Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers used their nine selections to address their remaining needs. The top two selections—Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt—helped upgrade the defensive front seven while their fourth- and fifth-round selections—Martavis Bryant and Shaquille Richardson—took care of their two biggest needs.
When all was said and done, the Steelers added four offensive and five defensive players to their roster. The combination of size and speed will make the 2014 draft class an interesting one to watch as its members compete for jobs in training camp.
A strong showing from this class will help put the Steelers back into contention in the AFC North this fall. But will any of these players start come the season opener?
Here is an initial look at the depth chart for the Steelers now that the draft is over.
Projected Depth Chart: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
The Steelers made no changes to their quarterbacks depth chart this offseason and that should not be much of a surprise. Ben Roethlisberger continues to be a franchise quarterback and looked very comfortable running the offense last season.
Behind Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski did not need to take a snap last season. That may not be the case again this year, so the Steelers are likely to stick with the more experienced option as the primary backup.
Landry Jones appears to be at least a year away from competing for the backup job. He has some potential as a No. 2 but has plenty of room to grow and will need a big training camp and preseason.
Projected Depth Chart: Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer, Alvester Alexander, Miguel Maysonet, Tauren Poole
Pittsburgh's backfield has had a bit of a makeover since 2013. Felix Jones and Jonathan Dwyer have been replaced by the powerful runner LeGarrette Blount and the speedy Dri Archer. These two will form a dynamic pair behind the starting running back Le'Veon Bell.
Bell proved to be capable of carrying the load last year and got better as the season progressed. Not only was he solid at running the football, but he also demonstrated that he was a threat as a receiver out of the backfield. But despite his success, he will not have to do it alone in 2014.
Blount will be the primary backup and should get a bulk of the carries that Jones and Dwyer received last season. He will likely carve out the role as short-yardage and goal-line back as well.
Meanwhile, Archer will provide a change of pace with his speed. He was one of the fastest players in the draft and figures to be used in space to take advantage of his speed. Rather than be a true backup running back, Archer will likely fill a number of roles on the offense and be utilized in special packages designed by Todd Haley.
That leaves the rest of the running backs on the roster competing for a potential fourth spot on the depth chart.
Projected Depth Chart: Will Johnson
When Will Johnson is the only fullback listed on the roster, it is easy to project the depth chart. Do not expect any changes anytime soon.
Projected Depth Chart: Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, David Paulson, Michael Palmer, Rob Blanchflower
The Steelers are set with their top two tight ends.
Heath Miller will be a year removed from his ACL injury and will enter the season at 100 percent. This should reflect in his production where he figures to be Roethlisberger's second or third top target this season.
Behind Miller, Matt Spaeth is easily the second best tight end on the roster. Even though he does not offer much as a receiver, he is a more than competent blocker and allows Miller to go out and catch passes while he stays at home in protection.
David Paulson had the look of another receiving threat at tight end following a strong performance in training camp last year. However, this did not translate into game situations, and he was a disappointment.
He will have to hold off Michael Palmer and rookie Rob Blanchflower.
Blanchflower has the look of a No. 3 tight end early in his career. He is a capable receiver but is much better as a blocker right now. He will compete for a roster spot.
Projected Depth Chart: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye, Martavis Bryant, Justin Brown, Kashif Moore, Jasper Collins, Danny Coale, Lanear Sampson
Roethlisberger will have a new group of receivers to throw to in 2014. Antonio Brown is the only top target coming back after Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery left via free agency.
Brown established himself as a top receiver in the NFL last season and is the clear-cut No. 1 option. The battle for No. 2 will be interesting as Lance Moore is an experience veteran, but he may be a better fit for the slot.
Instead, expect Markus Wheaton to have the early edge on the outside. He has the speed to challenge defenses deep and has a year in Todd Haley's system. An injury held him back during his rookie year.
Darrius Heyward-Bey and Derek Moye will be ahead of Martavis Bryant early based on experience alone. Heyward-Bey has the speed to challenge defenses deep down the field while Moye has the size that many desire in a receiver.
