The NFL Draft has come and gone once again. All the buildup and hype is behind us, and it is now time to analyze how the Steelers faired in the 2013 NFL draft and look ahead to the 2013 season. As coach Tomlin often says, it was “Business as usual” for the Steelers. Many national pundits have proclaimed that the Steelers are a team on the decline. I think they are a team about to surprise those pundits and prove them wrong.
The dust has settled and the draft has ended and all the Steelers did was replace their departures with the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, a four year starter and all-time leader in receptions at Oregon State, as well as the NCAA leader in rushing yards after contact. If you followed me before the draft, you know that I was very high on several of the players the Steelers drafted, especially Jarvis Jones. I was hoping for a different HB and WR though but I am over all satisfied with the outcome. In my mock draft about a week before the draft, I predicted that the Steelers would take Jarvis Jones in the 1st round and WR Justin Hunter in the 2nd and in the 3rd round, HB Giovani Bernard. I was off by the players but got the positions correct, although I am excited that both players actually selected will be wearing black and gold next season.
Draft Grade: B-
Over all I feel the Steelers earned a Draft Grade of B- for the entire hall of rookies they selected. Our resident Armchair GM has some different thoughts on the draft though and you can view his opinions here. I feel they hit home runs on 4 of their picks and did well to fill depth needs with the rest of the young men now competing for a spot on the team.
1 (17) – Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia: Grade B+ | 2 (48) – Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: Grade B- | 4 (111) – Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse: Grade B
It can be said that Jones fills the Steelers biggest need. A pass rusher with youth, who can revitalize Blitzburgh. Some worry about his being diagnosed with Spinal Stenosis a few years ago but that does not worry me as much as others as that is an issue that may never even effect his career for the Steelers. I am fully aware it could as easily ruin his career but I am of the believe that every players career is one play from being ended so I don’t dwell on the negatives.
The Steelers selected Jones to fill the void left by James Harrison as a pass rusher. Jones will join the rotation opposite LaMarr Woodley, and Jason Worilds will be there to take the pressure off Jones playing three downs as a rookie. Depth at outside linebacker will be boosted immediately with this selection and the Steelers get a freaky talent that only slid here because of injury concerns.
Jones must improve his practice intensity and preparation at the NFL level. Who better to learn under than legendary defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau and linebacker coach Keith Butler? The tape does not lie on Jones. Concerns over his size seem to be overblown as he consistently got to the quarterback to the tune of 28 sacks against elite college competition in his two years at Georgia.
The Steelers selection of Jarvis Jones shows their commitment to get back to “Steeler Football”. The team has lacked turnovers and explosive plays on defense for several years now and it was time to fix that issue. Jones was medically cleared by the Steelers and is ready to come in and work.
The Steelers decide to grab an exciting talent from Michigan State who has drawn comparisons to Jerome Bettis. Some pretty big shoes to fill there.
The Steelers were in desperate need of a franchise running back and they believe they have found him here in the third round. Bell is a bruising runner who can run well between the tackles. Bell has exceptional lateral quickness for a big guy and can make defenders miss. Bell does not have blazing speed on the edge but gets the job done running down field. Bell has extremely good hands and will contribute as a pass catcher. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley is already drawing up plays trying to figure out ways to get the ball to Le’Veon Bell.
I had the Steelers taking a WR (Justin Hunter) with this pick in my mock draft, but I don’t blame the Steelers for taking Bell in the 2nd round to ensure that he did not get drafted anywhere else. Bell will bring a new dimension to the Steelers offense that they have desperately needed for a while now. Bell should be the opening day starter and provide the Steelers with the “workhorse” back they have been looking for since the “Bus” retired. My favorite stat on Bell is that he gained 922 of his 1,793 rushing yards (51 percent) after contact in 2012. He ran behind a very poor offensive line at Michigan State and should thrive behind the up and coming line for the Steelers.
The Steelers thought highly enough of Thomas to trade their 3rd round pick in 2014 (Cleveland Browns) to move up in the 4th round to select him. So they must REALLY like this kid. I gotta say after watching tape on him again. I REALLY like him too.
In the 4th round, the Steelers selected Shamarko Thomas, a hard hitting safety from Syracuse. You could say he hits like a mack truck! Thomas is an exciting prospect that has drawn comparisons to Bob Sanders. In fact, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network said, “I love this kid. You talk about Steelers picking tough guys. This guy reminds me of Bob Sanders. He’s undersized but plays like a human missile.”
