The Pittsburgh Steelers faced an ideal scenario in round No. 2 of the 2014 NFL Draft on Friday when they had their choice between two of the top defensive linemen for a 3-4 scheme and multiple top-flight receivers who may have been selected in the 1st round of another draft pool that did not feature so much talent and depth.
The Pittsburgh brass wisely used the 46th overall pick on Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt, the most natural, 5-technique 3-4 defensive end prospect in the entire draft. The 6-foot-6, 312-pound Tuitt would have been a 1st-rounder in almost any other year.
Veteran Pittsburgh defensive line coach John Mitchell went even further, stating that Tuitt would have been a probable top-10 pick this year had he not been hindered by a sports hernia throughout a 2013 junior season when he let his weight balloon to 335 pounds.
Despite his injury problems, Tuitt still recorded 7.5 sacks and 49 tackles in 2013, which followed a sophomore campaign in which he tallied 12 sacks, 47 tackles and 3 forced fumbles in leading Notre Dame to a BCS title game appearance.
Tuitt possesses the natural country strength (465-pound bench press, 31 reps of 225 pounds at the combine) and core base needed to hold up against double-teams in rush defense as a 3-4 end, a position where he already has extensive experience in Notre Dame’s scheme. He also will quickly rival the man he will likely replace in the starting lineup, Brett Keisel, as the Steelers’ best pass rusher ever among 3-4 ends.
I still would prefer the Steelers bring back Keisel for one more season, but veteran Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette tweeted the drafting of Tuitt now makes that unlikely. Tuitt will be given every chance to immediately win a starting defensive end spot opposite of budding star Cameron Heyward, an athletic pair that should anchor the Steelers’ defensive front for the next 7-9 years and ultimately be compared to the Keisel-Aaron Smith duo in Pittsburgh history.
His selection also makes the Steelers’ opening-round choice of Ohio State inside linebacker Ryan Shazier look much better, since the speedy, but the not-so-stout, new inside linebacker duo of Shazier and Lawrence Timmons both need a strong defensive front in front of them that frees them up to make plays in space.
Archer Offers Immediate Help in 2014
Unfortunately the draft did not break how the Steelers were hoping for leading up to their late 3rd-round compensatory pick, which was used on diminutive (5-7, 173 pounds) Kent State receiver/running back/return specialist Dri Archer, who recorded the fastest, official 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine. Despite his speed, I have never seen such a visceral reaction to a Pittsburgh draft pick among Steeler fans on message boards, comments sections after newspaper articles and Twitter.
I must admit that I did not like the idea of using a 3rd-round pick on a utility player who will likely never be anything more than a situational slot receiver who gets a few snaps at running back, and serves as a return specialist, which is no longer a key facet of the NFL due to kickoffs being moved up. Couldn’t the Steelers have waited until today to draft Oregon’s Anthony Thomas, who is very similar? Moreover, the Steelers have never effectively used such a utility player in recent memory, with Dwight Stone probably the most successful of a forgettable group that last included Chris Rainey.
However, all of the receiver prospects the Steelers were hoping would fall to that spot did not. The only other real alternative was South Carolina’s 5-foot-9 Bruce Ellington, a better slot receiver prospect, but nowhere near the athlete of Archer. The Steelers were wise not to gamble on Clemson’s 6-foot-4 Martavis Bryant, whose hands and mental acuity make Limas Sweed look like my fellow Erie native Fred Biletnikof.
If I were the Steelers general manager, I would have taken a developmental corner in round No. 3 in hopes that player would become a starter in 2015. My preference among corners would have been athletic Lindenwood project Pierre Desir. Corner would not have been a concern if the Steelers had used their 1st-round pick on Michigan State Darqueze Dennard, in which case I would have used this 3rd-round pick on the BPA at a secondary need, which would have been Arizona State outside linebacker Carl Bradford or Tennessee offensive tackle Antonio Richardson.
In all, there were 12 players that I would have selected before Archer, including eight cornerback prospects, some of whom will undoubtedly still be available for the Steelers in round No. 4.
However, none of those prospects would likely play as much as Archer in 2014. In fact, none of those 12 players would be high probabilities to ever become starters for the Steelers. In contrast, Archer is going to make an immediate impact. Before this draft, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper, Jr. predicted Archer as his NFL offensive rookie of the year over Sammy Watkins. Let that statement sink in. While I would make Watkins the strong favorite to win that award, Kiper’s statement might change your opinion of this pick. It surely impacted mine.
