Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell
May 30, 2013

Solid Starter

Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State – Round 3
Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert showed his skill over other general managers in the NFL when he took Mike Wallace in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft. Wallace became a tremendous play-maker for the Steelers and helped them reach a Super Bowl before they couldn’t afford to re-sign him this offseason. Colbert found a natural replacement for Wallace by taking Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

Wheaton, like Wallace, is a speedy vertical threat who has the potential to score on any reception. Wheaton was expected to go in the second round and was a great value for Pittsburgh in the third. The senior totaled 91 receptions for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. He is a perfect fit in the role that Wallace occupied in the Steelers’ offense.

It isn’t fair to expect Wheaton to be as good as Wallace was, but he could definitely turn into a solid starter for Pittsburgh. Wheaton could learn behind veterans Plaxico Burress, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown for a season before taking over a starting spot.

Most Likely To Bust

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State – Round 2
The Steelers taking Bell was understandable and not a surprising pick by any means. Pittsburgh’s offense has been built around a physical running game with a power back who can rack up a ton of carries. Bell fits that description as he was a bell-cow for Michigan State last year. The Spartans practically ran Bell into the ground with 382 carries, the most in the nation, and 32 receptions. He accrued 1,793 yards on the ground and averaged 4.7 yards per carry.

Bell was a power back for Michigan State, but there are major questions on if he has enough burst to hit the hole before it closes in the NFL. Bell isn’t a speed back who will be a threat to break off long touchdown runs. All the Steelers need is for him to be fast enough to get through the hole and power through some tackles to reestablish the ground offense the team missed the past few seasons.

It will be interesting to see how Bell pans out considering Pittsburgh’s passing on Alabama’s Eddie Lacy. Bell is currently healthier with fewer durability concerns, but Lacy looked faster in college football. The Steeelers are planning on Bell being a three-down starter, but he may not be fast enough to be an effective back in the NFL.

Potential Boom Pick

Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia – Round 1
WalterFootball.com correctly projected the Steelers to take Jones for months. Pittsburgh was fortunate that other teams got caught up in Jones’ poor workout and neck injury concerns over the stack of dominant tapes that he accumulated the past two seasons. Jones dominated the SEC, the nation’s best conference. He was the nation’s best and most productive pass-rusher in 2012.

Jones notched 85 tackles, 14.5 sacks, 24.5 tackles for a loss, seven forced fumbles, three passes broken up and one interception last year. The junior led the nation in sacks, tackles for a loss and forced fumbles. Jones tied for fifth in the nation in sacks with 13.5 in 2011. He also had 70 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss, two passes broken up and two forced fumbles.

Jones is an elite edge-rusher who also is phenomenal in pursuit. He has great hands to shed blocks with superb agility. Blockers have a hard time sustaining blocks against him. Jones also has a phenomenal motor. He is utterly relentless in pursuit.

It looks like a match made in heaven with Jones and the Steelers. He is an ideal replacement for James Harrison, and it wouldn’t be surprising if Jones is the next great Pittsburgh edge-rusher. He has huge expectations in Steel City, but he was able to dominate and improve his production while teams were scheming against him. I think Jones could be a huge boom for the Steelers and make other teams look foolish for passing him up.

Future Depth Player

Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse – Round 4
The Steelers needed safety depth because their starters are aging and Troy Polamalu is getting hurt all the time. Thomas will start out his career as a backup but in time he could work his way into the starting lineup. There is a lot to like about Thomas as he is extremely physical and runs fast. The rookie is a good run-defender who can lay the wood on receivers.

However Thomas (5-9, 213), is extremely short and that was a factor in him having zero passes broken up as a senior. Tight ends and receivers can make receptions over him. That issue could prove to be a liability in matching up on pass-receiving tight ends in the NFL, a primary responsibility for many safeties.

Thomas should, at the very least, develop into a good backup safety who contributes well on special teams. He could become a starter, but he has to prove that he can overcome the height issue first.

2013 NFL Draft Individual Grades:

17. Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia: A+ Grade
This is why the same group of teams make the playoffs every year and why another group of teams always draft in the top 10. One selection after the Bills chose the No. 4 quarterback in this class, the Steelers nabbed arguably the top pass-rusher. As mentioned in my mock draft, dumb groupthink would cause Jones to fall. Pittsburgh landed a steal.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

48. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: C Grade
The Steelers needed a running back, so they’re filling a need. But Le’Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy? That’s a very questionable decision, especially considering the poor success of Big Ten backs over the years. Bell is more than a Big Ten plodder because he can block and catch the ball out of the backfield, but I wouldn’t have taken him this early.

79. Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: A- Grade
Surprise, surprise, another steal for Pittsburgh. Markus Wheaton was a consensus second-round prospect who shouldn’t have fallen to the middle of the third frame. He’ll fill a big need as a downfield receiver in the wake of Mike Wallace’s departure.

111. Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse: A Grade
I’m pretty sure I mocked Shamarko Thomas to the Steelers in the third round, so I obviously like his value. Thomas is small, but he’s a good player and should be able to start down the road once Pittsburgh’s aging safeties move on.

115. Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: C- Grade
I usually like Steelers picks, so it feels weird to give them a bad grade. They needed a backup quarterback, but Landry Jones is barely functional. Many people I trust believe that Jones should have gone undrafted. After all, he wasn’t even used in the red zone at Oklahoma.

150. Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois: B+ Grade
The Steelers lost Keenan Lewis in free agency to the Saints, so it’s no surprise that they used a mid-round pick on the cornerback position. Terry Hawthorne definitely fits the range.

186. Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma: C Grade
I’m not sure I would have considered Justin Brown draftable if the draft were 10 rounds, so this is a reach. However, it’s the middle of the sixth round, so that’s not a huge deal at this juncture.

206. Vince Williams, ILB, Florida State: A Grade
Leave it to the Steelers to find a steal with the final pick in the sixth round. Vince Williams is pretty talented, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he eventually emerged as a starter.

223. Nick Williams, DE/DT, Samford: A- Grade
I thought Nick Williams would go a round or two earlier, so it’s no surprise that Pittsburgh landed another value selection. There are some disappointing defensive ends on Pittsburgh’s roster, so it wouldn’t surprise me if Williams eventually was considered to be a starter.

2013 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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