Kevin Colbert makes his living as a personnel guy in the NFL, and people in his business rarely give out direct answers to any questions at this time of the year. But after the Steelers used their No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft – the 24th overall – on Stanford guard David DeCastro, Colbert broke his own rule very soon after being brought into the media room at the Steelers practice facility.
Kevin, was (DeCastro) a no-brainer pick?
During a pre-draft news conference on April 23 that's always more juking and dodging than disseminating, Colbert alluded to the fact that this particular draft class contained a small group of special players who were easy to evaluate. Of course, Colbert wouldn't name any of the names in that group during the session, but come Thursday night it was clear that David DeCastro was one of them.
Just about every mock draft – and there are thousands of them, or seem to be – had DeCastro gone before the Steelers would get around to making their No. 1 pick. Phrases such as "outstanding technician" and "terrific instincts" and "nasty football temperament" and "outstanding personal and football character" and "plug-and-play starter" can come across as gibberish, but to the people in Colbert's line of work they represent the kinds of things that add a little bit of certainty to the guessing game that is an NFL Draft.
"Really, we didn't think David would be there at No. 24," said Colbert. "We valued him very high. As we said the other day, there were a few special players in this group that we thought would be easy to evaluate, and he was one of them."
He was easy to evaluate, said Coach Mike Tomlin, because everything the Steelers require of their guards, DeCastro showed them on videotape.
"He is a right guard. That's what he has played at Stanford," said Tomlin. "We are going to work to put our best people on the field, and he will be a candidate within that group obviously. It was just a fun evaluation. He played right guard in Stanford's offense, and everything we would ask him to do you saw him do at Stanford, whether it was pulling or pass protection in the play-action game. Like Kevin said earlier, a large portion of their run-game went behind him. He made it a fun study. He's just a solid player and prospect in all areas."
There were reasons why DeCastro was available to the Steelers that went beyond teams maybe not valuing guards as much as other positions when it came to picking in the first round.
One early indicator that things could be falling the Steelers' way came when the Miami Dolphins made owner Stephen Ross a happy guy by picking quarterback Ryan Tannehill eighth overall. Since the Steelers were not in the market for a quarterback – or a tight end for that matter – in the first round, teams ahead of them picking those positions simply served to push other players down toward them. There was one more quarterback selected before the Steelers' turn, and that was Brandon Wheedon, who went to the Browns at No. 22.
Then there were the uh-oh moments, those picks that deviate from the norm, the reaches, and those also serve to push players down toward the bottom of the first round.
Included in the uh-oh group this year were WR Michael Floyd to Arizona at No. 13, DE Bruce Irvin to Seattle at No. 15, LB Shea McClellin to Chicago at No. 19, WR Kendall Wright to Tennessee at No. 20, and DE Chandler Jones to New England at No. 21. Not only did those selections help the Steelers get DeCastro, but by making those picks those teams also prevented others from trading into their spots and maybe making a more mainstream selection.
"We really can't do anything about what other teams are doing behind us, so you start looking at your odds of how many players are left who we would be happy with, and there were several of those players still available for us," said Colbert. "David was clearly the guy, and we were excited he was there. Could be (that teams were leery of picking a guard that high). I can't speak for anyone else other than to say we're glad they didn't take him."
Once the Patriots selected Jones, there were two picks remaining before the Steelers' turn, and both DeCastro and LB Dont'a Hightower were still on the board. Then when the Browns took Wheedon, and the Detroit Lions immediately sent their card to the podium with OT Riley Reiff's name on it, the Steelers immediately followed by sending up their card with DeCastro's name on it. The pick took literally a minute for the Steelers to make.
"Before the draft," said Colbert, "we identified several players we'd trade up to get, and (DeCastro) was one of them. I'll leave it at that. With every pick the odds increase. When we picked, there was a nice group. We would have been happy with three or four guys who were available at our pick. Really, a better group presented itself than we thought would, but he was one we had identified as a possibility to trade up to get."
This morning, every team that made a first-round pick is happy with the player they got, but there was almost a giddiness about Colbert and Tomlin when they walked into the media room to talk about theirs.
"We were out there for his pro day, (offensive line coach) Sean Kugler and myself made the visit out there, and he had an outstanding pro day," said Colbert. "Quite honestly, it scared us a little bit, because he worked out so well we didn't think there was any way we'd get a shot at him."