The Pittsburgh Steelers have a new GM. Two in fact. Omar Khan and Andy Weidl, we hope the dynamic duo for the next decade. Kevin Colbert is no longer officially the general manager of the team, technically the first in the history of the team. And I have to admit, it is Strange. Even with an inner intake, it is a new and brave world we are entering.
The advantage of having the same GM and the same coach for 15+ years was that if you watched them closely enough (and you know we did) they became quite predictable. How they approached the free Agency, who they drafted, how the roster was built, there was an obvious structure in the way the team worked. But with Khan and Weidl, what changes? Something will. Here are some things you can do, and to be clear, I’m referring to the team philosophy, not the people themselves.
1. Increased emphasis on Analytics
In his last press conference, Kevin Colbert admitted that the next regime would care more about the numbers than Colbert. Sure, it was there, the team has an analysis section, but it’s something like the side dish to a steakhouse. It is available but no one ever orders it.
Pittsburgh’s had one of the smallest analytics departments and regularly saw those in the role leave, Karim Kassam leaving for Duolingo – the app that helps you say “where is the bathroom” in Spanish – and Jay Whitmire to jump on the Jets last year.
With a business type and numbers like Khan, and generally having younger people who ‘get’ more advanced statistics than a net trust the cassette mentality, Pittsburgh needs to become more focused. It is difficult to say exactly what this looks like because many of them happen behind the scenes. Surely I could see the team expanding the analytics department and perhaps adding more established hires as opposed to new outsiders, as they did with Will Britt to replace Whitmire (and also will not advertise the job at TeamWorkOnline, a place where most NFL teams put on ticket sales lists and mascots, not key points in the front office).
Of course, Mike Tomlin still has plenty of control here and he’s old and old, so don’t expect Pittsburgh to become Browns or Ravens. But they will have to move to a heavier use of analytics than they were, lagging behind the rest of the league. And maybe they can cleverly sprinkle some numbers to influence Tomlin, the way you put the medicine in apple sauce so your child / dog can eat it.
2. Retirement of Small School Players
If your college did not play high-stakes gaming on national television, Kevin Colbert would not care. Nor is it an exaggeration at all. The following is a list of all the FCS and the following players selected by the Steelers under control and the years selected:
Ricardo Kolkloff – 2nd Round (Tusculum) 2004
Willie Colon – 4th Round (Hofstra) 2006
Cortez Allen – 4th Round (The Citadel) 2011
Nick Williams – 7th Round (Samford) 2013
Javon Hargrave – Round 3 (State of South Carolina) 2016
Chris Olandokun – Round 7 (State of South Dakota) 2021
Six in just 22 draft classes and only two in the last almost decade. Only two of the first two days of the draft and it is possible that some position coaches knocked on the table to convince Colbert, as John Mitchell probably did for Hargrave (Mitchell was in his Professional Day). It seems that the failure at Colclough prevented Colbert from chasing these players again and I believe Colclough was the only Division 2 or junior to ever draft while the rest came from FCS level.
Could that change under Khan / Weidl? It’s hard to be nobody less hang out. My guess for Colbert moving away from these guys is the difficulty in projecting their success in the NFL. Kids who did not face the top competition and their peers in the draft category on a regular basis. But things are likely to change. It is worth noting that the Weidl’s Eagles selected Dallas Goendert of South Dakota and Carson Wendz of North Dakota in the top two rounds (Weidl obviously did not have the final say, but was part of a culture willing to from early).
3. In-Draft Trade Philosophy
Kevin Colbert was willing to give up his draft selections out of season or mid-year, especially in the last few seasons (Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, Vance McDonald, Minkah Fitzpatrick, etc.). but during the weekend draft, he often stayed in his place. If nothing else, he was a bit on the offensive side and was willing to go up, doing it for Devin Bush and Isaiahh Loudermilk in his final draft lessons and almost did it to get Kenny Pickett.
Trading down was a different story and he rarely made such a move. He only appeared once in the first round, dropped from # 16 to # 19 in 2001 and continued to design a stud at Casey Hampton. But this is the only example. Colbert’s reasoning, which he has admitted many times, was to prevent the team from being fooled and having no one to choose from. So if the team exchanged four places, it had to have four players that it really wanted to get. This rarely happened and so Colbert rarely relegated in the first round.
During his tenure, Colbert made a total of 14 pick-for-pick trades over the draft weekend. Four of them saw him retreat and the last one came until 2009, when Colbert went from # 64 overall for a quarter round and two future 3. It is noteworthy that Colbert went much more than a decade after he last retired. in any part of the draft.
Good teams should look to trade in high clips. The more options equals the more chances you have to hit a draft, the more darts to throw at the dart. Pittsburgh rarely used this opportunity and I suspect Khan and Weidl will be much more open to the idea.
4. The Great Unknown
The final change is… I do not know. Something unexpected. The “Colbert rules” that were so ironic and so easy to follow now πως does it remain the same? Some of them will do it, I’m sure, but finding out what’s hard to do. We do not know what we do not know.
Khan is his own man and does not need to follow what Colbert did or what he would like to do. Khan has his own ideas, insight and history, and Weidl comes from abroad without knowing in depth how Colbert worked. Will the Steelers continue to keep six defenders on the roster as they do every year? Should the prospects for the draft be as clear-cut as Colbert’s last 5+ years? All good questions. We do not have all the answers yet.
There will be surprises and things we do not expect along the way. A time we all say it is definitely a new approach.
We have to sit down and watch it unfold. It’s a scary place, a fascinating place, which is a fair way to summarize all the change that has happened in the last four months.