Steelers' draft class gives plenty of reasons to love it ... or loathe it
The Steelers almost couldn't hide their delight following a draft they believe made them faster — much, much faster — stronger, bigger and more athletic.
They didn't draft out of need — they'd have taken a cornerback and a wide receiver in the first two rounds if they had — but they patiently maneuvered their way through one of the deepest draft classes in decades.
“The way it broke, any player that we took, really, we were happy to get them where we got them,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “We felt fortunate to get them — we weren't going to reach for any position that we didn't feel comfortable with.”
They'll see their nine new draft picks and 10 undrafted free agents in Steelers' gear for the first time next weekend, and all will be part of the three weeks of organized spring practices starting May 27.
But the Steelers won't begin to know for sure what they've got until training camp starts July 25.
Five reasons to like the Steelers' Class of 2014 — and five reasons not to immediately issue an ‘A' grade to one of the most intriguing classes in recent Steelers history:
WHAT'S TO LIKE
Man, are they fast
Ryan Shazier is fast enough to play corner, and Dri Archer might be the fastest Steelers player ever. Warren Sapp won't be calling this group “old, slow.”
“You can't go out and buy speed,” the 5-foot-8 Archer said. “Guys like me, smaller guys, are going to cause a lot of problems in the league.”
They fit the Steelers' blueprint
Shazier and inside linebacker Jordan Zumwalt are aggressive, tough, nasty-at-times players who would have been perfect fits with the Steelers of five years ago.
A special teams upgrade
Archer immediately adds a speed element unseen in the Steelers' kick return game in years. Zumwalt and cornerback Shaquille Richardson also could contribute right away.
Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt likely will be asked to start right away. And wide receiver Martavis Bryant and Richardson could push for immediate playing time.
A big addition to Heinz Field
Casey Hampton was an immovable force in the middle of the defensive line for a decade. Now comes a possibly bigger lineman in 352-pound Daniel McCullers, who calls himself “a run stuffer.”
“He's just gigantic,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “He's hard to move.”
WHAT'S TO WORRY
Will Ben be happy?
Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Todd Haley were all but begging for a taller receiver to add to all the sub-6 footers. Bryant, who is nearly 6-foot-4, does that, but he didn't arrive until the fourth round, and he's very unpolished.
Red flag warnings
Tuitt (double hernia, stress fracture), Archer (ankle), tight end Rob Blanchflower (sports hernia) all missed significant college playing time last season. Shazier has a history of minor injuries. Players can't contribute if they're constantly in the trainer's room.
Oversized and undersized players often are more injury-prone than others. The Steelers drafted not only the biggest player (McCullers) but also one of the smallest (Archer).
Until recently, the Steelers almost never counted on a rookie or rookies to start. Now, it's almost mandatory, leaving little room for error if they're not ready.
The Steelers didn't trade up (to take a player they otherwise wouldn't get) or down (to add extra picks in a deeper-than-deep draft). Sometimes aggressiveness pays off big, such as when they maneuvered to get Troy Polamalu. Being passive sometimes allows others to pass you by.