Steelers draft Syracuse safety Thomas, Oklahoma QB Jones
The Steelers dealt with the inevitable realities of an aging roster during the final day of the NFL Draft on Saturday.
In an effort to continue a youth movement that began two years ago, the Steelers traded away their third-round pick in 2014 to Miami (through Cleveland) for an additional fourth-round selection. The move gave them the 111th and 115th overall draft picks.
The Steelers quickly snatched Syracuse defensive back Shamarko Thomas off the draft board with the 14th pick in the fourth round. Then, with the stock of highly touted quarterback prospects spiraling downward, former Heisman Trophy candidate Landry Jones of Oklahoma was sitting there for the taking at No. 115.
In a span of 20 minutes, the Steelers discovered a potential successor to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a hard-hitting, versatile safety to possibly replace future Hall of Fame strong safety Troy Polamalu or free safety Ryan Clark — both in their early 30s.
The Steelers used their fifth-round selection to take Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who recorded six career interceptions. Hawthorne strengthens the competition at cornerback opposite veteran Ike Taylor.
In the sixth round, general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin had two selections. They decided on one of Jones' primary targets at Oklahoma, former Penn State wide receiver Justin Brown, and used a compensatory pick to take Florida State linebacker Vince Williams.
The Steelers used the 223rd overall pick for Nick Williams, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound defensive lineman from Samford.
“We think the process worked well for us,” Colbert said. “We never felt we reached for anybody.”
In taking Jones, the Steelers ended any speculation that veteran Charlie Batch will return for a 16th NFL season. The Steelers signed free-agent quarterbacks Bruce Gradkowski and John Parker Wilson earlier this year.
“When we came into the offseason, we wanted to get younger at (quarterback),” Colbert said. “We are comfortable with the four guys we have right now.”
Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner said the Steelers didn't necessarily draft Jones as Roethlisberger's eventual successor. But it was difficult to ignore his upside. Jones took a lot of snaps at Oklahoma in starting 50 of 52 games after supplanting Heisman winner Sam Bradford.
“I am going to go in there and compete as hard as I can and try to win a job,” Jones said. “At the end of the day, this is going to be a great opportunity for me whether I play quick or whether I have to sit a couple years.”
Fichtner sees Jones as the perfect fit for an offense orchestrated by coordinator Todd Haley.
Tomlin said during an ESPN interview that Thomas and first-round pick linebacker Jarvis Jones can create the game-changing plays that the defense rarely delivered last season.
“They are the kind of guys who are capable of helping us in that effort,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, these guys have shown the ability to create big plays and turnovers for their teams.”
Secondary coach Carnell Lake was forced to manipulate his secondary because of nagging injuries to Polamalu and Clark. He is convinced the Steelers unearthed first-round talent in the hard-hitting Thomas.
“I think if he had two more inches he would have been in the first round,” Lake said. “He has the size. He has the speed. He has the strength.”
Thomas is versatile, too. He will get a shot at corner and play special teams, but Lake and Tomlin envision him at safety.
“I will play anywhere they want me,” Thomas said. “I just want to be on the field.”
“He plays the game in the manner in which we appreciate,” Tomlin said. “Besides Troy and Ryan, we had quality play from the likes of Will Allen and Ryan Mundy.”
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