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Thread: The Art of Picking Late; The Steelers & Ravens GMs discuss general draft philosophies

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    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    The Art of Picking Late; The Steelers & Ravens GMs discuss general draft philosophies

    The Art of Picking Late

    No pick in the top 10? No problem. Roster architects from two of the NFL’s most consistently successful franchises—Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert and Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta—share insights into their draft-day strategies for picking late in Round 1

    By Robert Klemko

    Only two NFL teams have gone more than a decade without selecting in the NFL draft’s top 10: The Steelers (since 2000) and the Ravens (since 2003). And among the handful of teams that consistently draft at the back end of the first round, few do it better than the AFC North rivals. So how do they get it done?

    At first glance, both Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Steelers GM Kevin Colbert appear to be speaking the same language. Newsome likes to riff about hitting doubles rather than swinging for the fences. Said Colbert in a March interview with Forbes: “You can’t go in saying I can be 1-for-3 and be successful. I’m talking a bit in baseball terms. But you want to go 3-for-3 that day.”

    Yet a closer examination, and conversations with key players in each front office, shows two disparate first-round philosophies. It all centers around one question: Move up or stay put?

    The Steelers rarely trade up. Colbert last moved up in the first when he dealt third- and fourth-rounders to jump from 32nd overall to 25th in the 2006 draft. He was targeting Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes (who went on to be named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII). Before that, Colbert moved up 11 spots (27th to 16th) in ’03, giving up a third and a sixth to choose USC safety Troy Polamalu.

    “He was a rare player,” Colbert says. “You wish they were available to you every year, but that’s never the case. We made an uncharacteristic move to get him because we felt like that was the case.

    “You have to fight that temptation in every round. You have to stay true to your evaluations. We try to eliminate the word need and use the word want.”

    Newsome and his second-in-command, Eric DeCosta, aren’t afraid to use the word need. They’ve moved (up or down) in the first round in five of the last nine drafts. They traded up for Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006, and two years later traded down then back up to land Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, their franchise QB and the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII. They also moved up to get Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher in ’09. In each case, a player at a cornerstone position of need was selected.

    “As we start to get close to our pick, do we have three or four players we really like? Are they comparable in talent?” Ozzie Newsome said in a Wednesday press conference. “If that’s the case, there’s no reason to move up and give up a later pick. There are other times where we need a tackle, or we need a quarterback.”

    In fairness, the Steelers more or less stumbled onto their franchise quarterback. After a rare losing season in 2003 they held the 11th pick. Owner Dan Rooney, in his words, “steered the conversation” away from Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews and towards Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. None of which changes the fact that Colbert sees a trade-worthy prospect every three or four years. The Ravens, on the other hand, project more than one trade-up contingency in every first round, says DeCosta.

    DeCosta’s explanation of Baltimore’s frenzied-but-controlled war room: “We try to ascertain league value. How do people see the players? It’s hard to be a really good drafter if you don’t have a sense for how other people see prospects.

    “Then about three days before the draft we come out with a detailed script of how we expect guys to come off the board and who are the guys we may want to trade up for. There are guys you will have so highly rated every year that when it comes close to your pick, you start to make calls. You build it so you have a switch where you would consider going up and you have the price you would pay there. It’s a gut thing.”

    Hanging out at 17 last year, Newsome and DeCosta were happy to take any of a handful of players on the board. They settled on stud linebacker C.J. Mosley out of Alabama. In three weeks they’ll pick 26th, with needs at pass rusher and wide receiver in a draft with an abundance of both. I see them valuing a number of players at each position and feeling comfortable enough to trade back.

    The Steelers pick 22nd with a hole at cornerback; Mike Tomlin has showed up at every pro day that has had a big-time corner on the docket. Just don’t expect Colbert to yield to need: “Oftentimes when you draft for need you overevaluate a given position and make a mistake,” he says. “We’ve been true to our board, since I’ve been involved in it anyway.”

    Nothing is for certain on draft day, but if history is any indication, you can bank on the Ravens moving around, the Steelers sitting pat, and both teams drafting very, very well.

    http://mmqb.si.com/2015/04/09/nfl-dr...ric-decosta/3/


    Final Ruthless Mock:
    1.22 CB Marcus Peters, 6'0" 197 lbs., Washington
    2.56 FS Damarious Randall, 5'11" 196 lbs., Arizona State
    3.87 TE Clive Walford, 6'4" 251 lbs., Miami
    4.121 DE Henry Anderson, 6'6" 294 lbs., Stanford
    5.160 WR Titus Davis, 6'1" 196 lbs., Central Michigan
    6.199 OLB Kyle Emanuel, 6'3" 255 lbs., North Dakota State
    6.212c OLB Max Valles, 6'5" 251 lbs., Virginia
    7.239 RB John Crockett, 6'0" 217 lbs., North Dakota State

  2. #2
    Nice article. Interesting contrast in styles, yet two of the most effective teams out there.

