Mel Kiper Jr. loved the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 NFL draft last May, giving it a grade of an A- in his post-draft report card.
Kiper dropped the grade after re-visiting every team’s most recent draft in large part because the Steelers did not get much out of first-round pick Ryan Shazier and third-round pick Dri Archer in 2014.
Archer, the fastest player in the 2014 draft, lost his job as the Steelers’ primary kickoff returner in the first half of the season and played sparingly on offense. The speedy running back managed just 63 yards from scrimmage and will be a major question mark heading into next season.
Kiper did not drop the Steelers’ draft grade much because of what the team got out of fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant. The sleek wide receiver caught 26 passes for 549 yards and eight touchdowns despite not dressing for the first six games of the season.
Bryant tied for fourth among NFL rookies with eight touchdown catches. The Clemson product came within one scoring grab of tying Louis Lipps' Steelers record for most touchdown receptions by a rookie.
Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, meanwhile, came on strong after a slow start. The second-round pick started the final four games after Brett Keisel went down with a season-ending triceps injury. Tuitt recorded 17 tackles and a sack and improved as much as any player on the Steelers.
Team president Art Rooney II said on Wednesday that he was pleased with the contributions the Steelers received from their rookies last season.
“Shazier had some injury issues, which I think slowed him down, but certainly showed the potential to make plays on the field,” Rooney said. “Tuitt, once he got in there did a nice job. Martavis did a nice job. We had some rookies come in and make significant contributions.”
As for my take on the Steelers’ 2014 draft, ask me in three years.
Just as it is too early to criticize the Steelers for drafting Shazier over Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, who made the Pro Bowl, or advocate dumping Archer, it is also premature to put Bryant in the elite class of NFL deep threats or anoint Tuitt as a worthy heir to No. 91, which former Steelers great Aaron Smith wore before him.
The Steelers certainly got some promising returns from their rookies. Now is a critical time for all of them, especially linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, who spent last season on injured reserve, and tight end Rob Blanchflower, who was on the practice squad in 2014.
Coach Mike Tomlin has said players generally make the most improvement from their first to second NFL season.
That is yet another reason why there is still a ways to go before a fair assessment can be made of the Steelers’ 2014 draft class.