Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Steelers 2014 Draft Class

The Steelers went into the 2014 draft with some big holes in the roster. The sum total of the draft is that they addressed each of their positions of need, though not necessarily in the order or with the players that many thought they would. The biggest surprise was the selection of Linebacker Ryan Shazier from Ohio State (more on that in a minute) in the first round with Cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Inside Linebacker CJ Mosley still on the board. While many (myself included) thought that cornerback and wide receiver needed to be priorities within the first two days (Rounds 1-3) in the draft, the Steelers waited until Day 3 to address both positions. Here's a look at the 9 newest members of the Black and Gold as well as some relevant information I could gather on our Undrafted Free Agent signings.

Round 1
15th Overall
Ryan Shazier
LB - Ohio State

This was one of the biggest surprises of the first round. The Steelers obviously needed to address the inside linebacker position, and they did so with the selection of Shazier. He is a very good prospect that can absolutely fly around the football field. Shazier had 134 tackles in 2013 after posting 115 in 2012. At 6'1" 230, he ran an absurd 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day which is the same speed that Terrelle Pryor reportedly ran and would've been faster than all but 2 WRs at the Combine. On the surface, we got a guy who has wings on his feet and is always around the ball, which is something we absolutely need at inside linebacker. Shazier's speed means he can match up with tight ends and won't have to come off the field on 3rd downs like Vince Williams did last year. The downside is that Shazier will forever be tied to CJ Mosley (who many considered the top ILB prospect), who went 2 picks later to the Ravens, and Darqueze Dennard, who some thought was the best corner in the draft and went 9 picks later to Cincinnati. If Shazier doesn't pan out, the Steelers will have 4 games a year for the better part of the next decade against Baltimore and Cincinnati where we will be reminded of this pick. The other downside is that without a nose tackle in front of them that commands double-teams, the inside linebackers will continue to get blocked by opposing linemen that get free releases off the line. I don't have a problem addressing the ILB position, but to do so while maintaining a relative status quo at NT is a dangerous proposition. Shazier is also the 7th player Kevin Colbert has selected from Ohio State, the most from any school.

Round 2
46th Overall
Stephon Tuitt
DT - Notre Dame

At 6'5" 305, Tuitt instantly becomes one of the biggest linemen on the Steelers roster. He has the burst and technique to play on the outside as a 5-tech defensive end and has the size and strength to stay on the field in 3rd down situations to slide inside. Tuitt should be an instant starter on the defensive line, and landing two 3-down players with the first two picks in the draft is tremendous. The only concern I have here is similar to the concern I had with selecting Shazier - the Steelers defense is built from the inside out. Without a good nose tackle in the middle, the inside linebackers and defensive ends simply aren't as good. Louis Nix was still on the board at this point, and would have been a player that would've improved the Steelers defense by providing an anchor in the middle. That said, Nix is at best a 2-down player whereas Tuitt is a 3-down defensive lineman that can play both inside and outside. This was a tremendous value in the middle of the 2nd round.

Round 3
97th Overall
Dri Archer
OW - Kent State

The Steelers may have had their hand forced a little bit at the tail end of the third round. Most people thought they would select Clemson WR Martavis Bryant with this selection (who supposedly they had a 2nd round grade on). However, given how the 6 picks before this selection went off the board, the Steelers simply couldn't risk leaving Archer on the board. At 90th overall the Cardinals took WR John Brown from Pittsburg State who posted the fastest time of the WR group at the combine (4.34). At 94 the Browns took Terrence West (RB-Towson, 4.54) and at 96 the Vikings to Jerrick McKinnon (RB-Georgia Southern 4.41). That was two small school RBs and three players from small schools that posted fast 40 times that fell off the board in a 6-pick span. That left Archer as one of the few "offensive weapons" left on the board, and it would've been a risky proposition to hope that he fell to them in the 4th round. The Steelers pulled the trigger here and Archer has the potential to be the player that Chris Rainey never became. Todd Haley knows how to use these type of players (see: LaRod Stephens-Howling in Arizona and Dexter McCluster in Kansas City). Archer's blazing fast 4.26 40 was the fastest at the combine this year and gives the Steelers a player that can take it to the house any time he touches the ball.

Round 4
118th Overall
Martavis Bryant
WR - Clemson

Bryant has the physical build of an elite NFL receiver, measuring in at over 6'4", arms measuring over 32 inches and a vertical leap of 39 inches. On top of his crazy vertical measurements, Bryant posted a blazing fast 4.42 40 yard dash at the combine. The reason he fell to the 4th round is that he is a bit raw and a bit of a one-year wonder in college (though getting on the field in 2012 with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins in front of him wasn't the easiest task). Bryant came out early as an underclassmen and dealt with some immaturity last season (was benched for the start of a game for making a throat slash gesture). Bryant also needs to improve his route-running but he gives the Steelers a big target that can work against press coverage and in the red zone that they did not have before. The hope is that Bryant will become what Limas Sweed should have been - and not what he actually was.

Round 5
157th Overall
Shaquille Richardson
CB - Arizona

Richardson is an aggressive corner with good size and length. Richardson was recruited by Carnell Lake at Arizona, which gave the Steelers some familiarity with him as Lake is now our defensive backs coach. He is a much better press corner than zone corner but has a quick break on the ball and long enough arms to make plays in the air. Richardson has grown up quite a bit since his freshman year when he was released from UCLA's program after he was arrested for felony theft. He will have the chance to develop in the Steelers system and should be an instant contributor on special teams.

173rd Overall
Wesley Johnson
OT - Vanderbilt

You have to believe that this pick was heavily influenced by Mike Munchak. Munchak was the head coach of the Titans last year, who play in Nashville where Vanderbilt University is located. Johnson played tackle, guard and center during his time with the Commodores and is worth the risk as a project offensive lineman at this point in the draft. Johnson is the kind of player the Steelers love - a versatile player capable of playing multiple positions who played on a winning team (Vanderbilt was ranked at the end of the season) from a major conference (the SEC) and who has strong leadership skills (team captain last two seasons). Johnson played in a zone blocking scheme in college and is light on his feet, but he must get stronger to compete against NFL defensive linemen. To his credit, Johnson did hold his own against Jadaveon Clowney in the video above.

Round 6
192nd Overall
Jordan Zumwalt

Zumwalt was a 4-year starter at UCLA that played with a nasty edge and was a fiery competitor. He doesn't have the best speed or ability to disengage from blocks, but will be able to contribute on special teams right away. Zumwalt could develop into a starter down the road, but he plays with the edge that you love to see on special teams and is the kind of player that can rally the team around him. Zumwalt tended to play his best in big games and laid a devastating it on Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas that knocked him out of the Sun Bowl. Zumwalt has played both inside and outside linebacker - though he will likely need to add some more weight if he is to play outside in the NFL.

215th Overall
Daniel McCullers
NT - Tennessee

McCullers is a massive human being, and that's about all you can say about him. Stacking in at 6'7" 352 pounds, he is the definition of a space-eating nose tackle. He sunk to the end of the 6th round because he is basically an immovable object. He does not have the lower body burst to get off the line quickly and does not generate much pressure in the backfield. His size is enough to keep him in line in the middle, but he is not nimble enough on his feet to work down the line against zone blocking teams. His size and length made him an effective player in the middle of Tennessee's defense but he will have to learn hand and foot technique if he is going to succeed in the pros. 

Round 7
230th Overall
Rob Blanchflower
TE - Massachusetts

The Steelers showed some interest in Blanchflower and were able to land him at the tail end of the draft. Don't let his name fool you, he is an absolutely nasty blocking tight end. He was slowed by an injury his senior year that kept him out of the combine, but the Steelers obviously saw enough in a pre-draft visit to make him worth selecting in the 7th round. Blanchflower showed improvement as a route-runner and receiver his senior year when he did play and could compete with Matt Spaeth and Michael Palmer for the 2nd and 3rd tight end roles right away.

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