Much has been made about the 2013 draft class, but if the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to succeed this season, they must have contributions from last year’s draft picks.
The much-heralded 2012 class was a bit of a disappointment. Three players have already been released and another—Sean Spence—may never return from a devastating knee injury.
Spence wasn’t the only player to suffer an injury last season. The development of top picks David DeCastro and Mike Adams were also slowed as both players missed a significant amount of action.
But now that they have recovered, will DeCastro and Adams finally make the impact that the Steelers need them to make? Will there be any other second-year players who will step up and make significant contributions?
Here is what you can expect from each remaining player from the 2012 draft class.
Note: All stats for offensive linemen are via the Washington Post.
David DeCastro appeared to be a gift when he fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the draft. He was one of the best players in the entire draft and filled a major need.
That is why so many felt sick when he went down with a major knee injury in a preseason game against the Buffalo Bills.
But DeCastro bounced back and was able to start the three games at the end of the season.
He allowed two-and-a-half sacks during this time, but the fact that he even made it back to the field was an accomplishment.
Expectations won't be as low as the 2013 season approaches.
DeCastro will enter the season as the starter at right guard. That is exactly where he was expected to be last season as a rookie; however, this time, he will not have any competition for the job.
But while he may lack competition for the starting job, that does not mean he is without any faults.
DeCastro struggled at times as a rookie—especially when matching up against some of the stronger defensive linemen in the league. He needed to improve his strength.
With an entire offseason to build strength, DeCastro will be better this season. He will also benefit from a second year under offensive coordinator Todd Haley as well as new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr.
Both coaches like linemen with the ability to move and will likely showcase DeCastro’s athletic ability on running plays, allowing him to pull and lead the way.
Expect DeCastro to begin to show why he was hyped as one of the best players of the 2012 draft and he should approach playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Mike Adams entered training camp last season with the potential to play either left or right tackle. It became apparent early on that he was going to struggle on the left side.
His inability to protect the quarterback was a major concern for the present and future. The Steelers need a tackle who can play on an island. Adams needed a tight end to help him, especially against speed rushers.
This was evident as he allowed five sacks in 10 games—including six starts—last season.
That is not good enough over the course of an entire season.
A year of experience should help Adams improve against the pass rush, but expect him to still struggle in this aspect of his game.
But not all is bad for Adams. An area in which he doesn’t struggle with is run-blocking. He was a dominant force last year once he got his hands locked onto a defender.
Adams will be even better this season, as he will have a full training camp locked in as the starter at right tackle.
Haley should design run plays to the right side of the line where he will have Adams and DeCastro leading the way for the running back.
Adams will still be a work in progress in pass protection, but he should help revitalize a ground game with his stellar run-blocking.
A week after linebacker coach Keith Butler said it would be “miraculous” for Spence to return, head coach Mike Tomlin said he expects him to make a “full recovery” (via h/t Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk).
Whether he comes back or not remains to be seen, but as far as this season goes, Spence will not be available. That will hurt the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they are in need of depth at inside linebacker.
Spence is undersized, but was drafted for his high football IQ as well as his pure athleticism. He was an excellent prospect to develop into a top coverage linebacker. Combined with Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers would have had two of the most athletic linebackers in the league.
But that will have to wait, as Spence will have to use this season as another year of rehab.
The future at nose tackle was a risk to get cut last season.
Not only did Alameda Ta’amu not make an impression during training camp and the preseason, but he was also arrested in what was an embarrassing moment for him and the franchise.
For Ta’amu, he has nowhere to go but up.
He will enter training camp as the top backup at nose tackle behind Steve McLendon, who figures to take over for Casey Hampton.
But do not expect Ta’amu to be handed the job. He is going to have to beat out a number of competitors to maintain that role.
This means that he is going to have to improve his explosion off of the snap. Last season, it was virtually non-existent. He was unable to get any push and rarely commanded double-teams—even in camp.
Based on his potential, Ta’amu should win this job which means he will join the rotation on the defensive line.
Last season, McLendon played 14 percent of all of the defensive snaps compared to 50 percent by Hampton (via Football Outsiders).
Ta’amu should play less, as McLendon is younger than Hampton was last year and is capable of playing more snaps. He also is not as talented of a backup as McLendon was. However, he will see the field each and every week.
David Paulson was a pleasant surprise last season when he played in all 16 games, starting in five of them.
Though Paulson only had seven receptions, he has shown the potential to be a decent second option behind Heath Miller.
But for the 2013 season, he will enter the season as the starter while Miller recovers from a torn ACL. That means that his receiving numbers should significantly grow.
While Paulson isn’t the same type of receiving threat as Miller, he will provide Ben Roethlisberger with an outlet over the middle of the field and should see three to four targets per game.
Once Miller returns, Paulson will once again settle in to his role as the No. 2 tight end.
Pittsburgh’s final draft choice in 2012 turned out to be one of their best. That doesn’t mean that he was the most talented player from the draft class, but he was one of the best values.
He was supposed to be a developmental prospect who would have to learn both guard and tackle, but he turned out to be much more.
Kelvin Beachum started five games at right tackle and was credited with only 2.75 sacks allowed.
He will not have the same role in 2013 as Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert will settle in at a tackle and David DeCastro and Ramon Foster at guard.
Instead, Beachum will be the top reserve on the offensive line and will be expected to fill in at both tackle and guard spots if any injuries arrive.
If recent years indicate anything, not only will Beachum play, but he will see a significant amount of action.