The lockout is over and the Pittsburgh Steelers wasted no time getting to work, agreeing to terms with 15 undrafted rookie free agents between Monday and Tuesday.
According to the Steelers the following players have agreed to terms with the team:
Vaughn Charlton, TE/HB (Temple)
John Clay, HB (Wisconsin)
Terrence McCrae, WR (Ohio)
Armand Robinson, WR (Miami University)
Adam Mims, WR (Furman)
Weslye Saunders, TE (South Carolina)
Colin Miller, C (Central Michigan)
Trevis Turner, OT (Abilene Christian)
Brent Greenwood, S (Iowa)
Niles Brinkley, CB (Wisconsin)
Eric Clanton, OLB (Citadel)
Mario Harvey, MLB (Marshall)
Miguel Chavis, DE (Clemson)
Anthony Gray, DT (Southern Miss)
Eric Greenwood, WR (Idaho)
Many of these players have been brought in for camp depth but there are a few names that stand out.
Weslye Saunders, Mario Harvey, Anthony Gray and John Clay are all players who could stick with the team into the regular season.
Saunders has the highest pedigree of any player signed by the Steelers but had his stock drop significantly after being suspended for his senior season due to an issue stemming from accepting improper benefits from agents.
After having foot surgery in April, he will also have to prove that he is fully recovered.
If Saunders can get back to the level he played in college the Steelers could finally have a legitimate receiving threat to go in their two tight end set.
Granted it will take time for Saunders to develop, he comes into the NFL as a prospect who was rated as the top tight end prospect in the nation by NFLDraftSCout.com last August.
At 6’5” Saunders is a huge target and if he is at his playing weight of 272 pounds he has the bulk to be a good stay-at-home blocker as well.
He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.96 seconds but his speed should be much better as he gets back into game shape.
Saunders has demonstrated the ability to find holes in the defense but can also make catches over the middle in traffic. He uses his arms to go out and get the and runs with power after the catch, forcing defenders to go low to make the stop.
He is clearly the class of the undrafted free agents and has the outside chance of earning the backup job to Heath Miller.
Behind Saunders, Mario Harvey is an undersized linebacker who should be a fine special teams player and potentially valuable backup one day.
He is only 5’11” but does weigh over 250 pounds. Harvey also ran a very impressive 4.46-40.
After earning a starting job as a freshman, Harvey compiled 420 career tackles, 36.5 for a loss, as well as 21 sacks.
Quite simply Harvey is a tackling machine who is an excellent special teams player as well.
When examining game highlights, Harvey will be limited as he can struggle to get off blocks, particularly evident when playing against Ohio State.
Last season Pittsburgh saw Stevenson Sylvester make an impact during the preseason at inside linebacker and he became one of the team's best special teams players. Harvey has a chance to have a similar type of impact.
Depending on the status of Keyaron Fox and Larry Foote, Harvey does have a chance at making the Steelers on his special teams prowess and could eventually develop into a fine backup and even an adequate starter.
Every year fans latch on to a free agent running back that shines in training camp. A couple of years ago it was Isaac Redman and this year that guy could very well be John Clay.
Clay is a big running back at nearly 6’1” and 230 pounds who ran for 3,413 yards while at Wisconsin with an impressive 5.4 yards per carry average.
He will compete with Jonathan Dwyer and Baron Batch for one of the final running back roster spots.
Clay lacks outside speed meaning he will be your “between-the-tackles” runner. As with all rookie backs, he will have to prove his worth as a blocker and could open some eyes with his short yardage ability.
Going against Clay is that the Steelers have a solid power back with Isaac Redman and another big option with Dwyer.
However, his previous production cannot be ignored though, Clay will have a true opportunity to make the roster if he proves to be a versatile enough option.
As with running backs, fans hope every year that a nose tackle will stand out as an eventual replacement, or at least backup, to Casey Hampton. It is for good reason.
Nose tackle is the oldest position on the Steelers roster and Anthony Gray has an opportunity to give the Steelers a good developmental prospect who could eventually replace Chris Hoke as the Steelers’ backup.
Gray is only 5’11” but is a massive 330 pounds, basically a shorter version of a prototypical nose tackle.
The short stature provides the very strong Gray with excellent leverage and his aggressive style of play has shown in his production as he had a career-high 44 tackles last season, including two sacks.
Gray is a solid run stuffer but has a lot to learn to fit the Steelers defense.
At the very least he could be a nice developmental player to keep on the practice squad.
Even with a deep and talented roster, Pittsburgh has not been shy in giving undrafted players a chance to prove themselves.
James Harrison, Ryan Clark, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster were all undrafted free agents who were starters in the Super Bowl.
As with any undrafted free agent, you cannot get your hopes up too high. There is a reason they went undrafted and most will be looking for work in a couple of weeks.
However, there are a special few who can come into camp, impress the coaches and develop into quality backups, starters or even All-Pros.
Cautious optimism is acceptable when watching free agents, you never know when the Steelers will find their next diamond in the rough.
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