Throughout his 22-year tenure as Director of Football Operations and later General Manager, Kevin Colbert had quite an impressive track record as a talent evaluator and draftsman. He consistently brought in fairly strong draft classes and advanced talent that went on to become high-level players in the NFL.
Names like Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, David DeCastro, Casey Hampton, Heath Miller, Maurkice Pouncey, Antonio Brown, Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and TJ Watt come to mind when it comes to some of the best picks of the Colbert era .
But in the last decade, two stand out above the rest from the Colbert period as part of 50 Biggest NFL Draft Steals of the Last Decadethose running back Le’Veon Bell in 2013 and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in 2016, according to ESPN’s Matt Miller and Jordan Reid.
Bell, who was selected No. 48 overall in the second round by Michigan State, landed No. 20 overall in ESPN’s 50 Greatest Draft Steals on Wednesday.
“The first rookie to lead the Steelers in rushing since 1989, Bell provided a big boost in both the passing and running games right out of the gate. His remarkable “slow to/quick through” running style was something new to the NFL; Bell could almost completely stop and then suddenly explode up the field.” Reid writes about Bell’s No. 20 ranking for ESPN.com. “It helped him become a three-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler during his six seasons in Pittsburgh.”
During his tenure with the Steelers, Bell averaged 4.3 yards per carry. carry with 5,336 yards on the ground and 35 rushing touchdowns. A premier dual-threat running back, he had 312 receptions for 2,660 yards and seven receiving touchdowns in the same time span. When the Steelers reached the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, Bell averaged 5.2 yards per carry. carried in four games with 424 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Through the air, he had 13 receptions for 91 yards and also a touchdown.
Through a three-year stretch, not including the 2015 season in which he played just six games due to a knee injury, Bell was arguably the best running back in football. He earned two first-team All-Pro awards in 2014 and 2017 and was a second-team All-Pro in 2016. He went to the Pro Bowl in all three seasons and was on his way to becoming one of the greatest running backs in Steelers history.
Then the contract dispute in 2018 cost him an entire season, ultimately causing him to leave in free agency. From there, Bell spent time with the New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was never the same. But during that stint with the Steelers, he was certainly something special.
Along with Bell, Hargrave landed at No. 41 on ESPN’s rankings. Hargrave was selected No. 89 overall in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of HBCU South Carolina State.
“Hargrave was knocked hard in the NFL draft process for short arms, small hands and an FCS level of competition at South Carolina State. But he has emerged as one of the premier defensive tackles in the game, adding 11 sacks and 30 pressures for his CV alone in 2022.” Miller writes for ESPN.com. “Hargave just cashed in on an $84 million contract with the 49ers, further cementing his status as a legendary draft steal.”
During his time with the Steelers, Hargrave was a great find and really developed nicely under defensive line coaches John Mitchell and Karl Dunbar.
In Pittsburgh, Hargrave played in 63 games, recording 14.5 sacks while primarily playing nose tackle before eventually stepping in for defensive end Stephon Tuitt in sub-package football, recording a then-career-high 6.5 sacks in 2018.
The 27-year-old started 52 of 63 games during his four-year career with the Steelers, amassing just over 2,000 snaps, including a career-high 680 last season. Before that, he had averaged about 450 snaps per game. season. He finished his tenure in black and gold with 168 tackles, including 22 for a loss, with 14.5 sacks, two passes defensed, two forced fumbles (one of which was returned for a touchdown last season), and one fumble recovery (which was fielded in the end zone for a score).
Working as a new-school nose tackle with the Steelers, Hargrave came up the field and played more aggressively. Still, passing opportunities were more limited as he was often taken off the field for Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. He broke out in 2018 with 6.5 sacks, but left the team after the 2019 season and signed with the Eagles in free agency for big money.
After four seasons in Pittsburgh, Hargrave cashed in with the Philadelphia Eagles in free agency in 2020, signing a three-year, $39 million deal, recording 23.0 sacks with the Eagles in those three years and earning a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2021. He also helped the Eagles of reaching the Super Bowl this past season and turned it into a monster four-year, $84 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency and will face the Steelers in Week 1 to open the 2023 season.