after him - Bengals OG Clint Boiling and Eagles C Jason Kelce. Gilbert has been mediocre at best as the Steelers RT and has battled injuries and inconsistent play. However, he appears to have been the best OT left on the board at this point.

Third Round - Curtis Brown
Career AV - 2

In what looked like a deep year for defensive backs, the results have been thoroughly unimpressive. Of the 48 defensive backs drafted in 2011, only three - 5th overall pick Patrick Peterson, Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and Bears S Chris Conte have Career AV ratings over 12. Sherman was the steal of the draft, falling all the way to the 154th overall pick after receiving bad reviews from Jim Harbaugh and the Stanford coaching staff. He has emerged as not only one of the top corners from this draft but as one of the best in the league. The Steelers used their 3rd and 4th round selections on corners Brown and Cortez Allen and you have to wonder what could have been with Sherman lining up opposite Ike Taylor.

The Rest
Cortez Allen (CarAV 8)
Chris Carter (CarAV 4)
Keith Williams (CarAV 0)
Baron Batch (CarAV 1)

Aside from 6th round pick Keith Williams who did not make the roster, these picks have been mostly average. Allen was set to crack the starting lineup this season but was hampered by an ankle injury. Carter has yet to actually record a sack and Batch was a marginally effective 3rd down back who was more of a camp phenom than an on-field star. Aside from Sherman, the players in the later half of this draft haven't been very productive in the NFL on the whole. Sherman is the only player picked outside of the Top 100 that is rated in the top 35 players from this draft. Allen still has a chance to emerge as a very good player but time is getting short for Chris Carter.

Given that players from the 2012 draft only have 2 NFL seasons under their belts, those that have been starters since their rookie campaign have a clear advantage in the Career AV metric. The analytical difficulty here comes from the fact that given the small sample size a player that lost a season to injury might be drastically under-rated.

First Round - David DeCastro
Career AV - 8

On the surface, this would look like a "miss" by the Steelers, but when we consider that DeCastro missed most of his rookie year with a knee injury and that he was one of the top-rated linemen in the division by Pro Football Focus last year, this is a pick that will pan out. Through two seasons, DeCastro has played in less games than all but 3 first round picks. In just 19 games, he already rates better or comparably to 5 players taken ahead of him, including Top 10 picks Morris Claiborne (CarAV 8) and Stephon Gilmore (CarAV 7). After starting 15 games last season, DeCastro appears to be emerging as the steal everyone thought he was when the Steelers took him at 24th overall.

Second Round - Mike Adams
Career AV - 8

This is where Career AV numbers do not tell the whole story. Based simply on this metric, DeCastro and Adams are equivalent players. However, one would be crazy to argue that after Mike Adams was benched after 4 weeks and the left tackle job was taken over by Kelvin Beachum. On the whole, Adams ranks right in the middle of the pack for second round picks as the 16th best player taken in the second round. He has out-performed 9 of the 23 players taken before him. What stings the most about this pick is that the Steelers used their 3rd round pick on Sean Spence, who looked like he was going to be a special player before his knee was shredded. The Steelers knew they needed linebacker help and opted to draft Adams rather than Lavonte David, who went two picks later. David has been the 5th best player in the draft and arguably had a better season this year than Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly.

Third Round - Sean Spence
Career AV - 0

This is more of a case of the dangers of the NFL than the Steelers making a bad pick. Spence was absolutely flying around training camp and in the preseason his rookie year before suffering a devastating knee injury in the preseason finale. Spence has not played since and spent the last two seasons on injured reserve. There is some hope that he will be able to return to the lineup this season, and the Steelers linebacker depth has been suffering ever since he was injured.

The Rest
Alameda Ta'amu (CarAV 2, DrAV 0)
Chris Rainey (CarAV 1)
Toney Clemons (CarAV 0)
David Paulson (CarAV 1)
Terrence Frederick (CarAV 0)
Kelvin Beachum (CarAV 9)

