1. Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State 1. Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State 1. Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State

2014 NFL Draft Review: Pittsburgh Steelers


Dec 22, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; A Pittsburgh Steelers helmet during warmups prior to the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Pittsburgh won 38-31. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

1. Ryan Shazier, OLB Ohio State
2. Stephon Tuitt, DE Notre Dame
3. Dri Archer, RB Kent State
4. Martavis Bryant, WR Clemson
5. Shaq Richardson, CB Arizona
5. Wesley Johnson, OT Vanderbilt
6. Jordan Zumwalt, OLB UCLA
6. Daniel McCullers, DT Tennessee
7. Rob Blanchflower, TE Massachussetts

The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 2014 NFL Draft with a lot of holes and aging stars and a few lackluster drafts in a row have only worsened the issue.  This year, the result was the Steelers missing the playoffs.  The Steelers had a ton of options on how they could attack their roster and while they were able to assemble a ton of talent, it will be interesting to see how they ultimately put it together.

Last year, Jarvis Jones was one of the picks that most people universally projected correctly.  This year, the Steelers surprised more than a few people when they took Ryan Shazier.  The school should not be a surprise.  The Steelers have had a proclivity for Buckeyes for years.  Shazier’s fit in Pittsburgh will be interesting.

Shazier has speed to burn and can fly all over the field, which made him a terrific fit in schemes that would protect him.  He is not at his best when forced to take on blocks.  For the Steelers, if the defensive line can clog up the opponent, Shazier can use his impressive range to make plays all over the field.  If he has to take on a lot of blocks from opposing guards, it could be an awkward fit and difficult adjustment for him.

Shazier’s biggest impact, at least initially, could be in pass coverage.  His speed and quickness allows him to be a weapon in man to man or zone coverage.  He has the ability to rush the passer as well, but is far more effective on the blitz than as a declared rusher.  It is interesting if defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has Shazier bring them back to a little more of the zone blitzing style they employed over at times during the 90’s.  Shazier gives them a ton of options with how they want to run their scheme.

Presumably, the Steelers want Shazier to play next to Lawrence Timmons, which would give the Steelers a lot of athleticism on the inside.  Considering what the Steelers have been in the middle historically, this would also make them conspicuously light in the pants at that spot, so teams may force the Steelers to prove they can still stop the run.  Timmons is listed at 234lbs and Shazier at just 230lbs.  This does not mean they cannot work in this situation, but it at least raises a question, especially since every team in the division took a bigger back in this draft.

Considering Mike Tomlin’s background, this pick also makes me wonder if he is not looking for players that could move to a 4-3 scheme after Lebeau retires.  Tomlin ran more of a Cover-2 scheme when he was with the Minnesota Vikings as defensive coordinator, so he may want to go with that look after LeBeau.

They followed up by trying to beef up their defensive line with Stephon Tuitt, the defensive end from Notre Dame.  On physical ability, Tuitt is the prototype for the 5-technique defensive end spot they use in their 3-4 scheme.  He has the raw strength, quickness and speed to be great.  His technique leaves a lot to be desired, which is why he was available in the second round.

Tuitt struggles with leverage and has trouble getting all of his power out of his big frame.  He does not bend well, making the dirty work more difficult to do and causes him to try to take the easy way out, which for him, is trying to win every battle with speed and quickness.  The result is that he ends up always trying to run around the opposing blocker.  The scary part with Tuitt is how effective he can be despite how predictable he is.  His statistics lie about his productivity though as he was often finishing plays others caused rather than creating them himself.

If they can get Tuitt to become a more natural bender and use his strength to its full potential, he can be the one man wrecking crew many expected him to be in college.  He would then have a potent bull rush that opponents would have to account for, which would set up and make using his speed far more effective.  Tuitt would be a full service end and along with Cameron Heyward, give them a nasty set of ends that could play the run and rush the passer.  If Tuitt does not become a better bender, he will continue to be the incomplete player that will come with flashes, but leave the Steelers frustrated.

The Steelers went offense in the third round with Dri Archer out of Kent State.  Archer is arguably the most electric player in the draft with his sensational speed and quickness.  He is always a threat to score with the ball in his hands.  Archer is also small at right around 175lbs, even though he is quite strong.

Early indications suggest the Steelers want to use Archer as a special teams weapon and they should.  Archer was sensational as a kick returner as a junior and worked to add the punt returning aspect of the game this year and in training for the draft.  However, Archer should also be used on offense, especially considering how devalued the kickoff return part of the equation is and the fact they used a third round pick to get him.

