FOOTBALL – Kevin Colbert emotional after final draft as Steelers GM: ‘It doesn’t mean it’s over’

This weekend marked the final draft for Kevin Colbert as general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A 22-year veteran of the organization, Colbert had spent the last 12 drafts as GM of the black and gold, picking the players who have helped sustain Pittsburgh’s unprecedented success (18 straight seasons at .500 or better). It was announced months prior to this weekend’s proceedings that Colbert would step down after the 2022 NFL Draft, though he’ll likely take on a different role in the organization. Pittsburgh has yet to announce a replacement.

After the third day of Saturday’s draft, when Colbert and the company made four choices, GM emotionally recalled his legacy at the club.

He said, “I don’t want to say any more,” Colbert told reporters when asked how he felt about leaving the Steelers. “I’m proud to have expanded this [trophy] space. There were four trophies. When I got here, there were four. And you knew the job. Think about DMR [later owner Dan Rooney]. Being able to expand that space makes a lot of sense. It doesn’t mean it’s over. The next step is that you need to get more and never lose it. But that means a lot.

Since 2000, when Colbert joined the organization and began running Pittsburgh’s drafts, the Steelers have selected 21 Pro Bowlers, seven first-team All-Pros and a Hall of Famer (Troy Polamalu). Pittsburgh won its fifth and sixth Super Bowl titles during the 2005 and 2008 seasons while Colbert was director of football operations. Since 2011, when Colbert became the first Steelers employee to have the title “general manager,” the team has gone 111-64-2 in the regular season, made the postseason seven times, won four AFC North titles and reached one Super Bowl.

“His contribution to this organization over the last 22 years is extraordinary and doesn’t need to be approved on my part,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on Saturday. “To be honest, it speaks for itself.”

Some of Colbert‘s most notable draft picks since rising to general manager include Cameron Heyward (2011, first round), David DeCastro (2012, first round), Le’Veon Bell (2013, second round), T.J. Watt (2017, first round), JuJu Smith-Schuster (2017, second round) and 2021 rookies Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth.

Colbert oversaw the drafting of the franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, the third signal sender after Eli Manning and Philip Rivers. Now Colbert chases Big Ben outside the door, but he’s compelled to replace him. After adding veteran Mitch Trubisky to the list of free agents, the Steelers chose pit quarterback Kenny Pickett for their 20th overall pick. This was the first round of QB Pittsburgh to win since Roethlisberger.

But Colbert didn’t stop there. As he has been wont to do throughout his career, Colbert drafted high-value receivers in George Pickens at No. 52 and Calvin Austin III at No. 138 and a brother of a current Steelers player in Connor Heyward at No. 208. Then, for the first time since 1968, Pittsburgh took a second quarterback, South Dakota State’s Chris Oladokun, deep in the seventh round, just in case. It was Colbert’s final selection as Steelers GM.

“It’s like a game,” Colbert said. “I’m grateful when the game is over, but when I’m quiet and alone, I really think.” How many minutes, what’s next? “I don’t know.

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