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    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Not drafting in the top 10 in a decade an a half now...Colbert and his "brain fart trust" (as some on her have derided them) must be doing something right.


    Final Ruthless Mock:
    1.22 CB Marcus Peters, 6'0" 197 lbs., Washington
    2.56 FS Damarious Randall, 5'11" 196 lbs., Arizona State
    3.87 TE Clive Walford, 6'4" 251 lbs., Miami
    4.121 DE Henry Anderson, 6'6" 294 lbs., Stanford
    5.160 WR Titus Davis, 6'1" 196 lbs., Central Michigan
    6.199 OLB Kyle Emanuel, 6'3" 255 lbs., North Dakota State
    6.212c OLB Max Valles, 6'5" 251 lbs., Virginia
    7.239 RB John Crockett, 6'0" 217 lbs., North Dakota State

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    Backup Chucktownsteeler's Avatar
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    I'll take Newsome over Colbert. Oher in '09, I don't think so. We picked Shazier, they picked Mosley. Time will tell.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Chucktownsteeler View Post
    I'll take Newsome over Colbert. Oher in '09, I don't think so. We picked Shazier, they picked Mosley. Time will tell.
    Colbert hasn't been up to his usual standards, but Newsome has his share of busts, too. Arthur Brown (2013-2) looks to be a miss. Jimmy Smith never amounted to much. Serio Kindle and Terrence Cody (both 2s in 2010) were misses.

    I'd probably take Newsome over Colbert, but it's close.

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    Quote Originally Posted by RuthlessBurgher View Post
    Not drafting in the top 10 in a decade an a half now...Colbert and his "brain fart trust" (as some on her have derided them) must be doing something right.
    I have no idea why but Cowher + Colbert has had much better drafting success than Tomlin + Colbert. Ownership involvement may have had some impact as well as the personnel (coaches, scouting dept, etc).

    Then again, maybe the difference isn't in drafting as much as it is in player development that has made the drafting during the Tomlin era look less successful.

    Something has definitely changed in this regard along with the HC change.

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    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by flippy View Post
    I have no idea why but Cowher + Colbert has had much better drafting success than Tomlin + Colbert. Ownership involvement may have had some impact as well as the personnel (coaches, scouting dept, etc).

    Then again, maybe the difference isn't in drafting as much as it is in player development that has made the drafting during the Tomlin era look less successful.

    Something has definitely changed in this regard along with the HC change.
    Let's look at the Cowher/Colbert years and Tomlin/Colbert years to see if there really is this significant difference. Colbert & Cowher had 7 drafts together (00-06) and Colbert & Tomlin has now had 8 drafts together (07-14). I realize that the 2008 draft was an absolute dumpster fire of a draft class (Rashard Mendenhall, Limas Sweed, Bruce Davis, Tony Hills, Dennis Dixon, Mike Humpal, Ryan Mundy). Many of us thought that we got absolute steals with our first two picks at least, but whenever your last pick has the best NFL career, something went wrong. Let's just throw that outlier draft class out the window and compare other other 7 Tomlin/Colbert drafts with the 7 Cowher/Colbert drafts and see what we get comparing 7 classes to 7 classes. Remember that guys like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Alan Faneca, Hines Ward, and Deshea Townsend were drafted before Kevin Colbert was hired.

    Colbert was a master of the first round during the Cowher era. Kendall Simmons was the only guy that failed to live up to his first round billing. Plaxico, Casey, Troy, Ben, Heath, Santonio. Those cornerstone players don't even need last names they are so iconic.

    Colbert & Tomlin had Ziggy Hood who failed to live up to his first round billing similar to Simmons (both started in black and gold...80 starts for KS and 46 starts for ZH, but were barely even average starters at best when compared to our other first round picks). Colbert/Tomlin has also given us Timmons, Pouncey, Heyward, and DeCastro in the first round (all cornerstone players now) and we'll see what we get out of Jones and Shazier if they are hopefully healthy this year.

