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Draft picks: How they fit in

Posted May 16, 2014

Ryan Shazier to Rob Blanchflower, how 9 rookie draft picks fit in to the Steelers' roster

The following is a look at how each of the Steelers’ 2014 draft picks fits in to what might end up being the makeup of the team’s roster/depth chart:

RYAN SHAZIER
6-1  237  ILB  Ohio State
How He Fits In: This is the way Coach Mike Tomlin explained it almost immediately after the pick: “He is a guy who will be on his feet, making sideline-to-sideline tackles associated with today’s football. What we needed was a defensive playmaker. He fits the bill in that regard. Not only in terms of his skill-set, but in terms of what he did there on the field. Highly productive football player, over 100 tackles the last two years. He gets after the quarterback, he has rushed the passer, and he makes plays in coverage as well. That’s what he is, he’s a defensive playmaker. Bigger than anything, bigger than any position needs, what we needed was a defensive playmaker.” It doesn’t sound as though Shazier is going to be spoon-fed the defense and allowed to come along slowly. There will be expectations for him to get onto the field as a rookie, and more than just that, expectations to make plays as a rookie that positively impact games.

STEPHON TUITT
6-5  303  DE  Notre Dame
How He Fits In: Leading up to the draft, defensive end was a need on two different levels: an injection of top-end talent was necessary as was an injection of sheer numbers because of the unsettled situation of the overall depth. Tuitt will celebrate his 21st birthday on May 23, and despite being so young he already has logged significant playing time at a major college program. Prior to the draft, the team had seven defensive linemen on its roster, and only Steve McLendon and Cam Heyward had started games for the Steelers. Cam Thomas had been added as a veteran free agent, but the rest of the names on the depth chart – Al Lapuaho, Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams, Hebron Fangupo – have to be characterized as potential instead of production. Once upon a time, when the Steelers had Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and either Kimo von Oelhoffen or Brett Keisel starting along the defensive line, rookies had the luxury of time to learn before being thrown onto the field. Those guys are gone. That era is over. Tuitt gets no red-shirt season.

DRI ARCHER
5-8  173  RB/WR  Kent
How He Fits In: Sort of the offensive version of Ryan Shazier in one respect, Archer was picked to be an offensive playmaker. Run it, catch it, return it. Doesn’t really matter, especially if you’re lining up for an extra point on the ensuing snap. The Steelers made a couple of previous attempts at filling the role of offensive playmaker, first with Chris Rainey and then with LaRod Stephens-Howling, but neither of those moves panned out as hoped. Archer is faster than either of those other guys, and he’s also the best receiver of the three, with receiver being defined as a player who can run routes and catch passes, as opposed to someone who serves primarily as a check-down option. The Steelers are smart enough not to expect a 173-pound person to serve constantly as Ben Roethlisberger’s bodyguard on pass plays, but Archer – who did 20 repetitions on the bench press at the Combine – will have to show sufficient toughness and have the willingness to put his body in between the pass rush and his quarterback when it’s required. His rookie season will be measured on touches and what he does with them, as opposed to starts.

MARTAVIS BRYANT
6-4  211  WR
How He Fits In: There are some positions where being designated a starter is significant in that it genuinely dictates playing time. Other positions, not so much. Receiver is one of those not-so-much positions, what with the way the game is played at the NFL level. Whether Martavis Bryant is a starting wide receiver for the Steelers in 2014 is irrelevant, just as it was irrelevant for Antonio Brown during the 2011 season when he caught 69 passes for 1,108 yards despite starting only three of the 16 games. Bryant has a chance to become Ben Roethlisberger’s tallest target since Plaxico Burress, and he can expect the Steelers to give him every opportunity to take ownership of what that role turned into with Burress. Just as improving their takeaway total on defense is a goal for 2014, so is improving upon their red zone efficiency, which was in the bottom half of the NFL last year. This is why Bryant was drafted, to help them in that area of the field by providing Roethlisberger with an option unique to the others at his disposal.

SHAQUILLE RICHARDSON
6-0  194  CB  Arizona
How He Fits In: The Steelers entered this draft with a need at cornerback that appeared to be similar to their need along the defensive line, that being a combination of more top-end talent as well as adding overall numbers. But the Steelers have said the way the picking progressed they really didn’t have much of an opportunity to address this area in the early rounds. The Steelers had drafted six cornerbacks in the middle rounds over the last five drafts, and the reason their depth chart is in its current state is because Cortez Allen is the only one left. Allen, Ike Taylor, and William Gay are the guys with the starting experience, and Richardson will be in the mix for a roster spot with Brice McCain, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green, and Devin Smith. All of those guys have more NFL experience than Richardson, even if it’s just a training camp’s worth, but none of them entered the league as a higher draft pick.

WESLEY JOHNSON
6-5  297  OL  Vanderbilt
How He Fits In: For the first time in the recent past, the Steelers will go into a training camp with some established depth along the offensive line. They will bring eight offensive linemen to camp who have starting experience in the NFL, and if Fernando Velasco re-signs as his rehabilitation from Achilles surgery progresses, that would make nine. There is a chance Johnson could unseat one of these veterans during the preseason, just as there is a chance a series of injuries could clear a path for him. But there would be nothing wrong with Johnson spending a season on the practice squad to learn the NFL game from Mike Munchak while honing his technique and improving his strength. Then in 2015 Johnson could come to training camp with an eye on a much bigger prize, and really, that’s the way depth is built in the NFL these days.

JORDAN ZUMWALT (pictured above)
6-4  235  ILB  UCLA
How He Fits In: Special teams. If Zumwalt wants a spot on the team’s 53-man roster to open this season, he had best become one of Danny Smith’s core special teams contributors right away. He will be joining a group of inside linebackers that includes veterans Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats, along with second-year pros Vince Williams and Terence Garvin, plus Sean Spence, and then there’s No. 1 pick Ryan Shazier. Even if Moats is considered an outside linebacker for the purposes of a depth chart, there seem to be too many players right now between Zumwalt and an immediate role on defense. That leaves special teams, and there is a definite need there.

DANIEL McCULLERS
6-7  352  NT  Tennessee
How He Fits In: Alameda Ta’amu couldn’t do it, and now he’s gone. Hebron Fangupo is still around, but he didn’t record a single tackle in any of the four games he played in 2013. There is a job opening on this team for a big, space-eating, disruptive nose tackle, or as General Manager Kevin Colbert termed it, “an obstruction.” McCullers has the size to fit the job description, but if he’s to succeed he will have to manage his size because there is such a thing as “too big.” He will be given every opportunity to show what he can do, and if McCullers can prove himself there is no one on the roster better suited to the job.

ROB BLANCHFLOWER
6-4  256  TE  Massachusetts
How He Fits In: When Matt Spaeth injured his foot during training camp last summer, the Steelers discovered they didn’t have another tight end who could give them the in-line blocking their running game needs for it to be successful. Can Blanchflower give the Steelers what Spaeth does? He will be competing with four veteran tight ends during training camp for what usually are three roster spots, and Blanchflower doesn’t figure to make enough of an impression with his receiving skills to earn one of those. It will be during those TE-OLB blocking competitions where Blanchflower will show whether he belongs in the NFL as a rookie. Or if he has enough promise to get a red-shirt season as a member of the practice squad.

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