Steelers, Colbert ready to hit the road to evaluate talent at NFL Combine
After conducting organizational meetings about free agency last week, Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert will take a break and do some longer-range planning when he brings the team’s front office, scouts and coaches to Indianapolis this week for the annual NFL Scouting Combine.
As a team that traditionally builds through the draft instead of free agency, it’s an important period of analysis and information gathering for Colbert and his crew.
The Steelers have seven picks in the draft, which will be April 25-27.
“We may come away more excited. We may have the excitement diminished a little bit,” Colbert said last week, citing health or character issues that might arise at the combine as reasons for any dampened enthusiasm.
Colbert and his staff already have evaluated the players who competed at the Senior Bowl last month. The combine provides the opportunity to study the other upperclassmen in addition to some of the 103 underclassmen who have declared for the NFL Draft.
The Steelers are expected to focus heavily on defense in the draft and potentially free agency in March, while also addressing wide receiver if they trade All-Pro Antonio Brown. Two days after stating last week that the Steelers will try to accommodate Brown’s trade request, Colbert said he had talked with three teams. That number likely has grown, and Colbert could use some of his time this week in Indianapolis to continue discussions with the other general managers in attendance.
If the Steelers trade Brown, that will create a significant void at the position, but Colbert cited wide receiver as having “really good” numbers in addition to offensive line and running back.
Heading the wide receiver class is a familiar name: Oklahoma’s Marquis Brown, Antonio’s cousin. Another first-round possibility is Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf.
Colbert views the secondary as having “significant” numbers, and a cornerback could be a first-round target for the Steelers because of former first-rounder Artie Burns’ regression. If the Steelers don’t sign a corner in free agency, they could target the likes of Georgia’s Deandre Baker or Washington’s Byron Murphy with their first pick. They are considered the top corners behind LSU’s Greedy Williams, who could be gone before the Steelers select with the No. 20 choice.
Colbert cited both linebacker spots as a strength of this class, but NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah doesn’t share his sentiment.
“The linebacker position would probably be the thinnest,” Jeremiah said on a conference call Monday. “Inside linebacker when you’re looking at where it’s a little bit light. I don’t know that there’s quite the same talent or depth at that position.”
Jeremiah views three players representing the top of the inside linebacker class. LSU’s Devin White is at the top of most NFL analysts’ draft boards, followed by Michigan’s Devin Bush and Alabama’s Mack Wilson.
White could be gone by the time the Steelers submit their pick, so Bush could be a target.
“He’s got some serious bump,” Jeremiah said. “He’s an excellent blitzer. He can run, cover and blitz.”
Colbert said the Steelers did not adequately replace Ryan Shazier after the two-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker suffered his spinal-cord injury in December 2017. The Steelers signed Jon Bostic in free agency, but he played sparingly by the end of the season. With all of their linebackers with first-round grades off the board, the Steelers took safety Terrell Edmunds in the opening round and ignored linebacker the remainder of the draft.
“No, we didn’t do enough because we were 9-6-1,” Colbert said. “We’re not going to hide from that, and if we do, we won’t (improve). We’re going to recognize that as we go forward for sure, but we have more than one position that we want to continue to look at and upgrade, and there may be players that are available to us that we don’t need that are going to upgrade us and they make us that much better that the deficiency may be overcome by having that player.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .