One week after the draft, talk is still high rolling, and the trend will continue as I review some of the key players on the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted not too long ago. You may think after consecutive 8-8 seasons that the Steelers have done a poor job in drafting, but let me tell ya, that’s not the case. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not been the draftees fault alone for the playoff less seasons that are still fresh in our minds, it’s the period of transition. The Steelers tend to keep the majority of their starters in tact, that’s why they had so much success in their 3 most recent super bowl appearances, the starters were pretty constant. Now that those super bowl starters and heroes have moved on, the Steelers have their new crop of starters and players to work with, hoping to keep them in tact as well.
It started with the 2010 draft, when the Steelers got two all pro players in one draft. First was Maurkice Pouncey, a center who shined from the day he got drafted. Drafted in the first round, Pouncey had high expectations and was drafted to play a position that isn’t new to stardom and all pro players for the Steelers. There is a long list of great centers for the Steelers, even having several hall of famers. I am not saying that Pouncey is going to be a hall of famer, but he has certainly followed the path of great play by the great centers who have played for the Steelers, despite missing the entire 2013 season. He is a cornerstone for the offensive line and has the looks of the next great center.
The other all pro player drafted in the 2010 draft, Antonio Brown, possibly the second most important player on the roster besides the man throwing him the ball. Antonio Brown didn’t quite have the rookie season that Pouncey had, but he hasn’t looked back, as he is considered one of the best receivers in the game, despite his size. If you want to know what the Steelers think of him, look back in 2012 when the Steelers gave him the extension rather that fellow receiver Mike Wallace, who has not even come close to the statistics Brown has put up the past two seasons, despite being one of the highest paid receivers.
Not quite an all pro player, but very well could be if he plays like he did at times last season, Jason Worilds was written off after the announcement of Jarvis Jones in the first round of the 2013 draft. Worilds started the season as the backup, but ended it by making the Steelers release their most expensive defensive player in franchise history in favor of him. That should show you the potential Worilds possesses. Hopefully, an extension gets done this offseason, as this guy has the looks of a very scary outside linebacker for the Steelers.
On to 2011, it looked like this draft wouldn’t produce two all pros like the previous one did. Shoot, for a while we were just hoping that it would produce a capable starter. Then the second half of last season came, and we got to see the benefits of the 2011 draft. It started with first round pick Cameron Heyward, who was labeled a bust just a little too early. His fifth year option was recently exercised, and a long term extension should come next summer. If not, that’s when it’s time to start complaining about the front office, not now. Heyward was a wrecking ball on the defensive line last season. DE’s aren’t supposed to get to the quarterback very often in a 3-4 scheme, they are supposed to open lanes for the linebackers to get too. No one told that to Heyward, as he did both, and can be considered a big part in the development of Jason Worilds. Worilds had one sack when Ziggy Hood started at LDE, but 7 when Heyward played there. Heyward looks to be a cornerstone for the Steelers defensive line.
The Steelers did get two more solid players out of the 2011 draft, Cortez Allen and Marcus Gilbert. Both saw their production increase the second half of the season, along with just about every Steelers player, and can solidify their starting positions permanently this season. Both are playing in contract years, and could be in play for extensions later in the summer, Allen being the more realistic choice.
The 2012 draft, what could have been, what should have been. On paper, it looked like one of the best drafts the Steelers had in a decade, then came to playing football. First round pick David DeCastro was lost for the majority of the season before it even started, Mike Adams played horribly in the preseason, Sean Spence still hasn’t even seen a snap during the regular season due to a major knee injury, Alameda Tamu isn’t even with the team. Chris Rainey couldn’t keep himself of trouble. Kelvin Beachum, a seventh round pick, played the best out of all of them. But that was the 2012 season. So far, the 2012 draft seems to have helped the offensive line only, as the rest of the picks have yet to make a contribution other than the 3 offensive linemen taken, and yes, David Paulson hasn’t really contributed anything yet. Flash forward to the 2013 season, it looks like the Steelers found a solid left tackle and cornerstone guard who can be an all pro as soon as this season. Kelvin Beachum is a guy hard to root against, and now with o-line coach Mike Munchak, his play should only improve. David DeCastro’s play from last year can speak for itself, and am excited what Munchak can do to his development.
Last years draft very well could produce 4 starters this season. Jarvis Jones and Le’Veon Bell will be starting at their respective positions. Makrus Wheaton hopefully has learned from his rookie season and will be able to contribute as the starter or slot receiver. Shamarko Thomas could take snaps away from Polamalu if his play is good enough. Vince Williams looked like the starter until Ryan Shazier showed up, but he has the looks a good backup, not bad for a 6th round pick. Either way, he will see lots of snaps. The potential for the 2013 draft class is unbelievable. I think we will start to see it this season, but the 2015 season, when they are now comfortably in the system is when the benefits should really pay off. 4 starters in one draft isn’t bad at all.
That saying, my point is not to blame the front office just yet for bad drafting. The Steelers are in a period of transition from old super bowl heroes to new ones. These players mentioned look to stick around and build the roster that stays the same super bowl after super bowl, until eventually we are talking about them moving on with newer and younger talent to replace them. This year is a make or break year for the new and young talent, and I don’t think they will disappoint.
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