5 Undrafted Steelers Players Who Could Prove to Be Gems
Let’s talk about rookies. Not just any rookies, but the rookies of the undrafted variety. The role of the undrafted rookie in the NFL simply cannot be understated. According to Mike Florio at ProFootballTalk in 2012, undrafted rookies had a significant impact on the league.
Last year, 37 percent of the 622 undrafted rookies signed by the 32 franchises won Week 1 jobs, either on the practice squad (131) or the 53-man roster (98).
Additionally, 17.3 percent of the entire league’s game-day rosters were composed of players who were not selected in any draft. This illustrates not only the value of these players, but also the imperfect science that is the NFL draft.
All this information gives hope that the Pittsburgh Steelers can pull a gem or two from this current crop of undrafted players. Let’s take a closer look at five.
Howard Jones, Linebacker
Shepherd linebacker/defensive end Howard Jones is a prime example of how the NFL Scouting Combine can help a player. Jones showed up in Indianapolis as a relative unknown and blew people away.
Jones had top marks in four events (40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill), and he forced teams to go back and review film of this dynamic pass-rusher.
Coming to the Steelers was really an ideal scenario for Jones. His skill set matches what the Steelers like to do with their outside linebackers almost to a tee. Granted, Jones is undersized at 235 pounds, but he is a prime candidate to play special teams his rookie year while he beefs up and hones his game.
Here is a great quote Jones gave Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writer Alan Robinson about his fit with the team:
I know they pass rush tough here. They love pass rushing, so I definitely had to choose the Steelers. They've always had pass-rushing linebackers, quick linebackers, and I definitely feel I can fit in the role
There is a great deal of hope for Jones. Especially if you compare him to another undrafted pass-rushing hybrid the Steelers groomed into a star named James Harrison.
Josh Mauro, Defensive End
There is no downside to having lots of options at defensive line. Pittsburgh has put together a real mixed lot of players who can play on the defensive front this offseason. But to what end?
This group is starting to feel more like a 4-3 front with the types of players it's brought in. However, there are others who fit that traditional 3-4 mold in the truest sense.
One of those players is Stanford’s Josh Mauro. In college, Mauro was considered one of the most underrated defensive linemen in the country. His level of energy and power was evident on film. It is hard as a Steelers fan not to see more than a little resemblance to former Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith.
After weighing in at 271 pounds at the combine, I wondered what his role would be on this defense. However, Josh’s dad was quick to let me know that Josh was up over 280 pounds by the first rookie camp. His game is custom-made for the 3-4 and has a fantastic shot at a long, productive career.
Will Simmons, Offensive Line
If there is anything we’ve come to understand it is there are just not enough good offensive linemen in the league. And there are certainly never enough in Pittsburgh. So, it came as no surprise that post-draft, the Steelers pulled in several offensive linemen to try to find a star.
If there was a star to be found among them, it could be East Carolina guard Will Simmons. Simmons is massive at 6’5” and 342 pounds. Simmons has been one of the top offensive linemen in Conference USA for the past two seasons and hopes that will carry over to the NFL. Simmons projects to guard, but he has the frame to play right tackle as well.
Simmons is strong as a pass-protector, and that could be what helps him stick around. If Simmons can prove he is versatile enough to play guard or tackle, he’s got a chance to stick around. And if he can stick around and learn from offensive line coach Mike Munchak, he’s got a shot to be great.
Eric Waters, Tight End
Athletic and tight end are not two terms you hear together often when it comes to Steelers’ tight ends. No, the Pittsburgh way is to have big, powerful tight ends who are serviceable in the passing game and strong blockers.
Missouri tight end Eric Waters is a streamlined and athletic player who is almost more of a big wide receiver than a pure tight end. Heck, there were wide receivers in the 2014 NFL draft who were bigger than Waters at 6’5” and 245 pounds.
The rub with Waters has been for all his dazzling athletic ability, very little has ever been translated to the field. There’s no doubt he offers the possibility of growing into a star. Nevertheless, he is very much a work-in-progress at this point.
Brendon Kay, Quarterback
I have to admit, quarterback Brendon Kay is starting to grow on me. When the Steelers signed him initially, you had to assume he was simply a camp arm, and nothing more.
However, at this point, with Landry Jones and Bruce Gradkowski as his prime competition for a roster spot, his arm and athleticism have to at least give him a fighter’s chance.
You go back and review some of that Cincinnati film from 2013 and you see a kid with a lively arm and the ability to extend the play with his feet. It’s pretty clear that the physical tools are there.
The other thing that helps Kay from a Steelers point of view is that Jones isn’t very good. He wasn’t last year at least. If Jones struggles again this preseason, Kay could sneak into that No. 3 role. Kay has a sneaky package of skills that could land him a backup and eventually starting spot in the league.