Archer has played all three roles (scatback, receiver, return specialist) throughout his entire football career, including high school. Like Tuitt, Archer’s 2013 season was hindered by injury (an ankle). But he compiled an NCAA best 2,577 all-purpose yards and a Mid-American Conference high 23 total TDs in 2012.
This guy is a playmaker who will touch the ball 5-10 times per game, capable of going the distance any time he gets free in space. He can serve as a No. 3 or No. 4 tailback and No. 5 receiver on gamedays, while returning kicks. His versatility will be an asset. Unfortunately, he fumbles too often, is not overly bright (missed the 2012 season due to academic ineligibility) and will likely have difficulty staying healthy after absorbing NFL hits.
But the Steelers took the player that could best help them win in 2014 in Archer. In fact, they did the same thing in the 1st round with Shazier and in the 2ndwith Tuitt. In no round this year could they have drafted another player who would see more action this fall. Hard to complain about that strategy.
I wanted Dennard in the 1st round, because a No. 1 corner in 2015 is more important to NFL success than an immediate upgrade as the No. 2 starting inside linebacker. But make no mistake, Shazier will have a much easier time quickly winning a starting job and making a quick impact in 2014 than Dennard would have in Pittsburgh, which rarely relies on rookie corners regardless of their talent-level.
Day 3 Strategy
Now the Steelers need to make good developmental picks and add depth throughout the remainder of this draft. Although there appears to be only one open roster spot for corners, Pittsburgh may still want to draft two. In fact, I would seriously consider Oklahoma’s Aaron Colvin if available in round No. 4 and then stash him on injured reserve for the 2014 season. Colvin would have likely been a 2nd-round pick with an outside chance of moving into the 1st round had he not tore his ACL at the Senior Bowl.
The Steelers could then come back and take another corner in one of their four total picks in rounds 5 and 6, who would provide immediate depth.
Regardless of what they do today, the Steelers will likely have the same top cornerback trio of aging Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen (who the Steelers may want to now consider signing to a long-term, team-friendly deal before the 20134 season like they should have with Keenan Lewis before allowing him to leave to the Saints as unrestricted free agent) and William Gay in 2014, which is certainly not ideal. Brice McCain, a slot corner who saw action in 72 games with the Texans over the last five years, provides a slight upgrade over the trio of poor players the Steelers’ used as No. 4 corners last year.
But that’s all the corners on the current roster besides undrafted street free agents who never made an NFL roster. Further, all of those four players are known commodities, since each has seen extensive action in their four NFL seasons. So who the hell is Dick LeBeau talking about in this quote that has not had a chance to show their talents on the field?
“I think there are still some good ones in the draft,” LeBeau told the Post-Gazette before round No. 3 on Friday. “I feel good about the cornerbacks we have and we have more numbers than people realize. At these other positions we have people that I at least know about, let’s put it that way. We may have great players in the building already; they just haven’t had a chance to show us that they are great.”
Whatever. Such a ridiculous comment would have likely been further questioned by Pittsburgh media had it not been made by the affable and legendary 76-year-old defensive coordinator.
Expect the Steelers to draft 1-2 cornerbacks today with their six picks today, while also possibly looking to add depth and competition at areas such as outside linebacker, receiver, offensive tackle, running back, nose tackle and tight end.
Redirect Your Anger Over the Archer Pick
The Steeler fans’ disgust with the Archer pick made little sense considering who else was still available at that spot. Their anger instead should be at the Steelers’ front office for idiotically trading away their 2014 original 3rd-round pick last year, which could have been used to select Ole Miss’, 6-2, 226-pound receiver Donte Moncrief or solidify the defensive line for the next decade by stealing Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix with the 83rd overall pick where he actually was selected.
The irritation should not be in that the Steelers traded this pick away to draft strong safety Shamarko Thomas in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. Instead, it’s that the Steelers could have likely taken Thomas four picks later instead of wasting a 4th-rounder on a third quarterback in Landry Jones, who will likely never see the field. That is why you (A) don’t trade away future picks and (B) don’t use a 4th-rounder to draft a third quarterback who will never play over a franchise player in his prime while bypassing serious needs.
Regardless, the Steelers had a very good day No. 2 of the NFL Draft. They also need a few hits among day No. 3 draft prospects this year, because this team lacks depth. Remember that the likes of Antonio Brown and Keisel were taken in the last two rounds, which is why today matters so much.