Comparing drafts is a fun exercise for discussion, but really difficult to end up with fact. Every team, every situation is different. Some teams have many openings available, some have very few and at different positions. Every team runs a different scheme and surrounds draft picks with different players. Football is the ultimate team game and success depends on all 11 offensive players, all 11 defensive players, and those who play on ST. That is not to say that it can't make for lively debate, but the result will never realistically be fact.
You can't really compare Cowher and Tomlin by saying that every draft until 2006 was a Cowher draft, and everything thereafter was a Tomlin draft.
Between 1999 and 2006, Cowher was the most powerful man in the organization not named Rooney. Even though Colbert may have appeared above him on an organizational flow chart, it was Cowher who pushed out his predecessor and then hand picked Colbert. Cowher had the final say on drafting players, while Rooney held the veto hammer. The most notable rumor being the 2004 draft when Cowher wanted another player (forget who but I'm thinking Andrews the OL) and Rooney stepped in and demanded Ben.
When Tomlin was hired, his status was obviously below Colbert. In 2007, he was new to the organization. He had a defensive coaching background, yet the team continues to run a D that he has no experience with. The first two picks were Timmons and Woodley. Can anybody really believe that these were Tomlin picks? I would think that DL had more input than Tomlin, and was still just a consultant when it came to the selections. The first three picks the following year were a RB, a WR, and a DL move to 3-4 OLB project.
I would think that over the years Tomlin's influence has increased, but I still doubt that he holds nearly as much sway as the GM. This is the more traditional structure for a team that is not coached by someone like Cowher/Parcells etc.
And in case anyone would like to call me a Tomlin supporter or apologist, please feel free to check my history. I don't think that I've said much over the years about Coach T, and I don't think that it has been overly positive. Just my view of reality.
Steelers insider: Steelersí inconsistency linked to draft duds
By Alan Robinson
Published: Sunday, October 21, 2012
Steelers Ricardo Colclough against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium Oct. 2007.
There are 186 days until the NFL Draft. Thatís six months to watch college games, read draft reports, monitor the NFL Combine and figure out what name Roger Goodell should announce as the Steelersí first-round pick.
If the first 13 drafts conducted by Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert are any indicator, itís a day that could alter team history ó one way or another.
By the way, that first Colbert draft occurred 4,572 days ago ó about one day for every projected yard that 2004 first-round pick Ben Roethlisberger might throw for this season.
That 2004 draft perfectly illustrates the ups and downs of drafting, an art form at which Colbert often excels.
The Roethlisberger pick was clearly the gem of his picks, but the next one ó second-rounder Ricardo Colclough ó was arguably his worst.
While Colbert (and coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, who have a say in the matter) enjoyed a string of first-round successes in Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, he has struck out, too. Thatís no different than every other NFL general manager.
The ups and downs of this seasonís unpredictable Steelers are reflected in those up-and-down drafts. One year, the picks are Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown; another year, they are Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis and Tony Hills.
So, letís do what Colbert canít: Turn back the clock, rewrite history and redraft. This isnít to suggest what Colbert should have done, but to look back at what he could have done.
2004: Ricardo Colclough, second round, No. 38 overall.
Maybe the Steelers should have stopped after taking Big Ben, but they traded with the Colts to move up and get a player Cowher loved. The first red flag should have been his college (tiny Tusculum); it proved to be a case of little school, big bust. The Colts used the Steelersí pick to grab future Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders.
2005: Fred Gibson, fourth round, No. 131.
Gibson, a wide receiver, got into trouble at Georgia for selling his SEC Championship ring. But that was nothing like his bill of goods someone sold the Steelers. Gibson was cut at the end of training camp and later landed in the NBA D-League. They could have had Josh Cribbs or defensive tackle Chris Canty, who went to the Cowboys on the very next pick.
2006: Anthony Smith, third round, No. 83; Willie Reid, third round, No. 95.
Perhaps the worst single round in Steelers draft history. Smith was best known for ill-advisedly guaranteeing a win over the unbeaten Patriots; Tom Brady torched him then taunted him. Reid was more of a punt returner than a receiver, and he did neither well in a seven-game Steelers career. The Steelers could have had receiver Brandon Marshall and defensive end Elvis Dumervil.
2008: Limas Sweed, second round, No. 53; Bruce Davis, third round, No. 88.
They badly needed a receiver. Instead they got, well, a bad receiver in Sweed. Two picks later, Ray Rice went to Baltimore. And even Adam Dunn hasnít struck out like the Steelers did with the nonathletic Davis, a linebacker; the Lions grabbed sack machine Cliff Avril four picks later.
2010: Jason Worilds, second round, No. 52.
Worilds leads the Steelers with three sacks, and he isnít close to being a certifiable disappointment. But there was considerable debate whether the Steelers should have grabbed Penn State linebacker Sean Lee of Upper St. Clair. Lee is now one of the NFLís leading tacklers.