Archer is a space player and while it would be a mistake to simply put him at running back and hand him the ball, he can do it.  He can also help them as a wide receiver; something else Archer really worked to add to his game this past season.  The model the Steelers could be looking at is their brief flirtation with Chris Rainey when he came out of Florida.  Rainey was an incredible athlete, similar to Archer.  The Steelers wanted to get him the ball in space.  He did not work, but some of that was that Rainey had off field issues that carried over into the NFL.  Archer should not be an issue there.

Continuing to add to Ben Roethlisberger’s weapons on offense, the Steeler drafted Martavis Bryant from Clemson.  Bryant was the other receiver in Clemson’s offense, but has a ton of talent in his own right.  Bryant has the prototypical size and speed to be an outside receiving threat but shows an intriguing amount of ability when it comes to knowing how to catch the football.  He is still raw, but he is coming to a great situation.

Like Tajh Boyd at Clemson, Roethlisberger does a great job at throwing the deep ball and could love to find Bryant streaking down the field.  With Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton projected to do the heavy lifting at receiver, Bryant has the opportunity come onto the field as an ancillary threat.  If teams take him lightly, he could beat them down the field and make big plays.  Bryant is raw, but it would hardly be a surprise if he scores half a dozen touchdowns this year attacking deep down the field.

The Steelers turned their attention to the secondary in round five when they added Shaq Richardson.  This is an area where the Steelers need to get better and younger with Ike Taylor still playing at 34 years old.  Cortez Allen and William Gay may be the favorites to battle it out for the other starting spot or they could both end up beating out Taylor and that be the starting set of corners.

Richardson can help the Steelers in nickel and dime situations potentially.  If they run into injuries, he could get far more important as the talent is relatively thin if everyone stays healthy.  The Steelers have a type and want to get physical, competitive corners that are not afraid to play the run.  Richardson has the size and strength to do it.

Later in round 5, the Steelers addressed the offensive line and this is my favorite pick of their draft.  Wesley Johnson can play all give spots on the line and considering the overwhelming amount of injuries the Steelers have suffered the last few years along the line, that is invaluable.  Beyond that, Johnson has a ton of playing experience in SEC and done a really good job as a left tackle, showcasing his ability against Jadeveon Clowney.  Though Johnson is not as big as the Steelers have favored, he has the nasty mentality they love in linemen and he becomes a valuable asset for them as depth, but has the potential to start down the road.

The sixth round featured a few more value selections.  Jordan Zumwalt gives them more inside linebacker help that can help in pass coverage and gives them an intriguing amount of toughness with a dose of crazy.  Zumwalt is a low key guy off the field, but has a switch and becomes extremely loud and energetic on the field.  He also knows how to make impact tackles.

They also added Daniel McCullers and I really like this pick.  McCullers is simply a mountain in the middle.  He looks big by offensive line standards at almost 6’7” with his weight in excess of 350lbs.  His strength is incredible and he is able to bench press opponents in front of him.  When fresh, he is not only disruptive but can single handedly dismantle the plays, but his stamina and motor are huge question marks.  McCullers can also struggle with leverage.

The rub with McCullers is that even when tired, he does not move off of his spot.  If he can get better with his stamina and give more plays at a high level, he could be a huge steal for the Steelers with the potential to be their long time nose.  If nothing else, he should be able to come in on select plays and just use his immense power to cause a problem.

Rob Blanchflower in round 7 was a low risk pick on a player that showed talent on the field, but had injuries that derailed his senior year.  He may ultimately get put on an injured list for some amount of time this year or the entire year.  If he can get right, he can help them and is the type of inline tight end they like.

The Steelers got bigger on the defensive line and smaller but faster at linebacker.  They took some risks on the defensive line that have some boom or bust potential.  If they work, they get substantially better up front and really move on from Brett Keisel and perhaps improve on him.  It will be interesting to see how it all works when it comes together.  Offensively, the Steelers added speed and a ton of it while adding a really important piece to the offensive line that they have been missing.

The value for the Steelers was largely very good, but how they opt to use players and the roles they have designed for them could make or break this draft.  They added a number of great athletes and the coaching staff in Pittsburgh will be tasked with making them work.  Last year, they took an underwhelming athlete that was an obvious fit for them in Jones.  This year, they went a little more outside the box and it could be a boon for them in the long run.  It certainly will not be boring.