After an 8-8 record in 2012, there was reason to believe a productive draft would vault the Pittsburgh Steelers back into the playoffs. That hasn’t exactly worked out, though, as the rookies haven’t made much of a difference in their young professional careers.
It isn’t fair to dub the Steelers’ 2013 draft class a complete mess, but it has definitely been a bit of a disappointment so far this season.
Jarvis Jones was benched, Le’Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton have been injured and several guys didn’t make the roster. On the other hand, Bell has been the team’s best running back, and Vince Williams looks like a late-round steal.
It’s still very early, but here are the current grades for the Steelers' 2013 draft picks that are still on the roster.
Jarvis Jones, outside linebacker (first round)
As to be expected, the first-round pick out of Georgia arrived at Steelers camp with the most hype out of the rookies.
Pittsburgh drafted him to help shore up a weak pass rush and be an instant playmaker. Jones was, after all the NCAA’s sack leader (14.5) in 2012 and also set a Georgia Bulldog record in tackles for loss (24.5) according to his draft profile on NFL.com.
Jones quickly beat out Jason Worilds at outside linebacker but has since lost the job because of his lack of productivity. He recorded his very first sack of the season in Week 10 against Buffalo.
Dick Lebeau’s defensive schemes are notoriously difficult to pick up, and it was asking quite a bit of Jones to insert him in the starting position so quickly.
Jones is off to a slow start, but Dick Lebeau doesn’t seem too concerned. As quoted by Alan Robinson of TribLive.com, Lebeau said, “I don't think Jarvis is further ahead or behind where James Harrison was, Jason Worilds was or LaMarr Woodley was. I think Jarvis is going to be fine.”
He may be doing fine according to his defensive coordinator, but the Steelers need more from Jones.
Le’Veon Bell, running back (second round)
Bell missed the first three games of the season thanks to a foot injury, but he’s been the Steelers' best back when healthy. That isn’t saying much at all considering how horrendous Pittsburgh was at running the ball early in the season.
His stats aren’t much to speak of (80 rushes for 282 yards), but there aren’t too many players who could put up good stats with the offensive line the Steelers have.
Bell deserves high marks in my book because he is the best player on the roster at his position. He has done enough to solidify the starting spot for the foreseeable future, giving Pittsburgh some stability in the backfield.
Markus Wheaton, wide receiver (third round)
Wheaton is the first of several Steelers rookies who receive the dreaded incomplete/failing grade.
Drafted out of Oregon State, Wheaton was supposed to be an NFL-ready deep threat for the Steelers. His NFL.com draft profile notes his elite speed and quickness and “ability to test defenses horizontally and vertically.” Steelers veterans have also raved about his skills and approach according to Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
What we’ve seen from Wheaton: three catches for 26 yards.
Wheaton has been hurt with a bum pinky finger the last month, so that certainly hasn’t helped his productivity. But even before that, he was by no means an integral part of Todd Haley’s offense.
Give him some credit, though. Tenth-year veteran Jerricho Cotchery has reportedly taken Wheaton under his wing and made quite the impression.
Cotchery told ESPN’s Brown the following:
He's a complete sponge, man. He's always asking me something. He sits by me in all of the meetings. Every time I come off the field if I'm standing by him he's asking, 'Hey, what were you thinking on this and that.' This is even in practice, so he's taking in everything and you can see the thought process and everything that he does. He knows exactly what he's doing. As a young guy that's pretty good as a receiver. I think he's going to be a really good player.
For now, though, Wheaton hasn’t been able to put any of that knowledge to use.
Shamarko Thomas, safety (third round)
Thomas’ rookie season is basically going according to plan for the Steelers.
Playing behind two veteran (and aging) safeties in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, Thomas has gotten his fair share of playing time.
Dave Bryan of SteelersDepot.com notes that Thomas was on the field for 50 of the 65 defensive plays for the Steelers against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 7. He has even played in the nickel position, which is somewhat of a surprise for a Steelers rookie.
The Steelers defense has been up and down this season, but Thomas is not the problem. He has had some struggles in coverage, but that is to be expected from a first-year safety.
Thomas is right on track to take over in the secondary when called upon.
Landry Jones, quarterback (fourth round)
Jones has been inactive every game and doesn’t appear to be the heir apparent at quarterback to Ben Roethlisberger.
That essentially makes him a wasted pick where the Steelers could have drafted a player at a position of more need.
It’s tough to determine what kind of grade to give Jones at this point, so he joins Wheaton with the incomplete.
Vince Williams, inside linebacker (sixth round)
Williams has gone against the grain in this Steelers draft class and exceeded expectations in his rookie season.
He is tied for fifth on the team with 33 tackles and has filled in admirably since Larry Foote went down in the season opener.
Williams is a bit undersized and may not be the long-term answer in the middle for the Steelers, but he has played well and adjusted quickly to the NFL game.
There aren’t many sixth-round picks that start as rookies, and Williams deserves credit for the job he has done for the Steelers.
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