Breaking Down the Steelers Roster After the 2014 NFL Draft
Now that the 2014 NFL draft is in the books, it is time to take a close look at the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. The draft went a long way toward replacing the missing pieces and creating a faster, more athletic roster.
However, is it enough? There are still some units on this roster where starters are not secure, and could be targeted in the late free-agent season.
On the following slides we will take a closer look at each of the Steelers’ positional units and give something of a state of the franchise for each; who Pittsburgh has, who they have lost and what to expect going forward.
The steelers.com page as well as the ourlads.com Steelers’ depth chart provide the roster and depth chart information used here. This also includes all rookies drafted as well as undrafted free agents.
No real changes here from last season. The incumbent starter remains Ben Roethlisberger, and we are all better for it. Big Ben is one of the most talented and underrated quarterbacks in the league.
This offense revolves about Roethlisberger and his ability to make plays. There is no reason to believe that is going to change. Beyond Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh has Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones in reserve. Cross your fingers that neither are needed any time soon.
Interestingly, the Steelers did sign undrafted free-agent quarterback Brendon Kay from Cincinnati. Kay is an incredibly gifted athlete with some upside in terms of quarterback skills. His best shot is that Jones comes along enough that Gradkowski is expendable, and he could slide into that third quarterback spot.
This rushing game belongs to Le’Veon Bell. Bell is a powerful runner with surprising speed and agility. He really came on strong toward the end of last season, and proved he could be effective not only as a rusher, but in the passing game as well.
If Bell’s power wasn’t enough, behind him is LeGarrette Blount. Blount is a battering back at 241 pounds, and will be a great finisher on this offense. Nevertheless, all that thunder needs some lightning. The Steelers got that lightning in the third round with Kent State running back Dri Archer.
Archer is as explosive and dynamic a running back as there is in the draft. He is also a more-than-competent wide receiver out of the backfield, and an electrifying kick returner. Pittsburgh will need to bring him along slowly, but look for plenty of highlight reel-type of plays out of the gate.
Here is how the rest of the running backs break down. There’s a possibility that one of these backs will make the final roster.
Right now, the Steelers have an embarrassment of riches at wide receiver. Here’s how the roster breaks down right now.
If we assume that the Steelers are going to keep five wide receivers on the active roster, there are going to be some decisions to be made. Martavis Bryant is this year’s draft pick, and comes in with great fanfare. Short of a total meltdown, Bryant’s combination of speed and size almost assure him of a roster spot.
That leaves seven players vying for one, maybe two spots. Heyward-Bey is the veteran of this group, but his ability is questionable. It might be best to look to Brown and Moye, who are both exciting young players who know the system.
Pittsburgh’s starting tight end for 2014 will once again be Heath Miller. Miller is one of the most consistent players on the team and in the league. What he lacks in flashy athleticism he more than makes up for in effort and veteran savvy.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, after Miller, things really start to fall off. Here’s the rest of the tight ends on the roster.
Not exactly a crop to get excited about. I honestly thought the Steelers would have made a more aggressive effort to bring in Miller’s eventual replacement. Instead, we must count on what we have, and understand that when there are multiple tight ends on the field, Pittsburgh is going to be running the ball.
Pittsburgh was forced to shuffle players in and out of their lineup multiple times in 2013. Injuries and poor play decimated this group. However, in spite of all that, the second half of the season, this starting group played remarkably well.
Here’s what the starting lineup would most likely look like if the season started today:
Left Tackle: Kelvin Beachum
Left Guard: Ramon Foster
Center: Cody Wallace
Right Guard: David DeCastro
Right Tackle: Marcus Gilbert
Guy Whimper, OT
David Snow, G
Maurkice Pouncey, C
Wesley Johnson, OT
Nik Embemate, G
Mike Adams, OT
Bryant Browning, G
Chris Hubbard, G
Chris Elkins, G
Kaycee Ike, OT
Will Simmons, G
Pittsburgh has some nice options for depth among this group. Assuming Pouncey gets back to full health, he’ll move to starting center, and Wallace will be a top reserve for guard and center.
Pittsburgh has two fascinating rookies. Simmons and Johnson both have the power and demeanor to start in the league. If the Steelers keep 8 linemen, I’d be inclined to lean toward Wallace, Johnson and Simmons as the primary reserves.
There has been significant turnover along the Steelers defensive line. Al Woods, Ziggy Hood and Brett Keisel are all gone. The role of defensive tackle Steve McLendon is still up in the air.
One thing we can say with certainty is that Cameron Heyward will be holding down one of the defensive end spots. But what about the rest?
