Re-Shining The Steel Curtain: Steelers 2014 Draft Scores Big
By Maurice Moton May 13, 2014
The Steelers opened their solid draft by selecting athletic Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier in the first round.
The NFL and its fans have witnessed the transition to a “pass-happy”, fast-paced and high-scoring style of play across the league. However, the Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks have proven there is still a place for a hard-nosed, grind-it-out type of approach to the game. The Pittsburgh Steelers have set the tone for decades for predicating champions like the Seahawks that feature a prominent defense. In this year’s draft, the Steelers made a commitment to stick to their DNA, drafting players who add bulk, versatility and a hardy attitude to a proud franchise.
Throughout the draft, Pittsburgh was able to draft talented players outside of its needs, fill in roster gaps and add dimension to all three phases of the game.
First-round pick LB Ryan Shazier of Ohio State initially seemed to be a risky pick with the defensive front in shambles. Following the second-round pick of Notre Dame DE Stephon Tuitt, the brilliance of the Steelers’ draft strategy was recognized. Shazier’s versatility will pay immediate dividends in Pittsburgh. His run-stopping ability will bolster a porous front-line that allowed 115.6 rushing yards per game in 2013. As an every-down linebacker, he can slip into man coverage or become part of a powerful blitz package. Playing alongside Lawrence Timmons as an inside linebacker will only make him more effective as he learns his position and takes co-command of the middle of the field.
What made Shazier an even smarter pick was the decision to draft Tuitt as a potential immediate impact player to a decimated defensive line. In a 3-4 defense, Tuitt will seal off the edge as a 5-technique defensive lineman opposite side of Cameron Heyward, providing much-needed run support. The 19.5 sacks in his final two years at Notre Dame indicate he can be a viable threat to the quarterback if necessary. At 6-6 and 322 pounds, he’ll consume blocks and provide opportunities for Shazier to wreak havoc on offenses. Drafting this one-two punch of Shazier and Tuitt could be the push the Steelers needed to solidify and evolve their defensive front.
Pittsburgh made sure to keep up with the times of the NFL, preventing its offense from being left behind in an era of offensive upheaval. Exceptional size and speed were the focus points between Rounds 3 and 4. Many supporters expected a defensive back to be drafted in these rounds, but the Steelers decided to improve their offense, particularly beneficial for QB Ben Roethlisberger.
Kent State RB Dri Archer posted the fastest 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine (4.26) and has good pass-catching ability. Running backs too small to handle the workload as an every-down back but have the potential to move the ball on short pass plays have found their niche in the league. Darren Sproles was electrifying during his time in New Orleans before being traded to the Philadelphia Eagles. Danny Woodhead accumulated more than 1,000 yards in 2013 with the San Diego Chargers as a running back and receiver.
The Steelers may also utilize Archer as their X-factor capable of burning a defense in space with his speed as a kick/punt returner to shorten the field. The combination of his versatility and exceptional speed will add a wrinkle to the Steelers' offense that has never been seen before in Steeler Nation. Fans need to look no further than former WR Mike Wallace as a reminder of what speed on offense can do for a football team.
On the other side of the spectrum, size and manpower has been added to Roethlisberger’s arsenal. Clemson WR Martavis Bryant, as a 6-4 athletic marvel, will command attention in the red zone if his pass-catching technique remains intact. He has a long way to go before eliciting flashbacks of Plaxico Burress in his heyday, but he certainly has the potential with his stature and skill set. Bryant will enter camp as a tallest of the wide receivers on the roster and will likely challenge Markus Wheaton as the receiver starting opposite of Antonio Brown. Bryant’s progress as a red-zone threat could push him to the forefront of the offense despite Wheaton’s expanded role at the position.
Pittsburgh added depth to positions thin of talent during Rounds 5-7. Most notable of these reserve players, Arizona CB Shaquille Richardson won’t crack the starting lineup in his rookie year but could develop into a physical press-coverage defender one day. Ike Taylor’s time as a productive player in the NFL is dwindling and the Steelers will need physicality in their backfield. Richardson could possibly take the traditional route of being a proud development of the coaching staff before earning an opportunity on the field. He has the athleticism and long arms to make plays if he accepts coaching.
Another late round notable, NT Dan McCullers from Tennessee is a prototypical gap-filling lineman. As one of the bigger defensive line prospects in the draft, he carries much intrigue to Pittsburgh. He’s not likely to see the field in his rookie year but his size cannot be matched. At 6-7 and 352 pounds, the coaching staff will work on developing his techniques to become a better run stopper. If the process goes smoothly and McCullers plays with effort, he too can become a solid starter within a few years and an immovable object in the middle of the defensive line.
Draft Grade: A