With another draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the books, let’s see what they did to try and improve their 8-8 2013 season.
Although it is always fun to dissect and grade drafts, I will be taking a step back here to get back into the rhythm with more of a summary. The one issue the Steelers had heading into the offseason was the lack of funds in the coffers and a lot of hard choices had to be made. Those choices as well as free agency moves (or lack there of) is what set up the Steelers to draft how they did. Lets look at what occurred in the 2014 NFL Draft for the Iron Curtain:
Going against the grain is not new for the Steelers’ organization, and the first round of the draft was no different. Against all the experts and analysts, not to mention the fans’ expectations, on Thursday evening the Steelers pulled the trigger on linebacker Ryan Shazier out of Ohio State with the 15th overall selection. Most if not all thought the Steeler would go corner or receiver in the first round, so the addition of Shazier raised a few eyebrows to say the least. For a second straight year, the front office went for a linebacker in the first round, but unlike last year, it looks like Shazier will be more of an inside linebacker, paired up with Lawrence Timmons.
After an unexpected first round, the Steelers were again faced with options as well as need in the corner and wide receiver positions. Again bypassing the fans and analyst sentiment at the time, they chose to go with a defensive lineman, Stephon Tuitt from Notre Dame. Although it is clear Truitt will not alleviate the pressure in the receiving corps or the secondary, strengthening a defensive line (with a void left by the departed Ziggy Hood) is what he does. This also means that veteran defensive end Brett Keisel will most likely not be re-signed.
With a compensatory pick in the third round, surely the Steelers would address the needs mentioned earlier, right? Well, the Steelers are their own nation so, “no”. The Steelers decided to go with a smallish but freakishly fast running back out of Kent State, Dri Archer, who weighs in at 170 pounds and some reports state that he has 4.2 level speed. Although a nice pick up, Pittsburgh already has Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount firmly entrenched in the depth chart. Interesting selection to say the least but look for Archer to try and make a name for himself as a return man, given the company he will keep.
Finally, after three rounds, it looks like the Steelers addressed one of their most pressing needs. With the 118th pick overall, the Steelers drafted wide receiver Martavis Bryant. The other Tiger receiver on the draft not named Sammy Watkins could potentially transform himself into the tall ball catcher the Steelers have been looking for. However, no matter how deep this years’ draft was with receivers, it is never a sure thing with a rookie, especially when being selected in the 4th round.
The Steelers most pressing need entering the 2014 off-season was clearly the cornerback position. When the pick of Shaquille Richardson was announced with the 157th pick, I am sure more than a few fans used the word “finally”. In recent year the Steelers have found themselves searching for corners in the later rounds, so it is not that big of a surprise. Hopefully the coaching staff can work their magic with Richardson and turn him into the likes of William Gay, Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and Keenan Lewis (4th, 5th, 3rd, and 4th, round selections respectively).
With another compensatory pick in the fifth round, the Steelers went offense and selected tackle Wesley Johnson out of Vanderbilt. Johnson is a depth selection for Pittsburgh as an offensive tackle. However, with Ramon Foster (LG) and Kelvin Beachum (LT) already inked in as starters, there is nothing that states the 6’5″ 297 pound Johnson can’t work his way up the depth chart.
Inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt was the Steelers choice with the 192nd pick overall. Zumwalt looks to have an uphill battle to get to the top, or near, the pecking order. With the addition of Shazier along with incumbent Vince Williams (who recorded 53 tackles last season as a rookie) and the return of Sean Spence from injury, the brackets are full and Zumwalt would have to be named a steal to jump ahead of any of the aforementioned players. One thing Zumwalt can do to stay in the minds of the coaching staff is perform well on special teams, like most linebackers selected in the late rounds.
With a third compensatory pick in the NFL Draft, the Steelers opted for Daniel McCullers at the 215th spot. A tackle from Tennessee, McCullers comes in at 6’7″ and a 352 pound frame. Obviously a depth selection for the defensive line, he can be developed into a decent player in Pittsburgh. With his size, McCullers can find himself playing the role of nose tackle, sort of like Casey Hampton when he manned the position exceptionally well for 12 seasons.
With their last pick of the draft, the Steelers selected offense and picked up tight end Rob Blanchflower out of Massachusetts. As the tight end depth chart for Pittsburgh already contains Heath Miler as the number one option and Matt Spaeth as number two, Blanchflower will find it difficult to move up the pecking order. A most likely practice squad member, it might take a couple of years or some injuries to put a dent on a crowded roster.