PITTSBURGH – There is a lot to like about a Steelers draft in which they added size and speed. There are also some things that can be questioned, including the lack of attention they paid to a certain position.
Here are three things I liked about the Steelers' draft:
It’s hard not to get excited about the first two picks. Yes, the Steelers didn’t address one of their bigger needs by taking a cornerback, but they added size and speed to a defense that fell last season from its usual lofty perch. Ryan Shazier makes inside linebacker a strength and his sheer speed will allow Dick LeBeau to get creative in how he uses the Steelers’ first-round pick. Stephon Tuitt, like Shazier, has the chance to start right away and he fills a gaping hole at defensive end. Tuitt and Cameron Heyward could form quite an inside pass-rush tandem in the Steelers’ nickel defense.
The Steelers let the draft come to them at wide receiver and they were able to get a really good prospect in the fourth round. The Steelers strongly considered taking Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the third round and were still able to get him after using their third pick on Kent State running back Dri Archer. Bryant has excellent size and speed, and he averaged over 20 yards per catch at Clemson despite getting overshadowed by first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins (2013) and Sammy Watkins. The Steelers, who have made it clear to Bryant that they expect his work ethic to be up to their standards, have given quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an enticing red-zone target.
The Steelers were able to add an intriguing prospect and not just a body to their deep offensive line. And it didn’t cost them much to do it. They drafted Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson with the second of their two fifth-round picks, and the 6-5, 297-pounder started 51 career games in college football’s preeminent conference. Johnson is athletic and versatile and he could fill left tackle Kelvin Beachum’s former role as a super sub who can play all five positions.
Two things I question:
I’m still a little puzzled that the Steelers took a running back in the third round. I understand that they are enamored with Archer’s speed and game-breaking ability. But how many touches will he get in an offense that already has Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount to shoulder the load at running back? And as much as the Steelers like Archer’s potential as a kickoff and punt returner he didn’t do much of either his final season at Kent State. And it’s a lot easier to keep the ball away from dangerous kickoff returners since kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line.
Adding to questions about the Archer pick is the fact that a run on cornerback took place in the fourth round. Nine cornerbacks were taken in the fourth round and five before the Steelers picked Bryant. Steelers fans would have felt a whole lot better about the draft had Pittsburgh gone linebacker, defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver. As it turns out the Steelers only picked one cornerback, and they didn’t take Shaquille Richardson until the fifth round. Maybe the Steelers really are confident that free-agent signee Brice McCain can bounce back after struggling last season for the Texans and that Antwon Blake is ready to contribute more than just on special teams. Time will tell on that – and whether the Steelers erred by not doing more to address cornerback in the draft.