When it comes to Bryant, he has the perfect blend of size and speed. With another year of college experience, he had the chance to be a first-round pick. But that was not the case and he was drafted in the fourth round.
Despite his talent, Mike Tomlin is not going to hand Bryant a job and will make him work for his spot on the team.
Projected Depth Chart
Tackle: Kelvin Beachum (left), Marcus Gilbert (right), Mike Adams, Guy Whimper, Wesley Johnson
Guard: Ramon Foster (left), David DeCastro (right), Nik Embernate, Chris Hubbard, Bryant Browning
Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace, David Snow
Mike Munchak has to be excited with the offensive line that he gets to work with this year.
Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro are former first-round picks while Marcus Gilbert was drafted in the second round. Ramon Foster (undrafted) and Kelvin Beachum (seventh) round out the unit. There is plenty of potential and now this unit just has to realize it.
If healthy, Pouncey has Pro Bowl potential, as does DeCastro, while the rest of the linemen look to provide a steady presence. The depth appears to be pretty set as well.
Mike Adams has been a disappointment so far in his career, but he can be dominant when plowing the way for the ground game. He continues to be a work in progress in pass protection.
Guy Whimper had a surprisingly good season last year and can play both tackle and guard.
Cody Wallace is another standout from last season and re-signed with the Steelers to be the primary backup at center. He can play guard if necessary.
Outside of these eight, the rest of the players will have an uphill battle to make the roster. Nik Embernate was an impressive undrafted rookie until he tore his ACL.
One of the more interesting players this year will be rookie Wesley Johnson. He started 51 games at Vanderbilt at tackle, guard and center. He has an outside chance at developing into a starter but for now could make the roster as a swing lineman.
Projected Depth Chart
Defensive End: Cameron Heyward, Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt, Stephon Tuitt, Nick Williams
Nose Tackle: Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Hebron Fangupo, Daniel McCullers, Al Lapuaho
Defensive end was very thin prior to entering the draft with Cam Heyward as the only player on the roster with experience. He had a slow developmental track to begin his career, but he was one of the defensive stars once he entered the lineup last year.
He will be joined by Cam Thomas at defensive end. Thomas will be a good candidate to hold the other end spot until the Steelers sign another free agent, such as Brett Keisel. If they don't sign anyone, Thomas could start there until rookie Stephon Tuitt is ready.
Tuitt has the ideal build at 6'5" and over 300 pounds to play the five-technique defensive end in Pittsburgh's system. Traditionally defensive ends do not start early in their careers, but with the lack of depth, the Steelers may be forced to start him.
As good as Tuitt can be, he must pass up Brian Arnfelt, who happened to have a very good preseason last year. Nick Williams also flashed some potential before being placed on the injured reserve.
At nose tackle, Steve McLendon will be the starter and should have no problem holding off his competition. Thomas was brought in to back him up, and Daniel McCullers is a massive rookie who could eventually earn a starting job in a year or two.
Even though both rookies have starting potential at some point, Tomlin will start both low on the depth chart to make sure that they are capable of working hard to earn their spot on the roster. Nothing will be handed to them.
Projected Depth Chart
Inside Linebacker: Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Ryan Shazier, Terence Garvin, Sean Spence, Jordan Zumwalt, Kion Wilson, Daniel Molls
Outside Linebacker: Jason Worilds, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Chris Carter, Vic So'oto
In an effort to upgrade their front seven, the Steelers made some significant changes to their linebacking corps this offseason. That included the release of LaMarr Woodley, signing of Arthur Moats and drafting of two linebackers.
On the inside, Vince Williams will enter training camp as the starter alongside Lawrence Timmons. He had a solid rookie season considering he was a sixth-round selection. But as a two-down linebacker who struggled some in stopping the run, first-round draft pick Ryan Shazier shouldn't be out of the starting lineup for long.
Shazier has incredible speed for a linebacker, and this will aid him when going sideline-to-sideline as well as a dropping into coverage. His instincts and high football IQ will help him learn the defense relatively quickly, which means he will be in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
Expect another rookie to join him on the roster as Jordan Zumwalt is a talented linebacker prospect who will contribute on special teams. He will find himself low on the depth chart and will have to surpass several players to earn a roster spot.
In addition to playing special teams, Zumwalt does have the ability to play outside linebacker, though he will focus on the inside to start his career.
One of these is Sean Spence. He was recently cleared to return and will join the competition for a spot on the depth chart.
Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones are virtual locks to start on the outside while Arthur Moats will be the primary backup. Chris Carter and Vic So'oto are not particularly impressive backups, meaning that an undrafted free agent may have an opportunity to secure a spot on the final roster.
Projected Depth Chart: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Antwon Blake, Brian McCain, Isaiah Green, Shaquille Richardson, Devin Smith
Cornerback was arguably the Steelers' top need entering the 2014 draft, and they did little to change as they only spent a fifth-round selection on a corner. That means more of the same in the defensive backfield this season.
By passing on Darqueze Dennard in the first as well as other cornerbacks between the second and fourth rounds, the Steelers sent a statement that they do not believe that cornerback is as weak as it has been perceived.
That means that Ike Taylor will be the starter for one more season along with Cortez Allen.
Taylor is clearly on the downside of his career but is by no means washed-up. With extra help from the safeties and an improved pass rush, he will have at least one more productive season.
Allen is an up-and-comer that needs to take that next step and prove that he can be a No. 1 this season. He will be ahead of William Gay on the depth chart but could slide down if he isn't consistent.
Antwon Blake and Brian McCain were both brought in as free agents and will provide experienced depth. That will make it difficult for rookie Shaquille Richardson to make the team.
Richardson has all of the raw tools to succeed in the NFL but has plenty of room to develop. With his size and speed, Carnell Lake will at least have a good skill set to work with as he tries to develop a late-round pick into a starter.
Projected Depth Chart: Troy Polamalu (strong), Mike Mitchell (free), Will Allen, Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden, Jordan Dangerfield
For the first time in nearly a decade Troy Polamalu will not have Ryan Clark with him in Pittsburgh's defensive backfield. He was replaced by free-agent signing Mike Mitchell.
Mitchell had a breakout season with the Carolina Panthers last season and will help the Steelers upgrade their speed in the secondary. This will aid him in deep coverage and help prevent big plays.
Behind the starters, Will Allen will be the top backup based on his experience. He may not be the most talented or athletic safety on the roster, but he can get the job done. He is very steady and knows the defense well.
Shamarko Thomas is one of the best athletes the Steelers have on their roster, but he has plenty of room to develop. He will be used as a role player on passing downs where he can play near the line of scrimmage as a safety or line up as a cornerback in the slot. He can also play in deep coverage.
Robert Golden has a chance to make the roster as a backup safety and quality special teams player.
Projected Depth Chart
Kicker: Shaun Suisham
Punter: Adam Podlesh, Brad Wing
Long Snapper: Greg Warren, Bryce Davis
Punt Returner: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer
Kick Returner: Markus Wheaton, Dri Archer
The Steelers are set at kicker with Shaun Suisham. He has developed into a consistent option, and the Steelers will only add another leg to share kicks during training camp and nothing more.
The same cannot be said about punter, where there will be a competition between Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing.
Wing is a solid young prospect, but Podlesh is an experience veteran who can place the ball inside of the 20-yard line. Based on his experience, Podlesh has the early edge.
Greg Warren should easily lock down the long snapper job that he has had for so long. Until he starts getting noticed for poor snaps, it is his job to lose.
There will be a ton of names involved when it comes to the return game, but as of now there are only a few to consider.
Antonio Brown can be an electric punt returner, but with the lack of experience at receiver, the Steelers may want to take him off of this duty. That leaves Markus Wheaton as a top contender as well as rookie Dri Archer.
Archer will have to prove that he can field and return punts at the pro level. That will be a challenge for him, but the same cannot be said for returning kicks.
Wheaton will get a crack at the job, but Archer was a terrific kick returner in college, and his speed would be a huge asset when returning kicks to help out with starting field position. He has the potential to be one of the most exciting return men in the league.