INDIANAPOLIS - Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert and his scouting staff continue to make adjustments to their evaluation process based on the proliferation of spread offenses in college football.
"It really effects everything," said Colbert, whose Steelers own the 25th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. "The way offensive linemen block, the reads for the running back. It doesn't make it more difficult, it's just different."
The Steelers run a spread-like offense with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm - he attempted 469 passes despite missing four games with a knee injury - and have excelled evaluating skill-position players. In hindsight, Michigan State product Le'Veon Bell appears to be a steal as the 48th overall pick in the 2013 draft and Colbert has scored even greater values at wide receiver. All-Pro Antonio Brown was a sixth-rounder and Martavis Bryant was a fourth-round pick in 2014. Sammie Coates, who stood out in the playoffs at Denver with Brown hurt, is next in the pipeline that also produced former Pro Bowl receiver Mike Wallace.
"I don't know if there's any formula for it. We've just been very fortunate," said Colbert. "Can he run? Can he separate? Can he make a contested catch? If he can check off all those boxes chances are he's going to be a pretty good player."
Oakland Raiders coach Jack Del Rio said spread offenses tend to keep offensive linemen out of a three-point stance. Colbert's point on spread systems changing "everything" speaks to what teams face in projecting college defensive players to their NFL schemes.
"That's one of the reasons we valued (inside linebacker) Ryan Shazier the way we did," Colbert said Wednesday at the opening press conference of the 2016 NFL Combine. "He could make plays the traditional run-stopping linebacker couldn't. His ability to play lateral football - game speed, the ability to cover ground laterally is really important. You've got to couple that with the ability to make plays in space."
Colbert said the Steelers are expecting linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who he called a quiet leader, to be back despite his high salary-cap number. The Steelers have been effective reducing major one-year hits on the cap in recent years by shifting salary to bonus money. He declined to discuss the state of contract negotiations with free agent offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum.