Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Forecast

By Charlie Campbell – @draftcampbell

Solid Starter

Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame – Round 2
The Steelers’ defense had a great run with a powerful defensive line featuring Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. They all got old and Pittsburgh has been looking for their replacements, but that trio helped the team win two Super Bowls and go to a third championship game. Tuitt has the ability to get the Steelers back to tough edge defenders who can be strong at the point of attack and pressure the quarterback.

Tuitt (6-5, 304) was a breakout star in 2012 who helped lead Notre Dame to the National Championship game. Tuitt recorded 12 sacks with 47 tackles, three forced fumbles, one pass break up and a 77-yard fumble return for a touchdown. He was a tough run-defender and showed some natural edge-rushing skills.

In 2013, Tuitt totaled 49 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, 7.5 sacks, one forced fumbles and a pick-six. He played heavier around 320 pounds after offseason hernia surgery limited his conditioning. While many people knocked Tuitt for the drop in production, he still made big plays for the Irish and found a way to make an impact in his final season.

Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell already has compared Tuitt to a young Aaron Smith, and that is high praise. Tuitt has great size and length to set the edge as a 3-4 defensive end. He is a strong run-defender who is tough at the point of attack. Like Smith and Keisel, Tuitt also can get to the quarterback. Before long, Tuitt should be a solid starter for Pittsburgh and help reestablish the team’s defensive identity.

Most Likely To Bust

Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State – Round 3
Going back to Kordell Stewart and Hines Ward, the Steelers have had success taking athletes and using them to their strengths in a variety of ways. Stewart didn’t work out as a quarterback, but Ward became a superb NFL receiver. This year, Pittsburg went with another versatile athlete, but I don’t think the organization will see as good of results.

Archer is a tweener running back and wide receiver. There is no doubt that he is extremely fast, and he proved that at the Combine, but there are very few players who can stick in the NFL at his size. The 5-foot-8, 173-pounder missed time with injuries during his senior year, and I could see durability being a problem for him in the NFL. He doesn’t have the size to hold up with a large work load and will have to be given limited touches in order to keep him healthy.

That vulnerability makes Archer a luxury pick. Considering Pittsburgh’s needs in the secondary, pass rush and wide receiving corps, the team could have found a more valuable starter with a top-100 draft pick.

Potential Boom Pick

Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State – Round 1
I was tempted to go with sixth-round pick Daniel McCullers because he was a steal for Pittsburgh. The massive McCullers has a big-time skill set, but there are lots of questions if he can reach his potential. I think McCullers could be a great nose tackle for the Steelers if he works hard and is coached well. Shazier has the skill set to be a play-maker, plus there is a lot less doubt when it comes to his game. Thus, he’s the potential boom pick for Pittsburgh.

Shazier (6-1, 237) is a lightning-fast linebacker who was a tackling machine for Ohio State the past two seasons. The junior recorded 143 tackles with 22.5 tackles for a loss, four passes broken up, four forced fumbles and six sacks in 2013. He had an excellent sophomore season in 2012 with 115 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, one interception, 11 passes broken up, five sacks and three forced fumbles.

The key attribute for playing linebacker in the NFL is instinct, and Shazier is superb in that category. He is quick to read his keys and covers a lot of ground with his explosive speed. Shazier added strength in the lead up to the 2014 NFL Draft, which should improve his ability to take on and shed blocks.

The Steelers have been looking for a complement to Lawrence Timmons, and Shazier could be a star in the middle of their defense. Shazier should provide an immediate boost to a Pittsburgh run defense that allowed opponents an average of 116 yards per game last season. He was underrated throughout the draft process and was worthy of a top-15 pick. Shazier could become a star for the Steelers.

Future Depth Player

Wesley Johnson, OT, Vanderbilt – Round 5
This was a tough call between a number of the Steelers’ mid-round picks. Pittsburgh had a strong class and landed a number of good values, including cornerback Shaq Richardson, wide receiver Martavis Bryant and linebacker Jordan Zumwalt. However among those picks, Johnson stood out to me as a player who could become a valuable backup and flexible contributor.

Johnson is an undersized, but versatile, offensive lineman. He played well in 2013 at left tackle, including a good performance against South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Johnson started at center, guard and tackle in his collegiate career.

As a game-day backup, Johnson (6-5, 297) could be a real asset with the ability to play any position on the offensive line. Teams typically dress eight offensive linemen and Johnson’s flexibility will be an asset for the Steelers. In time perhaps, he will develop into a starter at one position, but at the very least, he should be flexible backup. Given the injuries that have hammered Pittsburgh’s offensive line in recent years, a backup like Johnson is a nice safety net.

Walt’s 2014 NFL Draft Grades:

15. Ryan Shazier, ILB, Ohio State: B Grade
Talente prospects tend to fall to the Steelers – David DeCastro and then Jarvis Jones – but that wasn’t the case this year. That’s fine because the Steelers are still making a decent selection. Ryan Shazier is a speedy linebacker who will upgrade the middle of the defense. Pittsburgh’s defense was very slow last year, so Shazier was taken to compensate for that.

46. Stephon Tuitt, DE/DT, Notre Dame: A Grade
The best pick in the second round thus far. Stephon Tuitt was once seen as a first-round prospect. He struggled in 2013, but only because he put on a lot of bad weight. He has a lot of natural talent though, so if Pittsburgh can coach him up, it’ll finally find the answer at defensive end that it has been looking for this entire time. The Texans were considering Tuitt at No. 33, so the Steelers are getting great value.

97. Dri Archer, RB/WR, Kent State: B+ Grade
Pro Football Talk had Dri Archer in the first round of their mock draft, so they must love this value for the Steelers. In reality, Archer was always seen as a third-round prospect. This is a solid choice, as Pittsburgh didn’t have anyone on its roster who resembled what Archer will bring to the table. He can serve as a Darren Sproles-type weapon for Ben Roethlisberger.

118. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson: A+ Grade
There’s no reason Martavis Bryant should have lasted this long. He’s a freak-of-nature receiver who could evolve into a Pro Bowl-caliber talent if coached right. He’s very raw, so he has lots of work in front of him, but the Steelers are getting a steal in the middle of the fourth round while filling a need.

157. Shaq Richardson, CB, Arizona: B+ Grade
Shaq Richardson was seen by some as a fourth-rounder, so this is decent value. Richardson is a tall corner, which Pittsburgh likes, and he happens to fill a huge need on the roster. The Steelers had to improve this area earlier.

173. Wesley Johnson, C/OT/G, Vanderbilt: B+ Grade
Some figured the Steelers would go offensive line earlier, but that wasn’t very realistic because it wasn’t such a need. Depth had to be addressed though, and Wesley Johnson can play most of the positions on the front. Solid pick.

192. Jordan Zumwalt, ILB, UCLA: B+ Grade
I thought the Steelers would select two inside linebackers in the draft, given their depth issues. Jordan Zumwalt makes sense for that reason. He also provides some decent value, as some viewed him as a Round 4-5 prospect.

215. Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee: A+ Grade
I don’t understand why Daniel McCullers fell this far. He is far too talented to go at the very end of the sixth round. The Steelers are getting a steal all while addressing a position of need. Their fans have to be thrilled with this selection.

230. Rob Blanchflower, TE, UMass: B Grade
Heath Miller doesn’t have much time left, so the Steelers were expected to take a tight end. This is later than I expected, but Rob Blanchflower fits the range.

2014 NFL Draft Team Grade: A- . Follow Walter @walterfootball for updates.

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