5 Bold Predictions for Pittsburgh Steelers' 2014 NFL Draft Class
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ recent draft classes have been nothing short of surprising when pressed into duty.
Sometimes it will be a good surprise like Mike Wallace emerging as a premier deep threat in his rookie season. Other times it will be a bad surprise like Limas Sweed dropping passes on his way to the unemployment line.
Whatever the case, you can rest assured that players from this year’s rookie class will be on each end of the spectrum. Of course, none may do so as notably as Wallace or Sweed, but there will be surprises nonetheless.
Some men will emerge as 16-game starters, while others will see limited snaps. One player in particular could be up for Pro Bowl honors. Read on to find out which incoming rookie fits these descriptions.
Dri Archer Will Garner Serious Pro Bowl Consideration
Now, it’s obvious that Dri Archer won’t be afforded the touches to earn Pro Bowl honors at either the running back or wide receiver positions. After all, a number of proven commodities are currently slotted above him at both positions.
There is, however, one aspect of Archer’s game that can get him noticed as soon as his NFL career kicks off. As a matter of fact, it’s just that: returning kickoffs.
He was electric as a returner in 2012, taking three of his 16 returns the distance. Unfortunately for Kent State, he hardly got the chance for an encore.
Archer had just two opportunities to return a kick in 2013 and still managed a score. ESPN.com’s Scott Brown recently shared an anecdote from Kent State coach Paul Haynes about how his peer, Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey, immediately regretted kicking to Archer:
"Dri went down his sideline and [Carey] said he was going so fast and he was just thinking, ‘We are so stupid for kicking to this guy,'" Haynes said. "They were the only team that kicked deep to us. Everybody else pooched."
If Archer gets the chance, he should have some NFL coaches regretting kicking off to him as well.
Martavis Bryant Won't See Much Playing Time
It’s hard not to get excited about Martavis Bryant’s potential. The 6’4”, 211-pounder has 4.42 speed, per NFL.com, and could supply a dimension to this offense not seen since Plaxico Burress.
That being said, it would be foolish to expect that kind of impact from Bryant in Year 1. For one, he would have to make quite an impression to usurp the men in front of him.
Antonio Brown is firmly entrenched as the top option, and Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore are slotted to replace the departed Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, respectively. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey has similar measurables and an experience edge on Bryant.
Coupled with that, the Steelers haven’t traditionally asked much of their rookie receivers. None of Burress, Brown, Hines Ward, Lynn Swann or John Stallworth managed even 300 receiving yards in their rookie years.
Last, and most importantly, aspects of Bryant’s game need work. These include inconsistent hands, route running and learning the ins and outs of an offense.
It would likely benefit both the Steelers and Bryant if the physically gifted wideout redshirts in 2014.
Jordan Zumwalt Will Emerge as a Fan Favorite
If it hasn’t happened already, it won’t be long before Steelers fans become enamored with UCLA’s Jordan Zumwalt. The fans often latch onto a late-round or undrafted player (see: Isaac Redman, Baron Batch, Nik Embernate) for characteristics outside of measurables, and Zumwalt may best fit the bill in this rookie class.
He plays with a toughness and tenacity that can’t be coached. He made his fair share of highlight-reel hits during his time as a Bruin, and they often helped fire up his teammates and the fans.
Zumwalt isn’t likely to see many defensive snaps in his rookie season, but he should be on the kickoff team. The first time he lays a wallop on an unsuspecting returner, fans won’t be able to help jumping out of their seats and cheering on the blue-collar player.
All Nine Players Drafted Will Make the Opening Day Roster
It’s not often that each member of a team’s draft class will make it into the final 53. In fact, there isn’t an instance of the Steelers doing so in recent memory.
Occasionally, a team will stash a rookie or two on its practice squad for seasoning, but that may result in another team luring them away. This year, the Steelers won’t take that risk.
Obviously guys like Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Archer and Bryant should be safe through their rookie contracts. But how do the rest of the Day 3 prospects make it through?
There’s cornerback Shaquille Richardson, who joins a depth chart that isn’t exactly overflowing with talent. With Ike Taylor’s career winding down, the team will want to see just what it has in Richardson.
Offensive lineman Wesley Johnson boasts versatility and durability, two traits that should endear him to a coaching staff that is used to seeing big men succumb to injury.
Zumwalt may never emerge as a starter but projects as an immediate contributor on special teams. Nose tackle Daniel McCullers is a mountain of a man who would be enticing to many teams if stashed on the practice squad.
Last is tight end Rob Blanchflower, whose chances of making the roster are the most uncertain. That being said, the Steelers kept four tight ends on the roster a season ago, and both Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth have dealt with injuries recently.
Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt Will Be Opening Day Starters
It’s not often that one, let alone two, rookies emerge as opening day starters in a Dick LeBeau defense. But then, it’s not often that a LeBeau defense has experienced so much turnover so quickly.
In the past few offseasons, the team has bid farewell to Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, James Harrison, James Farrior, Larry Foote, LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Clark. The core of what was once an elite defense has crumbled, and fresh legs must be incorporated to stem the bleeding.
That’s where Pittsburgh’s first two draft picks come in.
Shazier doesn’t have to get over the hurdle of a Farrior or Foote, just sixth-round sophomore Vince Williams. Shazier’s elite athleticism should see him conquer that challenge quickly.
Tuitt enters a position in a similar situation. Gone are Keisel and former first-round pick Ziggy Hood, so all that stands in his path is free-agent signee Cam Thomas. Thomas underachieved for four seasons in San Diego and lacks experience as a 5-technique, which means his hold on a starting job should be tenuous at best.
Even LeBeau acknowledged, in an interview with TribLive’s Alan Robinson, that this year’s draft class could buck the trend of rookies waiting and learning.
“Sometimes in the past, we've been in a position where our draft picks don't necessarily have to play for a year or so,” LeBeau said. “This is definitely not the case in this situation. Our depth is a challenge.”
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