5 Reasons the 2013 Draft Class Saved the Pittsburgh Steelers

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IMay 14, 2013

5 Reasons the 2013 Draft Class Saved the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers had the best draft of the Mike Tomlin era and one of the best they've had in this century. Because the roster was full of holes and in need of a fresh injection of youth and motivation, success in the draft was essential.

    Here's a look at five reasons why this year's draft class saved the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Defensive Rebirth

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    With the departures of James Harrison and Keenan Lewis and the aging of players like Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor, Pittsburgh needed a youth movement in a big way on defense.

    In the draft, they started early with Jarvis Jones, a linebacker who should anchor their pass-rushing scheme for the next decade. Jones will team with veteran LaMarr Woodley to terrorize quarterbacks and hopefully bring some bite back to the defense.

    They also added safety Shamarko Thomas and cornerback Terry Hawthorne in the middle of the draft. Both could end up becoming starters in the next few seasons and replace some of those aging veterans.

    Don't discount Vince Williams and Nicholas Williams from the late rounds either. Both are potential impact players once they've had time to develop under Dick LeBeau and Kevin Butler.

Offensive Reload

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    Pittsburgh's offense lagged last season. The rushing attack fell apart with Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman all trying to handle the load. The receivers dropped too many passes as Mike Wallace made an awful case for why he's the worth big money (which he still got).

    Instead of barking up the free agency tree, Pittsburgh went to the draft, where great teams are born, to get running back Le'Veon Bell and wide receivers Markus Wheaton and Justin Brown.

    Bell and Wheaton will be instant upgrades on roster players like Dwyer, Redman, Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery. They should become stars in this offensive system. Wheaton could be another Hines Ward and Bell could be the next big Pittsburgh running back.

    Suddenly, an offense that looked like it was stuck in reverse could be very, very good right away.

Future Under Center

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    Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers found out just how scary things can get when a quarterback depth chart is on the older side. Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich couldn't hold down the fort when Ben Roethlisberger was injured.

    As a result, Roethlisberger came back earlier than he should have and wasn't the same quarterback. Pittsburgh, a strong contender before his injury, fizzled and finished 8-8 and in very sorry shape.

    Enter Landry Jones, fourth-round selection of the Steelers and former highly-touted prospect from Oklahoma. Jones will be the backup quarterback within a year.

    He could be more too.

    Should anything end Roethlisberger's career prematurely, Jones will be the next starter. Even if his career runs its normal course, he won't play as long as some other guys because of how much of a beating he's taken and continues to take. 

    When the time comes, Jones will be ready.

Depth Perception

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    One perception that was common before the draft was that Pittsburgh had very little depth of any kind at several key positions. Free-agent departures robbed the Steelers of some of the depth they had left.

    That depth has been restored. Positions like inside linebacker will have plenty of competition with the addition of draft pick Vince Williams, who could become a star despite being a late-round pick.

    The defensive line will have some competition too from Nick Williams, who could eventually develop into a fine nose tackle.

    At cornerback, Terry Hawthorne should make an immediate impact on special teams and could eventually be a starter on the defense.

A New Beginning

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    When the Steelers finished the season at 8-8, there was a lot of despair. The team looked a shambles and needed something new.

    The perception was that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert did not draft nearly as well as Bill Cowher and Colbert had. 

    That all changed on draft day 2013. Tomlin and Colbert teamed up to put together a draft class that not only featured some excellent players early but also was full of players who could all end up on the roster and making an impact quickly.

    The belief that there was deep talent in this draft showed up in Pittsburgh, where the team's last four picks where just as full of potential as their first five.