Steelers' draft rewind: Shamarko Thomas

PITTSBURGH -- Here is the fourth in a series that takes a closer look at the Steelers' most recent draft class, with ESPN Insider and former NFL scout Matt Williamson providing his take on every player in it.

Shamarko Thomas

Position: Safety

Drafted: Fourth round, 111th overall (taken one pick after Giants quarterback Ryan Nassib and one spot before Raiders quarterback Tyler Wilson). The Steelers traded a third-round pick in this year's draft for the extra fourth-round selection that they used on Thomas.

Key stats: Thomas recorded 22 tackles and had seven stops on special teams.

His first season: Thomas worked his way into the Steelers' quarter package as the third safety and played significant snaps before a going down in the ninth game with a high ankle sprain. The injury sidelined Thomas for two games, and he didn't play a defensive snap the rest of the way as Will Allen took Thomas' spot in the quarter package. That Thomas played only special teams in the final five games raises a "red flag," Williamson said, but Allen played well after getting an opportunity and may have been the Steelers' most unsung player on defense.

Looking ahead: Thomas is another rookie facing a critical offseason since there may be an opportunity for the former Syracuse standout to start in 2014. Free safety Ryan Clark becomes an unrestricted free agent March 11, and the Steelers are unlikely to bring back the 12th-year veteran. Thomas, however, is more likely the eventual successor to Troy Polamalu at strong safety. The 5-9, 217-pounder is a big hitter who craves contact and those traits make him more suited for strong safety. However the turnover in the secondary shakes out, Thomas should play a bigger role in 2014.

Williamson says: "I think he's still projecting as a starter. I think defensive back is one of the hardest positions to come in and excel at as a rookie. Rarely do you see a rookie safety or especially corners come in and contend for Pro Bowl honors. That's a big adjustment, the speed of [the NFL] playing deep like that, so I'm going to give him an incomplete. He has ability. He's always going to be size deficient. He's always going to struggle against Jimmy Graham or Tyler Eifert in the end zone on high passes. I think he'll be a core special teamer for sure."