Rookie, Undrafted Free Agent Watch for the Pittsburgh Steelers' Training Camp
With their first four selections, Mike Tomlin may have found four future starters, highlighted by first-round pick Jarvis Jones and second-round pick Le’Veon Bell.
Though their rookies may not start this year, the Steelers will need them to contribute in some way if they want to improve on their 8-8 record of last season and get back into the playoffs in 2013.
Here is a look at the rookies as Pittsburgh enters training camp.
Jarvis Jones, OLB
- College: Georgia
- Draft Status: Round 1
- Height: 6’2”
- Weight: 245
- College Production: Three-year career, 168 total tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss, 28 sacks, one interception, six passes defended, nine forced fumbles—85 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks, one interception, four passes defended, seven forced fumbles in 2012.
Analysis: Jones was one of the top defensive playmakers in college football last season, leading the nation in sacks, tackles for loss and forced fumbles. Despite being a disruptive force off the edge, he fell in the draft due to concerns over spinal stenosis and poor workout numbers.
At Georgia, Jones flipped sides based on what the offense was doing. He will exclusively play at right outside linebacker in Pittsburgh.
His development will be particularly important, as the Steelers have struggled rushing the quarterback over the past two seasons. Last season they finished with 37 sacks after having only 35 in 2011.
Jones may not start as a rookie, but he will be a valuable addition as a situational pass-rusher.
Le'Veon Bell, RB
- College: Michigan State
- Draft Status: Round 2
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 244
- College Production: Three-year career, 671 carries, 3,346 yards, 33 rushing touchdowns, 78 receptions, 531 yards, one receiving touchdown—382 carries, 1,793 yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 32 receptions, 167 yards, one receiving touchdown in 2012.
Analysis: With Eddie Lacy and Montee Ball still available, the Steelers made Bell their second-round selection. They did so because he is a big—but elusive—back who comes from a pro-style offense.
Bell has the skills to be a three-down player. He can run between the tackles or get to the outside and has talent as a receiver out of the backfield. More importantly, he is capable in pass protection.
The Steelers rarely use rookies as starters, but they need Bell to win the starting job. He is the type of back who can help reinvigorate the 26th-rated ground game, which produced only 1,537 yards last season.
Markus Wheaton, WR
- College: Oregon State
- Draft Status: Round 3
- Height: 5’11”
- Weight: 182
- College Production: Four-year career, 227 receptions, 2,994 yards, 16 receiving touchdowns, 83 carries, 631 yards, two rushing touchdowns—91 receptions, 1,244 yards, 11 receiving touchdowns, 20 carries, 142 yards, two rushing touchdowns in 2012.
Analysis: Wheaton is a track athlete who has translated well to the football field. He fits the mold the Steelers want from their receivers—small, but quick.
He has good straight-line speed (4.45 40 time), which he can use to beat defenders deep, though his career average is 13.2 yards per reception.
As a speedy third-round selection, many will be tempted to compare Wheaton with another former third-round pick, Mike Wallace. The better comparison is Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders.
Unlike Wallace, Wheaton is a diverse route-runner who adjusts well to the ball. However, his slight build will be a concern against the more physical corners in the league.
It will take some time before Wheaton moves up the depth chart, but he should be the No. 3 receiver eventually this season and should be a nice fit in Todd Haley’s quick-strike offense.
Shamarko Thomas, S
- College: Syracuse
- Draft Status: Round 4
- Height: 5’9”
- Weight: 217
- College Production: Four-year career, 263 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, two interceptions, seven passes defended, one forced fumble, four fumble recoveries—88 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two interceptions, two passes defended, three forced fumbles in 2012.
Analysis: Thomas was one of the most athletic players in the draft, and if not for his lack of height, he may have been drafted a round or two higher.
While at Syracuse, Thomas played linebacker and cornerback in addition to safety. It shows in his play, as he is very physical hitter, but he also has the coverage skills to match up against the more talented receivers in the game.
Like Troy Polamalu, Thomas is at his best when playing near the line of scrimmage and will likely be groomed by Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake as Polamalu’s eventual replacement at strong safety.
Until then, he will compete to get on the field on passing downs and to contribute on special teams.
Landry Jones, QB
- College: Oklahoma
- Draft Status: Round 4
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 221
- College Production: Four-year career, 1,388 completions, 2,183 attempts, 63.6 completion percentage, 16,646 yards, 123 touchdowns, 52 interceptions—367 completions, 555 attempts, 66.1 completion percentage, 4,267 yards, 30 touchdowns, 11 interceptions in 2012.
Analysis: Jones has prototypical size for an NFL pocket passer. He was the Big 12’s all-time leading passer while playing in Oklahoma’s passing attack.