Here’s the rest of the roster looks like:
Steve McLendon, DT
Cam Thomas, DE/DT
Josh Mauro, DE
Roy Philon, DE
Ethan Hemer, DE
Stephon Tuitt, DE
Nicholas Williams, DE
Brian Arnfelt, DE
Daniel McCullers, DT
Loni Fangupo, DT
Al Lapuaho, DT
This list provides a multitude of options for the starting defensive end spot opposite of Heyward. Thomas and McLendon both have starting experience there, and Tuitt was taken as a high draft pick to play the position.
The question becomes “Who plays nose tackle”? McLendon struggled as a starter last year. Thomas has some experience there and could push McLendon to the outside. A sleeper choice is Fangupo. He is up over 330 pounds, and at 6’1”, plays with nice leverage.
Over the course of training camp, Pittsburgh will have no shortage of defensive ends to pick from. Two very interesting prospects are Mauro and Hemer. Both undrafted, but highly productive in power conferences. They could each supplant the youngsters from last year.
Sorting out the nose tackle situation is much more important. Pittsburgh did spend a sixth-round pick on McCullers, who is massive at 352 pounds. However, it is hard to say if he can even play the zero-technique in a 3-4.
Now that the draft is done, the Steelers have a surplus of linebackers. Sorting out who fits where, and who has to go is the task going forward. If the Season started today, here’s what the Starting lineup could look like:
Left Outside Linebacker: Jarvis Jones
Left Inside Linebacker: Ryan Shazier
Right Inside Linebacker: Lawrence Timmons
Right Outside Linebacker: Jason Worilds
Chris Carter, OLB
Arthur Moats, ILB/OLB
Vince Williams, ILB
Terence Garvin, ILB
Jordan Zumwalt, ILB
Sean Spence, ILB
Daniel Molls, ILB
Vic So’oto, OLB
Kion Wilson, ILB
Howard Jones, OLB
That’s a lot of linebackers. In particular, that’s a lot of insider linebackers. Sorting out which four of this group of 10 make the team is going to be a trick. Carter and Moats are pretty much locks. Carter has solid experience in this system, and Moats has been able to start at inside and outside linebacker in the league.
Ideally, Spence is finally ready to roll and can be the playmaker on the inside as advertised coming out of college. Zumwalt is interesting because he has some nice physical tools, but he’s very similar to Williams, who has a year of experience in the system.
The most interesting player among the reserves is Jones. The undrafted rookie out of Shepherd University was one of the most dynamic and athletic outside linebackers in the country. His measurables are outstanding, and he is a prime candidate for the practice squad.
Going into the offseason the cornerback position was a top priority for the Steelers, and as of today, it still is. You can tell the Steelers are really banking on the defensive front to be improved enough that it will cover any deficiencies with the cornerbacks. Here’s the current group, with projected starters first:
With probably two players among the reserves making the final roster, it could come down to which players make the best impact on special teams. That would probably include Richardson, with his speed and length. The other choice would most likely be between Ventrone and Blake, as they are both veterans of the system.
This is the one unit where Pittsburgh should seriously consider picking up a late salary cap casualty. There will be some solid veterans who hit the open market after June 1, and it would behoove the Steelers to consider one if they are serious about competing this year.
The safety position is in good shape for 2014. The Steelers chose not to address it in the draft, choosing instead to add talent via free agency. At this point, very little will or should change between now and training camp. Here’s how the safety position shakes out as of today.
Strong Safety: Troy Polamalu
Free Safety: Mike Mitchell
It is impossible to say how much longer Polamalu is going to play, but with what we saw of Thomas in 2013, things appear to be in good hands once he is done. As far as depth goes, Allen was solid in a reserve role last year and Golden is an emerging talent.
One of the best players on the entire team in 2013 was kicker Shaun Suisham. Other than one meltdown against the Oakland Raiders, Suisham was perfect. This season he will be once again asked to provide this team with scoring when the offense fails.
The punting situation is another story. As of now Pittsburgh has two punters on the roster. First is Adam Wing, who showed a huge leg in college but has never punted in the NFL. Behind door number two is Adam Podlesh. For all the struggles the Steelers had with their punting last year, Podlesh comes in having had a worse year than any of them. Not exactly comforting, I know.
There is much better news about the return game. This team is built for speed, and so there are plenty of potential kick returners on the roster.
The most exciting is one of the new guys. Kent State running back Dri Archer was an explosive kick returner in college, and returning kickoffs could be how he initially carves out his niche with the Steelers. Last season kickoff duties got handed around, and no one ever really made their mark.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown handed all the punt returns in 2013. This year, with Brown emerging as one of the truly elite wide receivers in the league, they might want to pull this chore from him and allow him to focus on being a wide receiver.
This is where second-year receiver Markus Wheaton comes in. Wheaton was never able to find a spot his rookie season in any facet of the game. Perhaps this year, all that speed could be put to better use by allowing him to return punts.