Why do NFL teams even bother with the later rounds in the draft?
Ever since Kevin Colbert became director of football operations in 2000, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been considered one of the most successful teams in drafting new talent.
Have they done maybe even a little better since Mike Tomlin became the head coach in 2007? It is hard to know for sure. The jury is still out on some of the players from the '08 and '09 draft classes.
My favorite draft class during Colbert's years is 2002. Why? Because five of eight of those drafted that year became starters. The 2008—and especially 2009—draft classes have just as good a chance to make such an impact.
In the three years since Tomlin became coach, 21 of 24 drafted players have made the team or the practice squad in their first year. In the previous seven years of Colbert's reign, 38 of 46 drafted players made the team or practice squad.
So the numbers are about the same for first-year players before and after Mike Tomlin's arrival. On average, only one player in each draft class doesn't make the team.
In reality, it is the third year that makes or breaks a draft class. That is why the jury is still out on the '08 and '09 draft years. So in studying Colbert's reign, I can only use the years from 2000-07.
In those draft classes, 28 of 46 draft picks were still on the team in their third year. That is better than 50 percent—which is one way of proving the Steelers are doing a pretty decent job in drafting players, right?
Or do you judge by the quality of players drafted in the first round, the first two rounds, or the first three rounds? Looking at the first-round picks for the eight Steeler drafts, the only one not still playing in the NFL is Plaxico Burress.
I guess 90 percent could be considered pretty good there.
The second-round scores are not as good, but still not low enough to be called bad. Five of eight players are still in the NFL. And third-rounders are four of eight—still better than a 50 percent average. From the fourth round, five of eight players from 2000-07 are still playing in the NFL.
In rounds five through seven, only three of the Steelers' 26 picks are still playing. More undrafted free agents have made the team their third year than picks from those rounds.
So why bother even wasting time picking players in all those rounds?
I tell you why: because two of those players have made a difference, and one still has a chance to make a difference this year—maybe his last chance.
The three players are 2000 fifth-round pick Clark Haggans, 2002 seventh-round pick Brett Keisel, and 2007 fifth-round pick William Gay.
Five other late-round picks will have a chance to step up this year. Some will make it, some won't.
They are 2008 fifth-round pick Dennis Dixon and sixth-round pick Ryan Mundy; and 2009 fifth-round picks Joe Burnett and Frank Summers, sixth-round pick Ra'shon Harris, and seventh-round pick David Johnson.