Rarely do the Steelers look for significant contributions from their rookie class, but that is not the case this year. By the time the season starts, there should be at least one in the starting lineup. Another two or three will play a significant number of snaps.
First-round choice Ryan Shazier was inserted into the starting lineup, and he has not looked back. He has done everything that you would expect from the No. 15 selection and looks to be the “real deal,” according to Mike Prisuta of Steelers.com.
Shazier’s presence will add a great deal of speed to Pittsburgh’s front seven. The hope is that he can use this speed to help create the splash plays that have been missing in recent years.
Second- and third-round selections Stephon Tuitt and Dri Archer may not start, but both have the opportunity to become significant role players this year.
Tuitt has a much better understanding of the defense, but he told reporters that there is plenty of room to grow, via Teresa Varley of Steelers.com:
“I have learned the playbook a lot better. I am a lot more comfortable with it,” Tuitt said. “I understand the defense a lot more. I am still learning the defense, but understand it more. The most important thing is learning to play alongside your teammates and that chemistry.”
The Steelers will eventually need Tuitt to add a physical presence to their defensive front to help control the line of scrimmage and generate pressure on the quarterback. However, he does not need to start immediately and will sit behind Cam Thomas until he is ready.
While Tuitt was drafted to add size and power, Archer was brought in for his speed and ability as a playmaker.
Archer will handle the kick-returning duties and will be a situational player on offense. He can line up at running back and receiver, which means that defenses will have something extra to prepare for. It will be up to Todd Haley to put him in the best situation possible to get into open space where he can use his speed to generate big plays.
The rest of the rookie class does not carry as much pressure.
Martavis Bryant is one of the most physically gifted wide receivers on the team, but he will likely find himself near the bottom of the depth chart for the duration of the season. Rather than force him into the lineup, expect to see him in special packages that will take advantage of his height and speed.
The rest of the draft class, which consists of Shaquille Richardson, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Zumwalt, Daniel McCullers and Rob Blanchflower, will all compete for a spot on the roster.
Richardson, Zumwalt and McCullers all have a strong chance to make the team due to the lack of depth at cornerback, outside linebacker and nose tackle, respectively. With adequate veteran experience on the offensive line and at tight end, Johnson and Blanchflower will have to have a strong camp.
Though the entire draft class will need time to develop, this appears to be a strong group of rookies—on paper—in terms of building depth and upgrading the Steelers' overall talent level.