Youth in draft concerns Kevin Colbert

PITTSBURGH -- Player interviews are an integral part of the NFL scouting combine, and those sessions may take on even greater importance this year.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert reiterated on Thursday that he has never seen a draft class as talented as this one in his 30 years of scouting. But there is a huge caveat, and it makes the draft a boom-or-bust proposition, one that can elevate a franchise or lead to a trail of pink slips a couple of years down the road.

“Even though it’s the most talented group I’ve seen I’m also worried it’s the most immature group,” Colbert told reporters in Indianapolis, “and we have to be prepared for more player development-type programs, maybe enhancing your player development so as to get the most out of these younger players.”

Therein lies the double-edged sword when it comes to the 2014 draft: the record 98 underclassmen who are in it make it awash in talent but also one that is fraught with risk.

Projecting which players will make a successful transition from college to the NFL is hard enough. The trend toward draft-eligible players getting younger only adds to the difficultly for teams that can only do so much homework before pulling the trigger on their picks.

“Experience has told us that a lot of these younger players aren’t ready for this and it’s a huge leap,” Colbert said. “I don’t think a lot of them understand that until they get on a playing field and see the increase in the quality of play.”

That reality is one reason why the Steelers prefer to bring along rookies slowly and play them a year later rather than a year too early.

It also shows why teams are making educated guesses when they draft, particularly when they select underclassmen.

“The emotional part of being a college kid and the next day being a professional, I think it’s a little easier to transition from your senior year to the pros than it would be your junior or sophomore year,” Colbert said. “If you fail early it can be emotionally overwhelming and sometimes career-ending.”