Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has track record of gambling with 1st-round picks
Kevin Colbert is in his 20th draft with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in only three of them has he moved up in the first round to select a player the organization coveted.
The Steelers general manager did it Thursday night. He dealt the 20th overall selection, plus a second-round pick Friday and a third-round choice in 2020, to the Denver Broncos to move up 10 spots and select Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Bush, who in all likelihood never would have been on the board at No. 20, is projected to become a starting inside linebacker and the answer to filling Ryan Shazier’s shoes.
But, of course, there are no guarantees.
History is on the Steelers’ side, though. When Colbert made those other two moves, they worked out fine, netting a future Hall of Famer and a Super Bowl MVP.
Here’s a look back:
Steelers got: No. 16 pick
Kansas City Chiefs got: No. 27, No. 92, No. 200
The scenario: The Steelers were desperate to fortify their safety position and were attracted to USC’s Troy Polamalu. But when he was the star of the show at USC’s Pro Day, Polamalu was suddenly on everyone’s radar.
The Steelers knew they couldn’t sit at No. 27 and get Polamalu, so they made the trade, helped by former coach Bill Cowher’s strong relationship with Chiefs GM Carl Peterson. Cowher was a former Chiefs defensive coordinator.
The Chiefs used the 27th pick on Penn State running back Larry Johnson, who had a nine-year career and spent time with four teams. Johnson was a two-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro and rushed for 6,223 yards, including back-to-back seasons with more than 1,700 yards.
With the 92nd pick, the Chiefs took Tennessee cornerback Julian Battle (two seasons, 26 games, one start). They traded the No. 200 pick to the New York Jets for a sixth-round pick the Jets used on Wisconsin quarterback Brooks Bollinger, best known as former Pitt coach Paul Chryst’s first quarterbacks coach.
Polamalu? He’s headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after a 12-year Steelers career in which he recorded 32 interceptions, including three pick-6s, and two touchdowns on fumble recoveries.
Steelers got: No. 25
New York Giants got: Nos. 32, 96 and 129
The scenario: Coming off a Super Bowl victory, the Steelers were set to pick last in the first round. Again, that wasn’t good enough if they wanted the best wide receiver in the draft, Ohio State’s Santonio Holmes.
So Colbert and his staff worked the phones until they found the New York Giants willing to give up the 25th selection for the Steelers’ first-, third- and fourth-round picks.
The Giants were happy to get Boston College defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka at No. 32, and he had a nine-year career with 38½ sacks.
They also took Georgia Tech linebacker Gerris Wilkinson (seven starts in five seasons) at No. 96 and East Carolina offensive lineman Guy Whimper (seven seasons, 24 starts, including two with the Steelers in 2013).
Holmes? He played four seasons with the Steelers before he was traded to the Jets in 2010 while on the brink of a four-game suspension. He played for three teams, finishing with 6,030 yards and 36 touchdowns on 389 receptions, none bigger than the winning catch from Ben Roethlisberger against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII in 2009.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .