After selecting three players in the first three rounds who are expected to provide immediate help in 2014, the Pittsburgh Steelers closed out the draft with six selections on Saturday, who offered a roughly equal mix of boom-bust prospects with high ceilings to go with a trio of more stable overachievers that add quality depth to the roster.
Specifically, the Steelers took three players possessing the size and physical skills to possibly become NFL starters down the road despite not being drafted until day No. 3. If a couple of these do indeed fulfill their athletic potential, this can go from a decent draft to a great one.
Here is the full Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 NFL Draft:
1. ILB Ryan Shazier, 6-1, 237, Ohio State
2. DE Stephon Tuitt, 6-6, 304, Notre Dame
3. RB/WR/RET Dri Archer, 5-7, 173, Kent State
4. WR Martavis Bryant, 6-4, 211, Clemson
5. CB Shaq Richardson, 6-0, 194, Arizona
5. OL Wesley Johnson, 6-5, 297, Vanderbilt
6. LB Jordan Zumwalt, 6-4, 232, UCLA
6. NT Daniel McCullers, 6-7, 352, Tennessee
7. TE Rob Blanchflower, 6-2, 256, Massachusetts
I would not have been happy had Pittsburgh selected Bryant in rounds No. 2 or 3 on Friday. However, a 6-foot-4, raw receiver who runs a 4.4.-second 40-yard dash is worthy of a 4th-round pick due to his vast potential.
Bryant is more likely to become the next Limas Sweed or Fred Gibson, based on his immaturity, questionable work ethic and inconsistent hands. But he immediately adds a size-speed target missing in the Steelers receiving corps and could become the next Alvin Harper if he fully develops his talents.
The biggest criticism of this Pittsburgh draft was not using a premium pick on a cornerback, where the Steelers really needed to come away with a top-flight prospect who would be a clear starter in 2015. Instead, the only defensive back added in the draft was 5th-rounder Richardson, who wasn’t even rated as a prospect expected to be selected in any round by ESPN.
Nevertheless, he has the size, speed and play-making ability to develop into another mid-round steal like former 4th-rouund picks Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, although Richardson is a ways off from that level right now. And if he doesn’t pan out, the Steelers only wasted another 5th-round pick.
Arguably the most intriguing prospect is the 6-foot-7, 352-pound McCullers. I generally don’t like tall nose tackles and have followed McCullers’ career since he was a nearly 450-pound freshman at Georgia Military College. But if he can learn to keep both his weight and pad-level down, this mammoth man could help as a situational run-stuffer in the 3-4 defense after a year or two of technique-training from veteran defensive line coach John Mitchell.
The other three picks do not have the upside of those three, but instead offer more immediate help and versatility.
Johnson was selected with a 5th-round compensatory selection. He started and held his own against SEC defensive linemen at four different positions, including left tackle as a senior. Some draft experts, though, believe center would provide Johnson’s best chance to eventually start.
Ideally, he will be the next Trai Essex, who – like Johnson – lacked the upper-body strength to excel at guard, or the height and long arms to match up with speed rushers at tackle. But like Essex showed during his career as a valuable game-day reserve, Johnson has quick feet, super intelligence and experience playing a variety of positions. Johnson, therefore, is a strong bet to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster this fall.
Inside linebacker Zumwalt will face far more competition than Johnson to make the roster due to a deeper depth chart at linebacker. However, the former UCLA star also has the ability to play outside linebacker, and should be a special-teams stud due to his on-field tenacity and 4.65-time in the 40-yard dash, meaning he should stick on the 2014 roster.
Pittsburgh may have landed a 7th-round steal in Blanchflower, who was likely downgraded 1-3 rounds by most teams due to a sports hernia that kept him from working out at the NFL Scouting Combine.
Blanchflower is a stout blocker and serviceable short-yardage receiver despite possessing only average athleticism for an NFL tight end. Hopefully he can block as well as Michael Palamer and catch like David Paulsen, which would allow him to quickly supplant those two as the Steelers’ No. 3 tight end. But if not this fall, Blanchflower could do so in 2015 after a year on the practice squad.
Addressing Positional Need
If you look back at my pre-draft mocks, I generally expected the Steelers to use their nine picks on a RB, WR, TE, OT, DE, NT, ILB, OLB and CB. That is exactly what they did if you count Dri Archer as a running back, which he will play in addition to receiver and returning kicks, and Zumwalt as an outside linebacker, where he will likely also get reps.
The only two needs they did not fill were landing a top-flight corner prospect or a development pass-rushing outside linebacker, although watch out for Howard Jones, a converted college defensive end from tiny Shepherd University, who was by far my favorite of the Steelers’ 10 undrafted free-agent signings. Jones had 35 career sacks at the NCAA Division II level, and is a freakish athlete who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, while tallying 40.5 inches on the vertical leap.
Overall, though, I was relatively pleased with the Steelers’ draft, but do believe I could have fared better. Thus, let’s put that to the test by publishing how I would have drafted and then compare my selections to the actual Pittsburgh picks in a few years. Hopefully, Kevin Colbert’s draft superiority puts me to shame, which would be good for the Steelers.
However, please note that I would have an extra 3rd-round pick, because there is no chance I would have traded my 3rd-rounder in 2014 to draft Shamarko Thomas in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. Trading future picks is a cardinal sin to me.
Instead, I would have gambled that Thomas would have dropped just four more picks, where I would have selected him instead of quarterback Landry Jones. And if another team took him in those four spots (even though none actually selected a safety), the Steelers could have instead drafted Fresno State safety Phillip Thomas.
Essentially, my backup strong safety spot in 2014 would be filled with a Thomas already on the roster, but the team would need a developmental No. 3 quarterback in this draft, which was far deeper and more talented at that spot than the 2013 class of signal-callers.
Thus, here is how I would have drafted if I were the Steeler GM. And yes, my resume is ready if the Rooney family ever decides to hire the next Theo Epstein to run their franchise.
2014 Steelers Draft by GM Ted
1. (15) CB Darqueze Dennard, 5-11, 199, Michigan State – No. 1 corner in 2015 and strengthens what has become the most important defensive position in the modern NFL.
2. (46) DE Stephon Tuitt, 6-6, 304, Notre Dame – Same as Steelers. Perfect 3-4 defensive end.
3. (83) WR Donte Moncrief, 6-2, 226, Ole Miss – The big receiver the Steelers were hoping would fall to their compensatory selection in this round. If only they hadn’t traded away this pick…
3. (97) CB Aaron Colvin, 5-11, 188, Oklahoma – He would have been a 2nd-rounder if not for an injury at the Senior Bowl. Stash him on IR for a year and you could have two future stud corners starting form this draft in 2015.
4. (118) OLB Carl Bradford, 6-1, 250, Arizona State – The pass-rushing outside linebacker that the Steelers did not draft.
5. (157) QB A.J. McCarron, 6-3, 220, Alabama – A better prospect than Landry Jones is taken both a year and full round later.
5. (173) OL Wesley Johnson, 6-5, 295, Vanderbilt – I like this pick by the Steelers. Perfect round to take an offensive lineman and none better on the board, so no reason to change.
6. (192) ILB Andrew Jackson, 6-1, 254, Eastern Kentucky – A big, thumping 1-to-2-down inside linebacker to compete with Vince Williams for playing time. Like around 30 NFL defensive coordinators, I prefer having corners on the field for passing downs more than a fourth linebacker.
6. (215) NT Beau Allen, 6-3, 325, Wisconsin – Like him a little more than McCullers.
7. (230) TE Rob Blanchflower, 6-2, 256, Massachusetts – Another actual Steelers pick I really like for the spot taken.