The Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t become one of the most consistently successful teams in the NFL because of quick free agent fixes to patch holes in the roster. The team has been built from top to bottom the right way: through the draft. Needless to say, with another strong showing in the 2014 NFL Draft, there should be little doubt a few of the incoming rookies will make an impact on the field this fall.
Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State) was somewhat of a head scratching selection in the first round when so many good cornerbacks were still on the board, but that shouldn’t diminish his overall potential and fit in this defense. The Steelers have struggled to find a competent starter opposite Lawrence Timmons inside for some time now and Shazier could be that guy. His range and athleticism is at an elite level for the position, and while he’ll need to get stronger to play inside their odd front, he’s got the frame to do it without losing any of his precious speed. If he proves he can remain stout in the run game going against the monstrous guards inside, he’ll see plenty of time this season.
Stephon Tuitt (DE, Notre Dame) in the second round is one of my favorite picks of the entire draft. Perfect fit, wonderful value. How an athlete his size (6-foot 6, 300-pounds), speed (4.89 40-yard) and strength (31 reps of 225) escaped the first round will forever baffle me. I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see him become to the Steelers what Richard Seymour was to the New England Patriots. He should win the starting job up front with Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon, and should make his presence felt from the get go.
Dri Archer (RB/WR, Kent State) would find playing time on virtually any team in the league. Maybe not in a prominent role at either WR or RB considering his minuscule size (5-foot 8, 173-pounds), but he’s blessed with truly elite speed, as evidenced by his 4.26 40-time. Whether it’s out of the backfield, out wide, returning kicks and punts, the Steelers are going to do everything they can to get the ball in his hands out in space and let him do his thing.
Martavis Bryant (WR, Clemson) is another highly explosive offensive threat who should see early playing time, especially considering the personnel losses the team has endured the past few seasons. He’s got a very impressive size/speed combination at nearly 6-foot 4, 211-pounds and running 4.42 40-yard dash. Plus, he’ll be a good redzone threat for QB Ben Roethlisberger considering his impressive 39-inch vertical. He definitely needs to work on the consistency of his hands and the maturation of his route running, but he’s got too much upside and value for the Steelers to keep him on the sidelines.
Last but not least, a dark horse for playing time could be Wes Johnson (G/T, Vanderbilt), whom the Steelers took in the fifth round. He may not ever turn into a starter, but with his versatility and high football IQ, and considering the laughable depth along the Steelers line, he could work himself into a swing G/T, and potentially even backing up at center.