Pittsburgh Steelers have a new GM. Two, actually. Omar Khan and Andy Weddell, hopefully the dynamic duo of the next decade after them. Kevin Colbert is no longer officially the team’s general manager, technically the first in the team’s history. And I have to admit, it is amazing. Even with internal recruitment, we are stepping into a brave new world.
The benefit of having the same General Manager and Head Coach for 15+ years is that if you follow them closely (and you know we did) they become pretty much expected. How they approached the free agency, who drafted it, what the roster building was like, there was a clear structure for how the team would operate. But with Khan and Weidl, what has changed? something will. Here are a few that might be obvious, and just to be clear, I’m referring to the team’s philosophy, not the people themselves.
1. Increased focus on analytics
In his recent press conferences, Kevin Colbert admitted that the upcoming system will care about numbers more than Colbert ever did. Sure, there it was, the team has an analytics department, but it’s kind of like a side salad at a steakhouse. It is available but no one has ever requested it.
Pittsburgh had one of the smallest departments of analytics and saw those in that role leave regularly, Karim Kassam leaving for Duolingo — the app that helps you say “where’s the bathroom” in Spanish — and Jay Whitmer jumped into The Jets last year.
With a businessman and numbers like Khan, you generally have younger people who “get” more advanced stats than just pure Trust the tape mindset, Pittsburgh should become more analytically focused. It’s hard to say exactly what that looks like because so much of it happens behind the scenes. I can certainly see the team expand the analytics department and possibly add more established staff as opposed to the new faces recruited essentially out of college, as they did with Will Britt replacing Whitmire (and he also won’t advertise the job on TeamWorkOnline, a place where most NFL teams put up rosters for ticket sales and mascots , not the main front office spaces).
Of course, Mike Tomlin still has a lot of control here and is an old, old-school spirit, so don’t expect Pittsburgh to become a Brown or Ravens. But they should move to using heavier analytics than they used to, falling behind the rest of the leagues. And maybe they can cleverly sprinkle some numbers to affect Tomlin, the way you put medicine in applesauce for your child/dog to eat.
2. Drafting small school players
If your college wasn’t primetime playing on national TV, Kevin Colbert didn’t care. It’s not an exaggeration. Below is a list of all the FCS and below the players the Steelers drafted under him and the years in which they were selected:
Ricardo Kolcloff – Second round (Tusculum) 2004
Willie Kowloon – Fourth round (Hofstra) 2006
Cortez Allen – Fourth round (The Citadel) 2011
Nick Williams – 7th round (Samford) 2013
Javon Hargrave – Third round (South Carolina) 2016
Chris Oldcon – Round 7 (South Dakota) 2021
Six out of 22 introductory classes and only two over the past decade or so. Only two days into the first two days of the draft and it’s possible that some incumbent coaches hit the table for these guys to impress Colbert, as John Mitchell likely did to Hargrave (Mitchell was in his pro day). Colclough’s fiasco seems to have stopped Colbert from going after these players again, and I believe Colclough was the only Division II player or lower that the team has ever drafted, the rest coming from FCS level.
Could that change in the Khan/Widdle era? It’s hard to be less frequent. My guess for Colbert’s estrangement from these guys is how hard it is to predict their success in the NFL. Men who did not compete with top competitors and their peers in recruiting classes on a regular basis. But things can change. It’s worth noting that the Weidl’s Eagles drafted Dallas Guedert of South Dakota and Carson Wentz of North Dakota in the first two rounds (Weidl obviously didn’t have the last word, but he was part of a culture willing to recruit these guys early on).
3. Business philosophy in preparation
Kevin Colbert was willing to forgo his season or mid-season enlistment choices, especially over the past several seasons (Avery Williamson, Joe Schubert, Vance MacDonald, Minka Fitzpatrick, etc.). But during the draft weekend, he often stayed put. If anything, he was a bit on the aggressive side and ready to move up, as he did so with Devin Bush and Isaiah Laudermilk during his final few seasons and They almost did it to get Kenny Beckett.
Trading down was a different story and he rarely made such a move. It only happened once in the first round, he went from 16th to No. 19 in 2001 and still forged a farm in Casey Hampton. But this is the only example. Colbert’s logic, which he admitted several times, was to prevent the team from falling apart and not having anyone to pick. So if a team loses four places, they should have four players that they really want to capture. That rarely happened, and so Colbert rarely backed out in the first round.
during his tenure, Colbert made a total of 14 select picks During the weekend project. Four of those saw him trade, and the last one came back in 2009 when Colbert moved up from 64th overall for a fourth-round pick and two ahead. Remarkably, Colbert has been over a decade since he last traded any part of the draft.
Good teams should look to concede at a high clip. More shots means more chances to click on draft picks, and more darts to throw darts into the dartboard. Pittsburgh has rarely taken this opportunity and I suspect that Khan and Weidl would be more open to the idea.
4. The Great Unknown
The last change… I don’t know. something unexpected. The ‘Colbert Rules’ that were very strict and easy to follow and now… may they remain the same? I’m sure some of them will, but knowing what to do is hard. We don’t know what we don’t know.
Khan is his own man and does not have to follow what Colbert did or what he wanted him to do. Khan has his own ideas, insight, and story, and Weidl comes from abroad without an in-depth knowledge of how Colbert worked. Will the Steelers still keep six defensive items on the roster as they do every year? Will the draft need to have a crisp and clean personality as it has in the past five years for Colbert? All good questions. All the answers we don’t have yet.
There will be surprises and things not to expect along the way. A time when we all say Well this is definitely a new approach.
We’ll have to sit back and watch it unfold. It’s one part scary and one part exciting, and it’s a fair way of summarizing all the change that’s happened in the past four months.
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