Re-Grading Pittsburgh's 2012 Rookies at the End of the Regular Season
There were high expectations from the Steelers 2012 draft class coming into the season. Many experts had garnered Pittsburgh's class as one of the best in the league.
But like the rest of the team, the Steelers' first, second, third and seventh-round picks all missed significant time with various injuries.
That doesn't mean they didn't get good use out of their class, however.
The Steelers have continued to build their offensive line and get younger at positions where age is an issue. They've also added explosion and size in 2012. So, let's check out how Pittsburgh's nine rookies grade out after the regular season.
1st Round: David DeCastro, G, Stanford
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Original Grade: A+
No one was more excited than myself to watch Stanford guard David DeCastro fall further and further down the draft boards. The man many touted as the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson fell into Pittsburgh's lap and looked to be the steal of the first round.
Unfortunately for both parties, DeCastro suffered a major knee injury in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills and was out of commission until the final three weeks of the year.
But we did get to see some things out of the Steelers' first-round pick. He showed how much of a mauler he can be and that he's got the ability to play a big part of this offensive line for the next 10-plus years. He also showed that he needs to improve in his pass protection and could stand to get stronger.
Although DeCastro's season can be viewed as a disappointment, I still wouldn't draft any other way for Pittsburgh in the first round. The Steelers' offensive front has been pitiful the last few seasons, and hopefully DeCastro can bring some stability to a beleaguered unit.
2nd Round: Mike Adams, T, Ohio State
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Original Grade: C+
To be completely honest, I wasn't exactly thrilled with the Mike Adams selection. He came to the Steelers with a lot of red flags and seemed like a guy who wasn't going to put football first in the NFL.
But Adams played with a lot of heart in 2012 and won the teams Rookie of the Year honors because of his play. He provided a sound run-blocker off the right side when Marcus Gilbert went out with injury and never relinquished the spot until he was injured himself.
Adams certainly needs to improve on his pass-protection skills, but he looks like he's going to be the Steelers right tackle for years to come. After Adams and guard Willie Colon left the lineup, the run suffered. Adams' absence was a big part of that.
Getting Adams in the second round turned out to be a nice pick for the Steelers as they continue to try and rebuild an offensive line that's been amongst the league's worst. Pittsburgh now seems set as their first two picks in 2012 look to be good ones.
3rd Round: Sean Spence, LB, Miami (FL)
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Original Grade: D
I never truly understood the Steelers' third-round selection of Sean Spence out of Miami. Pittsburgh made Spence the 86th pick in the draft, but he doesn't really fit in anywhere on the defense.
Standing at 5'11", 231 lbs, Spence doesn't exactly fit the mold of a Steelers linebacker, inside or outside. His speed from sideline to sideline adds a dimension the Steelers really don't have right now, but to spend a high pick on a role player like that didn't seem to make much sense.
The pick got worse for the Steelers when Spence left the field on a cart early in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 regular season. Now, he'll enter 2013 as a virtual rookie with no real experience and fighting for a spot on the team.
I'll give Spence this: had he been available, he could have been a big special teams contributor. But 2012 was a virtual waste for Spence who not only has to recover, but show improvement from the little action he's seen.
4th Round: Alameda Ta'amu, NT, Washington
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Original Grade: A-
Now it's time to admit where I was completely wrong.
I absolutely loved Alameda Ta'amu and thought he'd be a great fit for the Steelers with Casey Hampton seemingly on his last legs. Apparently, so did the Steelers, who traded up for the former Washington standout.
But on and off the field it all went wrong for Ta'amu in the Steel City.
Ta'amu was inactive for most of the season and on a certain Sunday night in October, the rookie nose tackle took out his frustrations on the local police department. Ta'amu was lucky to not be in prison much less still on the team.
Pittsburgh eventually waived Ta'amu, but there were no takers and he spent the rest of the season on the practice squad.
Mike Tomlin has had a knack for giving guys second chances and Ta'amu will most likely be no different. His contract is up at the end of the year and I'd bet the Steelers bring him back for another chance. He's still got the talent to be a solid contributor.
5th Round: Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
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Original Grade: B
Florida running back Chris Rainey was a surprising pick by the Steelers in the fifth round, and he turned out to be a very good one. Rainey was the only rookie to appear in all 16 games for Pittsburgh this season.
He's a great pick because he brings a dimension to the Steelers offense they haven't seen in years. Not only is he explosive in the return game, but every time he touches the ball on offense, he's a threat to take it to the house.
The former Gator ran for two scores on the season and caught another 14 passes in very limited time. I'd expect that Rainey will be seeing more action in the future as the Steelers work him and his explosive traits into their offensive scheme.
7th Round: Toney Clemons, WR, Colorado
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Original Grade: C
It's not often that you find a true gem in the seventh round, and Clemons is no different case for the Steelers. The former Colorado Buffalo was Pittsburgh's first of four seventh-round picks and wasn't with the team for long.
Clemons made the Steelers practice squad and hung there for most of the season until late November when the Jacksonville Jaguars signed him away.
He caught three passes for 41 yards with the Jags this season.
Clemons may have a future with the Jaguars, but his time with the Steelers has certainly ended.
7th Round: David Paulson, TE, Oregon
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Original Grade: C
Like I said with Clemons, it's hard to find any kind of value in the seventh round of the draft. But the Steelers got a whole lot out of Oregon tight end David Paulson.
Paulson recorded five starts for the Steelers this season, mostly playing in double-tight situations with starter Heath Miller. But Pittsburgh was able to get a good look at their young backup tight end.
Paulson may have only caught seven passes all season, but one thing he did gain was the all-important experience of playing in an NFL game. With no timetable set for Heath Miller to return from knee surgery, Paulson could be very important to the team at the start of next year.
7th Round: Terrence Frederick, CB, Texas A&M
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Original Grade: D
With the 246th overall selection, the Steelers selected Texas A&M cornerback Terrence Frederick to add some depth to their secondary.
That's about the length of Frederick's story in Pittsburgh.
He is now a reserve corner for the New York Giants and appeared in one game for the team.
7th Round: Kelvin Beachum, T, SMU
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Original Grade: D
With their final pick of the 2012 draft, Pittsburgh took a shot on SMU's Kelvin Beachum. I don't think they even know how useful he's become this season.
With injuries mounting across the Steelers' offensive line, Beachum was called upon to play. He appeared in eight games for Pittsburgh and started another five. More importantly, he progressed in every single game he was in.
With Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams slated to be the starters at tackle next season, Beachum provides the team with good depth. This is crucial as both Gilbert and Adams were injured and missed extended time this season.