    Looking at Day Two picks (rounds 2 & 3), I would say that Colbert has been more successful with Tomlin than Cowher. Colbert drafted some solid players on day 2 during the Cowher era (Marvel Smith, Kendrell Bell, Antwaan Randle El, Chris Hope, Max Starks, Bryant McFadden, Trai Essex), but think his day 2 haul was more impressive during the Tomlin era (LaMarr Woodley, Matt Spaeth, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Jason Worilds, Emmanuel Sanders, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Le'Veon Bell, Markus Wheaton, Stephon Tuitt, Dri Archer). The best day 2 pick for KC/BC was Marvel and the best day 2 pick for KC/MT was Le'Veon...but I'll give the advantage to Le'Veon...a true difference maker in all aspects. Kendrell and LaMarr are similar players (started out strong, but flamed out...but I'll give the edge to Woodley since he forced a fumble that clinched a Super Bowl for us.). Starks and Gilbert are similar players (big guys from Florida who fans did not like, but developed into solid RT's for us in time...I'll give the edge to Starks since he also successfully made the move over to LT later in his career). Essex and Adams are similar players (drafted to be starters but disappointed and were backup role players instead...kind of a push there).

    In addition to his home run ability round 1 during the Cowher era, Colbert also seemed to have a knack for unearthing day 3 gems when Cowher was coach. Clark Haggans, Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, Chris Kemoeatu, Willie Colon. Da Beard and Swaggin U especially. Colbert also had some day 3 hits during the Tomlin era as well. Willie Gay, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, Vince Williams, Martavis Bryant, Daniel McCullers. Maybe we still can get something out of day 3 picks Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas as well. The Antonio Brown pick was an absolute grand slam of a pick, and it's possible that he might have hit a home run with Martavis as well.

    In conclusion, yeah, I'd agree that we did draft better in the Colbert/Cowher era than the Colbert/Tomlin era, but I wouldn't necessarily say that is was substantially, overwhelmingly better then than now. The cupboard is not bare, my friend. Colbert & Tomlin will do what they can to help restock the shelves once again two weeks from now. Looking forward to it.


    Final Ruthless Mock:
    1.22 CB Marcus Peters, 6'0" 197 lbs., Washington
    2.56 FS Damarious Randall, 5'11" 196 lbs., Arizona State
    3.87 TE Clive Walford, 6'4" 251 lbs., Miami
    4.121 DE Henry Anderson, 6'6" 294 lbs., Stanford
    5.160 WR Titus Davis, 6'1" 196 lbs., Central Michigan
    6.199 OLB Kyle Emanuel, 6'3" 255 lbs., North Dakota State
    6.212c OLB Max Valles, 6'5" 251 lbs., Virginia
    7.239 RB John Crockett, 6'0" 217 lbs., North Dakota State

  8. #8
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    the big key will be if tomlin can win anything with his players. we will have to wait another 3-5 years to see until ben is done and who tomlin drafts to replace him.
    1) OLB Dupree
    2)OLB Gregory
    3) CB Golson
    4) CB Grant
    5) S Smith
    6) TE James
    6b) DT Walton
    7) OT Collins

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    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by squidkid View Post
    the big key will be if tomlin can win anything with his players. we will have to wait another 3-5 years to see until ben is done and who tomlin drafts to replace him.
    Tomlin has already been head coach here for 8 seasons. But we won't know if he can win anything with his players until years 11-13. That makes sense. If we had to wait a dozen years to judge a coach, then only 1% of all coaches would every get judged, because no one stays in the same place that long anymore in this day and age.


    Final Ruthless Mock:
    1.22 CB Marcus Peters, 6'0" 197 lbs., Washington
    2.56 FS Damarious Randall, 5'11" 196 lbs., Arizona State
    3.87 TE Clive Walford, 6'4" 251 lbs., Miami
    4.121 DE Henry Anderson, 6'6" 294 lbs., Stanford
    5.160 WR Titus Davis, 6'1" 196 lbs., Central Michigan
    6.199 OLB Kyle Emanuel, 6'3" 255 lbs., North Dakota State
    6.212c OLB Max Valles, 6'5" 251 lbs., Virginia
    7.239 RB John Crockett, 6'0" 217 lbs., North Dakota State

  10. #10
    Legend RuthlessBurgher's Avatar
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    Players on the current roster who were also on the team when Bill Cowher was coach: James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Heath Miller, Greg Warren. That's the list. How will we possibly know if Mike Tomlin is a good coach if he inherited a whopping 7.5% of his current roster from the previous regime?


    Final Ruthless Mock:
    1.22 CB Marcus Peters, 6'0" 197 lbs., Washington
    2.56 FS Damarious Randall, 5'11" 196 lbs., Arizona State
    3.87 TE Clive Walford, 6'4" 251 lbs., Miami
    4.121 DE Henry Anderson, 6'6" 294 lbs., Stanford
    5.160 WR Titus Davis, 6'1" 196 lbs., Central Michigan
    6.199 OLB Kyle Emanuel, 6'3" 255 lbs., North Dakota State
    6.212c OLB Max Valles, 6'5" 251 lbs., Virginia
    7.239 RB John Crockett, 6'0" 217 lbs., North Dakota State

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