The back half of the Steelers 2012 draft reads like a litany of disappointments aside from Kelvin Beachum. Beachum, who stepped in and solidified the LT position this year, is actually the Steelers highest rated player from this draft. Ta'amu had a troubled rookie season that involved playing bumper cars on the South Side and he was released in training camp this year, but did earn a role out in Arizona. Chris Rainey never showed the potential the Steelers saw in him to be a Dexter McCluster-type scat back and couldn't keep his hands to himself. He was cut before the 2013 season. Toney Clemons and Terrence Frederick were both 7th round picks that didn't make it out of their rookie camps but have bounced around on practice squads around the league. David Paulson looked like he was primed to emerge as a flex TE option in the passing game after 2012, but seriously regressed in 2013. Beachum currently rates as the 50th best player from the 2012 draft, which makes him one of the biggest steals after being taken with the 248th pick. The Rainey pick does sting a little bit because the next running backs taken were Vic Ballard and Alfred Morris. Additionally, the Steelers traded away their 6th round pick to move up to take Ta'amu,


On the whole the Steelers have been an above-average drafting team during the Mike Tomlin era. While they have been just about in line with the league average in the first round (0.12 standard deviations above the league mean), they were below it in the second round (-0.18 standard deviations below league mean). However, this drop in the second round could be due to them trading away one of their second round picks during this time and the deviation is not enough to be statistically significant.

The rest of the draft does bring statistically significant findings in that the Steelers out-performed the rest of the league in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds. In the third round, the Steelers were nearly a full standard deviation better than the league mean, though this could also be impacted by their 8 third round picks in 6 years. The issue here is also that the Steelers have been unable to retain their best 3rd round picks (Wallace, Lewis, Urbik and likely Sanders) so they have not reaped the long-term rewards of those selections. In the 5th round, the Steelers are more than half of a standard deviation (+0.59) better than the league mean, but once again this is likely due to a plethora of selections, having selected 10 players in the 5th round in the last 6 years. Additionally, as we move deeper into the draft the cumulative expected values for picks goes down, so William Gay actually accounts for 82% of the value the Steelers have garnered from the 5th round. Similarly in the 6th round, the Career AV of the Steelers picks is +1.43 standard deviations above the league mean, but the Antonio Brown pick alone was enough to put the Steelers at the league average.

On the other side of the coin, we have the 4th and the 7th rounds. The Steelers were significantly below the league average in both of these rounds. In the 4th round, the Steelers have made 6 selections in 6 years but it has been their worst-performing round, -0.84 standard deviations below the league mean. Looking at the Steelers 4th round selections, this should not be much of a surprise. They have used 4th round picks on Daniel Sepulveda, Ryan McBean, Tony Hills, Thaddeus Gibson, Cortez Allen and Alameda Ta'amu during this time and added Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones to that list in 2013. From 2007 to 2012, only the Panthers and Chiefs got less out of their 4th round picks than the Steelers did. Outside of the 7th round, the Steelers have gotten the least production out of their 4th round picks.

The 7th round of the draft as a whole is generally a mixed bag and the teams that have done the best are those that have found diamonds in the rough that were able to contribute over multiple years. The Steelers made 9 7th round picks between 2007 and 2012 (their second most of any round) but netted a value about half a standard deviation below the league average. The Steelers have been the 7th worst team at selecting players in the 7th round during this time, ahead of only San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, New Orleans, Cleveland and Baltimore. Interestingly, all four AFC North teams are in the bottom 10 in the league in getting returns on their 7th round picks.

So what can we conclude about the Steelers scouting? They have done a good job assessing talent in the first round and have mostly avoided drafting "busts" with their top pick, which is an accomplishment considering how deep in the first round they have drafted during this time. Comparatively, the Colts (the only team to have a lower average selection than the Steelers) were -1.3 standard deviations below the league average for first round pick Career AV's. In light of this, the Steelers have done a very good job with the hand they have been dealt in the first round. Their biggest struggles have been between picks 100 and 169 (mostly the 4th and early 5th rounds). Their best area in the later rounds has been between picks 170 and 200 where they have selected 6 players and gotten above-average players 4 times (Gay, Mundy, Dwyer, Brown). As I have detailed, the biggest problem for the Steelers from a personnel perspective is not that they are not drafting good players, but that they have been unable to retain them. Even though the Steelers have been one of the best in the league at selecting in the 3rd round, only Matt Spaeth, Curtis Brown and Sean Spence are currently under contract for 2014 of this group and it seems unlikely that Emmanuel Sanders will be retained. Therefore, I think it is fair to place some of the blame for the Steelers lack of quality depth on Kevin Colbert, but not for failures in the draft. Rather, the blame should be focused on the contracts of existing players and the team's salary cap situation that made them unable to retain the high-quality players that they drafted.

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