Entering the 2013 NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers had several positions that they had to address. Kevin Colbert wasted no time. He used the team’s first four selections to add talent at each of the top four needs.
The Steelers needed playmakers on both sides of the ball, and that is exactly what they got. They found potential starters at outside linebacker, running back, wide receiver and safety.
With these selections, the Steelers added high-character players who fit in well with what the Steelers do schematically on offense and defense.
It will be several seasons before we know if this draft class was a success, but there is no doubt that the Steelers have some very talented young players to work with.
However, can any of these players contribute this season?
Here is a look at the impact of each Steelers draft selection in 2013.
John Mitchell will work to mold Nicholas Williams in the Steelers way.
Selection: Seventh, 223rd Overall
Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are unrestricted free agents after this season, meaning that the Steelers needed to find depth at defensive end.
Nicholas Williams is a small-school prospect who has good size (6’5” and 309 pounds) and can run well. At this point of the draft, he is the type of athletic defensive end that is worth a risk.
Only playing one year of high school football, Williams is still developing as a football player and has a ton of upside. He will work under John Mitchell, who will strip him down of everything that he knows and teach him the Steelers way.
Williams will not contribute in 2013 and may not even make the final roster. But with his size and speed, he will be a developmental prospect worth watching. In a few years, the Steelers may have another Brett Keisel on their hands.
Selection: Sixth, 206th Overall
With so many needs, there was going to be at least one that wasn’t addressed until later in the draft. That honor went to the inside linebacker position. The Steelers waited until the sixth round to find one.
Vince Williams is a decent late-round prospect whose strength is stopping the run. He is currently a pure two-down linebacker who will need to develop dropping into coverage.
Last season, he only had 59 tackles but was a member of one of the top defenses in the country. Florida State allowed only 254 yards per game, 3.86 yards per play and 14.7 points per game last season.
What Williams lacks in physical attributes he makes up for in character. He was a team captain and earned the Leadership Award for his efforts last season.
He is also a physical player who is not afraid to lay a hit and will be a valuable asset on special teams. He will play a role on the coverage units.
Beyond this, Williams will be nothing more than a depth player this season.
Selection: Sixth, 186th Overall
Justin Brown was an interesting pick in the sixth round not because of his potential, but because of his lack of potential.
While he has good size at 6’3”, Brown is not the fastest receiver or the best route runner. He wasn’t even invited to the combine and likely could have been signed after the draft.
The area that Brown must make an impact if he wants to make the team is in the return game. He returned punts at both Penn State and Oklahoma and could fill that role for the Steelers.
However, he will have a tough time making the roster. With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton locks to make the team, he will have to beat out Plaxico Burress as well as the undrafted free agents to earn a roster spot.
Brown will either be the primary returner and No. 5 receiver this season or will find a spot on the practice squad.
Selection: Fifth, 150th Overall
The Steelers do not always take chances on players with high potential late in the draft, but that is exactly what they did with Terry Hawthorne. He will give Carnell Lake a quality rookie cornerback to work with.
Behind Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen, the Steelers are pretty weak at cornerback. William Gay, Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke are the top backups.
Hawthorne will come in an immediately challenge for the No. 4 spot on the depth chart.
He was one of my favorite late-round prospects because of his ability to match up on the outside against top receiving options. He has a good combination of size (5’11”) and speed (4.44 40-yard dash) and has a physical element to his game.
Hawthorne was one of the better cornerbacks in the country following his junior season in which he had three interception and 11 passes defended. However, he regressed as a senior with only one interception and six passes defended.
With the pure physical skills in place, he has potential as a future starter. However, he is still a bit raw and will be a developmental player early on.
Hawthorne is unlikely to see the field beyond special teams. Expect him to play behind Gay and Thomas on passing downs. He will compete directly with Brown for the fourth position on the depth chart.
Selection: Fourth, 115th Overall
While the team’s future plans with Roethlisberger remain to be seen, it is clear that the Steelers were focusing on upgrading their quarterback depth this season.
Pittsburgh’s brass was clearly not happy with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch last season. Now they have completely revamped the position by signing Bruce Gradkowski as the backup and drafting Jones as a developmental prospect.
Jones started 50 games at Oklahoma, including 48 straight starts, and completed over 63 percent of his passing while throwing for 16,646 yards and 123 touchdowns.
While the talent is there, Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller is concerned about Jones’ fear of being hit. That is not necessarily a positive playing behind the Steelers’ offensive line.