Working mainly out of the shotgun in college, Jones will have to work on taking snaps while under center as he develops as the third-string quarterback this season.
He was not drafted to replace Ben Roethlisberger, but rather as a potential backup with the outside shot of eventually starting.
Jones has a strong arm but struggles under pressure and will take time to develop.
Terry Hawthorne, CB
- College: Illinois
- Draft Status: Round 5
- Height: 6’0”
- Weight: 190
- College Production: Four-year career, 162 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, one sack, six interceptions, two interception return touchdowns, 28 passes defended, one forced fumble—44 tackles, four tackles for a loss, one sack, one interception, seven passes defended in 2012.
Analysis: A disappointing senior season caused Hawthorne to fall in the draft, but he has the talent to develop into a quality NFL cornerback.
Hawthorne has good size and speed, which will allow him to match up against the bigger receivers in the game. He has a physical side as well, which the Steelers like in their defensive backs so they can come up in run support.
He was at his best as a junior, when he recorded 60 tackles and three interceptions and had 11 passes defended.
There are a lot of physical tools the coaches will love when working with Hawthorne, it will just be a matter of him rediscovering his potential.
Justin Brown, WR
- College: Oklahoma
- Draft Status: Round 6
- Height: 6’3”
- Weight: 209 pounds
- College Production: Four-year career, 146 receptions, 1,926 yards, eight touchdowns, 71 punt returns, 37 return yards, one punt return touchdown—73 receptions, 879 yards, five touchdowns, 22 punt returns, 299 return yards, one punt return touchdown in 2012.
Analysis: After transferring from Penn State, Brown had the best year of his career last season at Oklahoma.
He is a big receiver with decent speed (4.60 40 time) who also adds value in the return game. For his career, Brown averaged 13.2 yards per reception and 9.0 yards per punt return.
With the top four receivers on the Steelers considered as locks for the final roster, Brown may be competing with Plaxico Burress for a roster spot.
There is always a chance the Steelers may keep six receivers, but it won’t be his receiving abilities that will get Brown on the team, but rather his contribution on special teams.
Vince Williams, ILB
- College: Florida State
- Draft Status: Round 6
- Height: 6’1”
- Weight: 250
- College Production: Four-year career, 139 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one interception, eight passes defended—59 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, one sack, two passes defended in 2012.
Analysis: Never a star, Williams proved to be a solid defender while at Florida State.
He was a well-respected leader in college and will do what it takes to be successful on the field. Expect him to get noticed on special teams early on.
At linebacker, Williams is particularly strong against the run but will need to develop in pass coverage. He will project as a backup early in his career and will have an outside shot at developing into a starter down the road.
Nicholas Williams, DE
- College: Samford
- Draft Status: Round 7
- Height: 6’4”
- Weight: 309
- College Production: Played in 40 games, started all 11 games in 2011 and 2012—31 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, six sacks in 2012.
Analysis: It is all about potential when it comes to Williams. He played a small school and lacks the experience of most NFL prospects.
He only played one year of high school football but developed nicely in college, where he started for two seasons. It was not his eight sacks over the past two years that caught the Steelers’ eye, but rather his upside.
Williams moves well for a man his size and is the perfect developmental prospect for John Mitchell to work with.
He has an outside shot at making the team, but there is a lot of depth at defensive end ahead of him. He will have to shine on special teams if he wants to make the final roster.
Undrafted Free Agents
Undrafted Free-Agent List:
Northwestern DE Brian Arnfelt; Northern Illinois LB Alan Baxter; Utah WR Reggie Dunn; San Diego State OG Nik Embernate; Penn State OT Mike Farrell; West Virginia LB Terence Garvin; Notre Dame OT Mike Golic Jr.; Louisiana-Lafayette DE Cordian Hagans; Alabama-Birmingham OG Chris Hubbard; Florida NT Omar Hunter, Hawaii LS Luke Ingram; West Virginia C Joe Madsen; Kansas State CB Nigel Malone; Southern California RB Curtis McNeal; San Jose State TE Peter Tuitupou; West Virginia WR J.D. Woods
Analysis: The Steelers have a few interesting names they signed following the draft including Nik Embernate, Mike Golic Jr., J.D. Woods and Reggie Dunn.
Given the lack of depth on the offensive line, Embernate and Golic will have a legitimate shot at making the roster.
Embernate plays on the inside and is very aggressive, while Golic is a tackle who has NFL bloodlines with his dad (Mike) and uncle (Bob) both playing defensive line.
Woods was the third option in West Virginia’s high-flying offensive attack last year and still made 61 receptions.
The most interesting name is Dunn. Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review highlighted Dunn’s speed (4.22 40 time) and potential value as a kick return man.