The premise of the article on which the thread is based is flawed because it doesn't take into account team's scheme or the situation they were drafted into. Drafting Heyward is a bad example based on his relative small sample size, but most pundits believed it was an excellent pick based on the talent & production he showed - which in most years would've made him a top-15 pick. Using the players the author uses as basis for his contention one would see that they are not either players at a position of need at the time (WR Smith, RB Murray) or a fit for the type of defense they run (4-3 DT Casey, 4-3 DE Sheard, 4-3 LB Ayers) - but that doesn't deter the author from making the point he's determined to. But if this argument is being made for Tomlin's drafts, I'm sure it could be shown how often the Cowher drafts also missed on star-level or better players when compared to other teams (Alonzo Jackson, Ricardo Colclough, Jamaine Stephens anyone?)- this dynamic (or better yet - crap-shoot) is hardly exclusive to the Steelers & particularly Tomlin.
What cannot be overlooked in this comparison, but frequently is, are 3 points - the first is that Colbert (who is responsible for the scouting department & the draft as well) is the person most responsible for the current state of the team & is the common denominator between the two recent coaches. Cowher & Colbert had an extremely close working relationship (so much so that Cowher has said that if he came back into coaching he wanted to have Colbert as his GM...which is one reason I'm sure that the Steelers thought to wrap him up by his recent promotion). But that said, while Tomlin hasn't had the number years working with him that Cowher did, but it has already produced as many SB appearances & wins as Cowher & Colbert had together. The thing that is interesting is what Colbert helped each man build during their tenure - Cowher, a dominating defense (albeit with help from Tom Donohoe) & Tomlin, an explosive offense. Now the quality of the player each coach inherited or drafted can be argued, but Cowher enjoyed a decided advantage in FA as Colbert (& Donohoe) had signed numerous quality FAs, traded for Bettis & lucked into the sudden emergence of James Harrison & Willie Parker - this contrasts that during Tomlin's time, Colbert has hardly dipped into the FA pool. What can be laid at Cowher's feet is the release of players like Mike Vrabel, Carlos Emmons & John Kuhn, all of whom were solid contibutors for the SB teams they went to...at this time no player that Tomlin has released on has come back to haunt him. I think what is clear is that Tomlin (whose HC stint in Pittsburgh is still in it's early stage) does not have at present the kind of control, influence or working relationship with Colbert that Cowher did.
The second common denominator between the two coaches...Dick LeBeau. It's obvious that the team drafts players that fit into the mold of LeBeau's 3-4 defense but it's also true that now so does most of the NFL & as a result conversely, most of the league knows how to attack the 3-4 as well. The issue here is LeBeau's length of reign as the team's DC as it is being argued daily whether at his age he has become too predictable, or if the league has figured him out or passed him by (no pun intended). While LeBeau's defense continues to rank exceptionally year after year, it is also true that the team has had trouble against "elite" offenses & getting off the field on 3rd-down - which is an indictment of of both scheme & execution under both coaches, but Tomlin has had the disadvantage of the defense getting a little too old on him, which has become the achilles heel of the team for the past two seasons. The reality of it is that its a little of all those things, but the interesting thing will be when LeBeau calls it quits if Tomlin (who had no say in keeping LeBeau when he was hired) & his seemingly anointed DC successor (Butler) will continue the LeBeau system he's been part of for years, or if Tomlin - who made his name as a 4-3 DC - will assert his own defensive philosophies.
Lastly, the third point is perhaps the most ignored...the Steelers, like most successful franchises, eventually fall victim to their own success. Not only to their usual late drafting position which keeps them from being in position to draft the perceived better talent; but also due to the great players that have made the team what it is getting older; & the most insidious is believing their press clippings...that their methodology or schemes doesn't need tweaking. Underlining that, the team has ventured into FA less & even then the recent signings have been less than stellar. We see signs of these symptoms with the quality of the current players & back-ups (though there are some good players in position), the defense struggling & surrendering leads late in the game, & the apparent refusal to bring in FA talent to plug holes on the team. It can be said that some of this process has already started as Arians was let go & for years it was said that not enough attention was paid to drafting talent for offensive & defensive lines, but Colbert has made this priority in recent years even if the results are inconclusive still. What is to be seen is if Colbert & the front office can help Tomlin build a complete team when the departure of Lebeau & his remaining stalwarts invariably comes.
But all that said - these are the Steelers & they have forged their winning tradition by staying the course & not over-reacting...which is why they settled on Tomlin as their coach, he embodies that philosophy. The question will be how they & Tomlin handle things going forward...would they consider changing defensive schemes, will they trade in the draft to get that difference making player, will they go after FAs that could make difference or even possibly shaking up the front office to get a new perspective on all these concerns (paging Omar Kahn...)? We will have to see...but one thing that is clear, it is Colbert who is the architect of both the past & future Steelers & how he handles these issues will determine if Pittsburgh remains an upper echelon team.