Thomas will have the luxury of learning under two of the best safeties in the game with Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. Thomas will be able to contribute immediately on special teams as well as some nickel or dime packages on defense. Thomas provides quality depth for the Steelers and likely would have been a first or second round pick if not for his 5’9” height. Thomas was the leader among all safeties at the NFL combine in the 40 yard dash (4.42), bench press (28), vertical jump (40.5 inches) and broad jump (133 inches).
Best Value Pick: 3 (79) – Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State: Grade B-
Before the draft, I read scouts say Markus Wheaton is the next Mike Wallace. As I researched more, I found that Wheaton can do so much more than Mike Wallace. He uses his body well, is a great hands catcher rather than a body catcher and is dangerous after the catch.
Wheaton was a team captain and the all-time leading receiver at Oregon State. He hauled in 91 catches in 2012. Wheaton’s size is a small concern (5’11”) but overall he is a player that should fit perfectly into the Steelers offensive system.
Wheaton may be most effective in the slot initially but as he progresses should be able to be interchangeable with Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders at any position on the field. Wheaton brings solid playmaking ability and blazing 4.34 speed to the table for the Steelers.
Questionable Pick: 4 (115) – Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma: Grade C
The most surprising pick of the Steelers draft was Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones. The Steelers were expected to take a young quarterback in the draft that could learn behind Ben Roethlisberger, but perhaps the 4th round was a bit high for what many were expecting.
With their 2nd pick in the 4th round, the Steelers selected the all-time leading passer in the Big 12. Landry Jones is an outstanding passer that will provide the Steelers with quality depth at the quarterback position for years to come. Whether or not Jones is the heir to Ben Roethlisberger is yet to be seen but it is a big upgrade over Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch. The Steelers have now completely revamped the quarterback position with the additions of Landry Jones and free agent Bruce Gradkowski.
The Rest of the Story: Grade B-
The Steelers added quality depth throughout the remainder of the draft at positions of need. Late round picks can often develop into starters or even Pro Bowlers. Just ask the Steelers about Brett Keisel (7th round) and Antonio Brown (6th round).
5th round pick Terry Hawthorne will provide depth at the cornerback position. He will have to work on his quickness in and out of breaks to really see the field on defense as a rookie. Right now he can learn from secondary coach Carnell Lake and contribute on special teams. Grade B
In the 6th round the Steelers added Oklahoma wide receiver Justin Brown and Florida State linebacker Vince Williams. Justin Brown is a big target standing 6’3” tall. The transfer from Penn State worked well with Steelers rookie QB Landry Jones at Oklahoma. Brown will have a lot of work to do to make the Steelers roster as a rookie.
Linebacker Vince Williams is an outstanding leader and solid middle linebacker. He projects as a 2 down middle linebacker who is effective at stopping the run. The Steelers final selection was defensive lineman Nick Williams from Samford. Williams was a first team all-Southern conference player in 2012. The big bodied Williams (6’4” 309 pounds) will be a project for the Steelers and projects as a 5 technique defensive end in the Steelers 3-4 defense. Williams may contribute in a few years if he is able to stick around. Grade C-
Overall, I feel the Steelers had a very solid draft. They filled just about every one of their needs and addressed positions that needed depth. Jarvis Jones, Le’Veon Bell, Marcus Wheaton and Shamarko Thomas should all contribute year one for the Steelers. Jones and Bell may be opening day starters depending on how they do in training camp. If I had to give the draft a grade, and I did, I would give the Steelers a solid B- for their selections.
Tell us what you think about the Steelers draft in the comments below. Do you agree with my grades? Do you think I am full of shit? Tell me your thoughts below.
Undrafted rookie free agent signings:
Northwestern DE Brian Arnfelt; Northern Illinois LB Alan Baxter; Utah WR Reggie Dunn; San Diego State OT Nik Embernate; Penn State OT Mike Farrell; Notre Dame OL Mike Golic Jr.; Louisiana-Lafayette DE Cordian Hagans; UAB G Chris Hubbard; Florida DT Omar Hunter; Hawaii LS Luke Ingram; West Virginia C Joe Madsen; USC RB Curtis McNeal; Baylor C Ivory Wade; Michigan State DT Anthony Rashad White; West Virginia WR J.D. Woods