On the other hand, Jones will get rid of the ball quickly on screens and should adapt well to Haley’s offensive scheme.
As far as his impact this year, there will be none. He will be third on the depth chart for at least one season—probably two. If Jones sees any action this season, the Steelers will be in trouble.
Selection: Fourth, 111th Overall
The Steelers made one of their best selections when they took Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round. He will need to live up to the expectations, as Pittsburgh traded next year’s third-round pick to acquire this selection.
Thomas is a small (5’9”) player, but he is very physical and has the speed to run with the fastest receivers in the league. NFL.com’s Mike Mayock compared him to Bob Sanders.
With this selection, the Steelers got a high-character player who is a perfect fit for what they do on defense. He can drop into coverage and play near the line of scrimmage. This sounds like just the type of player that the Steelers need to be the heir apparent to Troy Polamalu.
Though he may be a couple of seasons away from starting, Thomas will have to contribute immediately.
Backup safeties Will Allen and Ryan Mundy both left via free agency, meaning that Thomas will have to step in as the top backup.
It will be particularly interesting to watch Carnell Lake work with Thomas.
Lake has already been instrumental in developing Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen. Thomas will be his next big project.
Expect Lake to prepare Thomas not only to play strong safety, but to also to contribute in nickel and dime packages. He will be a significant role player on passing downs this season.
Selection: Third Round, 79th Overall
It took three rounds, but the Steelers finally got Ben Roethlisberger another receiving weapon when they selected Markus Wheaton in the third round.
Wheaton fits the mold of what the Steelers like in their receivers. He is a bit small (5’11”), but he has very good speed and is capable of playing the inside or outside.
Wheaton was extremely productive last season with 91 receptions for 1,244 yards and 11 touchdowns. The most exciting thing is what he can do after he gets the ball in his hands. Last season, he had 473 yards after the catch.
He will fit in well with the quick passing game that Haley has begun to implement in Pittsburgh. But he is not limited to short routes.
Wheaton has good deep speed and will accelerate away from defenders as he is running deep routes. He may not have the same speed that Mike Wallace brought, but he still has enough to scare a defense.
He will start out as fifth on the depth chart, but he will have the opportunity to move to third behind Brown and Sanders. Expect him to be playing a significant role as the slot receiver no later than the middle of the season.
Selection: Second, 48th Overall
The Steelers made it clear that upgrading the running back position would be a priority this offseason. That is exactly what they did by signing LaRod Stephens-Howling and drafting Le’Veon Bell.
With only Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman signed to one-year deals, the Steelers needed a feature back. That is exactly what Bell can be.
Bell has a broader skill set than both incumbents, which will give him an edge at earning a starting job.
He is a big back at 6’1” and 230 pounds but has enough speed—running a 4.60 40-yard dash at the combine—to get to the outside. He also has soft hands out of the backfield and is a capable blocker.
Bell is also a workhorse who is capable of being a three-down back. He led the nation with 382 carries last season while rushing for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. He added 32 receptions for 167 yards and a score.
Expect Bell to earn the starting job out of training camp, but he will not have to carry the load. Though he is a capable every-down back, Todd Haley will have Bell share the carries with Stephens-Howling and either Dwyer or Redman.
As long as Haley commits to the ground game, Bell is capable of putting up 1,000 yards as a rookie and will be a threat inside the red zone.
Selection: First, 17th Overall
It may be an offensive league, but the Steelers still value defense. More specifically, they value pass-rushers. That is why they wasted no time when they were on the clock with the 17th pick.
Immediately, the pick was in for Jarvis Jones.
Jones was one of the top names in the draft prior to running the 40-yard dash in a disappointing 4.90 seconds. While this time may have scared some teams off, the Steelers were delighted.
Jones was very productive while playing in a similar scheme at Georgia. He recorded 155 tackles and 28 sacks in 26 starts. He also had 45.4 tackles for a loss, forced nine fumbles and had 88 pressures. This is the type of production that the Steelers hope to get from him one day.
That day may be sooner rather than later.
Jason Worilds is slated to take over for James Harrison, but Jones will be given an opportunity as well. Odds are that Worilds will earn the starting job, but Jones should still receive playing time.
Jones will not see the field until he proves that he can defend against the run and drop into coverage. Therefore, expect Dick LeBeau to use him like he used LaMarr Woodley as a rookie—as a situational pass-rusher.
As a part-time player, Jones will be in position to put up four to six sacks. However, if he can win a starting job during the season, that number would increase to eight to 10 sacks.