How Each Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Pick Will Contribute in 2013
Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have their draft class in the fold, the next step in the offseason will be the long-term project of shaping this roster into one that can compete in 2013 and hopefully put the team in position to win another championship.
Here's a look at how the nine picks in this year's draft class will contribute to Pittsburgh's efforts in 2013.
Jarvis Jones, OLB
Jarvis Jones was drafted with the expectation, regardless of what anyone inside the organization might say, that he will come in and start in James Harrison's old spot.
Yes, he'll have to compete with Jason Worilds to get the starting job, but most expect that competition to be a mere formality and that Jones already has the inside track on a player that seems to have been written off after only a few seasons.
As a pass-rusher, Jones will be a beast and should be just as good as Harrison was in only a short time. LaMarr Woodley will be even more dangerous if Jones can replicate what Harrison did when those two combined for a couple of huge seasons.
Le'Veon Bell, RB
Like Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell was drafted with the intention that he would step in as a starter right away. Pittsburgh's roster is bereft of running back talent beyond the limited abilities of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, so the Steelers needed a back who could shoulder the load every down.
That's Bell, who has the versatile talent to be both and inside runner who is tough between the tackles and an outside runner with the speed and elusiveness to break away.
The knock on Bell is that he isn't consistent, but that can be solved with coaching and by playing behind a talented offensive line (he didn't get that benefit last year at Michigan State). If he puts together a big season, Pittsburgh will finally have a dangerous and balanced attack.
Markus Wheaton, WR
The departure of Mike Wallace and the possibility of a future departure by Emmanuel Sanders spurred Pittsburgh to draft a wide receiver with an early pick. Wheaton was a hidden gem behind a lot of big-school, big-name receivers and should be the next productive wide receiver Pittsburgh plucks from the middle of the draft.
Wheaton will have to earn his way onto the field given the thick crop of receivers in front of him, but he should get some time on passing downs when the Steelers want to stretch the field. His speed makes him a better option than either Plaxico Burress or Jerricho Cotchery.
Wheaton will have the same apprentice role that Wallace, Sanders and Antonio Brown enjoyed, so his breakout season will probably be in 2014, but he could be very integral if injuries hit the offense.
Shamarko Thomas, S
Shamarko Thomas represents the future of the safety position for Pittsburgh. He will eventually replace either Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark as the starter.
He has the potential to be every bit as good as either player. The coaching of Carnell Lake and the tutoring by Clark and Polamalu will be of tremendous help to his development.
In 2013, expect Thomas to be the top backup and to get some time in relief of both starters during games. He will have to make his bones on special teams as every great Pittsburgh defender has over the years.
There's a chance Thomas could ends up starting if the injury bug bites Polamalu or Clark. Both are in their 30s now, so their physical style will start to compromise their bodies every time they deliver the punishment they love doling out.
Landry Jones, QB
The best-case scenario for Landry Jones is that he never sees the field in 2013 except for the preseason and maybe in a few mop-up scenarios down the stretch.
Everyone knows, however, that Ben Roethlisberger misses time regularly and has played only one full season in his entire career. That's why Pittsburgh overhauled their backups at the position by adding Jones in the draft and Bruce Gradkowski in free agency.
Jones will be given every chance to push Gradkowski, but the design is such that he will still be the third quarterback when the games count.
If Pittsburgh endures another season like 2012 where two quarterbacks go down, however, Jones will need to be ready. He has NFL-caliber intelligence and skill. He just needs to have time to adjust to the speed of the game.
Terry Hawthorne, CB
With Keenan Lewis gone via free agency, Cortez Allen steps into the starting role opposite Ike Taylor. That will leave veteran William Gay to compete with a wide-open field for the nickel position.
Terry Hawthorne will have a chance to insert himself into that competition, and possibly even win it. He likely can't do that right out of the preseason, but if he plays well on special teams and in limited defensive spots, he could see more field time, as Allen did in his first year.
Hawthorne has all of the skills of a starting corner, but not the polish required to start right now. Carnell Lake will work with him and hopefully get him on the field sooner than later. His ability to make splash plays could help a defense that can't generate a lot of turnovers.
Justin Brown, WR
Could it be 2010 all over again? That year, Pittsburgh selected Emmanuel Sanders in the third round and Antonio Brown in the sixth round. Both had an impact in their rookie seasons after not being given much thought in the draft's immediate aftermath.
Justin Brown has some amazing catching ability but is inconsistent at times. He could be very good if he sorts out his issues and could eventually give Pittsburgh a great slot receiver with the elder Brown and Markus Wheaton on the outside.
For 2013, he will have to earn his playing time. He could work in the return game and give Pittsburgh an option there beyond free-agent addition LaRod Stephens-Howling. As for the offense, it will be hard for him to get on the field without injuries to a few of the veterans.
Vince Williams, LB
Pittsburgh didn't seem to be too fazed by the lack of depth at inside linebacker and the lack of a successor to Larry Foote, who is down to a year or two before retirement claims him.
Perhaps they didn't ignore the position, however.
Vince Williams was a tenacious player for the Florida State Seminoles and could end up being another late-round defensive gem in the style of Brett Keisel. Williams can definitely play the position and has the blitzing ability to blow up the interior of an offensive line.
In 2013, the Steelers will use his abilities on special teams and work on coaching him up. Keith Butler could have him ready to compete for the starting job with Foote in 2014 if all goes well.
Nick Williams, DE
The final pick for Pittsburgh's draft class was little more than a depth move. With Casey Hampton not returning (yet) and Steve McLendon the only established player at the position, there was a need to add something.
Nick Williams could have a future in the NFL, but he needs to keep adding weight and adjusting to football after being a basketball player before college. He needs time to develop and is a very, very raw prospect at this point.
For 2013, his job will be to push Alameda Ta'amu at every opportunity and try to keep last year's pick at the position on track in his development. Williams could overtake him if he keeps developing as he did in college.