Steelers Not Foregoing Safety In Pre-Draft Analysis

After the Pittsburgh Steelers signed safety Mike Mitchell at the start of the free agent signing period this offseason, the popular belief among the fan base was that the team wouldn’t be addressing the position during the 2014 NFL Draft. However, judging by the players that have already been brought in for pre draft visits, it appears as though the Steelers aren’t opposed to drafting another safety this year.

So far, safeties Calvin Pryor, Deone Bucannon and Brock Vereen have all made visits to Pittsburgh, and according to a Thursday report, North Alabama safety Nick Williams appears to be scheduled for a visit or private workout as well. Being as teams are only allowed to bring in 30 out of area prospects for pre draft visits, this certainly isn’t a smoke screen.

Last year during the draft, the Steelers traded a third-round pick in this year’s draft in order to move up in the fourth-round to select Shamarko Thomas. At that time, it looked like the Syracuse product would be the one to succeed Troy Polamalu when his playing days are finally over, but right now, that doesn’t look as guaranteed as it did nearly a year ago.

While Thomas was able to log nearly 200 snaps worth of playing time in 2013 on defense for the Steelers prior to suffering an ankle injury in Week 10, nearly all of those snaps came with him playing as a slot defender in nickel, dime, or quarters sub packages. In fact, I think he only played three snaps as a true safety last season.

So, do the Steelers only view Thomas as a slot defender moving forward? It’s very possible. After he was drafted, Steelers defensive backs coach CarnellLake talked about his versatility.

“Not only can he play safety, but he can also get up there and play man-to-man on the slot receiver,” Lake said of Thomas last April. “He has played nickel, and he has played corner at times. He is a very versatile defensive back. I think he is not only going to do well for our secondary, but I think he is going to do well for the special teams as well.”

However, when pressed further about what position Thomas best fit was for the Steelers, Lake said he viewed him as a safety.

“I see him playing safety,” said Lake. “The great thing about this young man is if you were in a pinch and you didn’t want to put the nickel package out there, and you wanted him to play man-to-man on the slot, he could do it. He has done it in big games already against some of the receivers that have been drafted in the first two rounds, and he shut them down. That is the kind of safety I like. That is the kind of safety that the Steelers are looking for. Not only will he cover well, but he will hit you and hit you hard.”

The biggest knock on Thomas has been his size, as he measured in at just under 5’9″ prior to being drafted. That size was exploited last season in several games as the young safety allowed 14 catches for 127 yards and a touchdown in the 16 times he was targeted.

The most curious thing about Thomas last year was that he never saw the field on defense after finally returning from his injury as veteran Will Allen took his job and the then-rookie never won it back. He never played another snap on defense after getting injured.

We’ll wait and see how the draft ultimately plays out, but if the Steelers wind up drafting a bigger strong safety type in the first five rounds next month, you really have to wonder if Thomas’ career with the Steelers will be limited to him playing a slot defender role in sub packages along with contributing on special teams.

  • steeltown

    I think about it like this, W.Allen is year to year with our club and Golden appears to be merely a special teams player. Looking beyond this season neither is guaranteed to be in a Steeler uniform, so drafting a Safety is not out of the question.
    I just hope they don’t spend a 1st or a 2nd on the position.

  • mem359

    The team loves to play veterans ahead of rookies, so I don’t think we should read too much into Thomas’ reduced playing time.

    I was thinking about Brian Urlacher, who was technically listed as a safety before being converted to middle linebacker by the Bears. Are there any likely candidates for ILB among the safeties that visited the Steelers?

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Dave, I’m seeing this situation a lot like you. I get that Shamarko was a rookie and that they may want to bring him along slowly but it is very peculiar the WAY they have been using him. Not a traditional SS role at all, in my opinion.

    It’s even more peculiar the way they are looking at the safeties in this year’s draft. I remember last year when everybody (including myself) was looking at safety in round 1 or 2 because it was such a huge need. And you pointed out, “The Steelers are bringing in a number of high ranked running backs. Don’t be surprised if they go RB early.” Then bingo. Bell in round 2.

    I could see a similar scenario with safety. If it was just Bucannon, that’s one thing. Maybe they’re hoping he slips to the 3rd round? But Pryor as well? These are both high ranked safeties. I think Colbert is seriously considering the safety position early in the draft. I don’t think he’s bringing these guys in for kicks and giggles.

  • I could see him in round 5

  • NW86

    Let’s not forget, what do we really know about Mitchell? That he had his first decent season, and first considerable playing time, last year? Everyone is assuming that because a signed a 5yr/$25M deal, he is the team’s starting safety for the next 5 years. He’ll certainly start in 2014, but keep in mind, nothing beyond year 1 was guaranteed. Maybe the Steelers are looking to hedge their bets in case EITHER Shamarko or Mitchell don’t pan out as long-term starters.

  • moderatelysane

    Not surprised. We’re looking for a we early, even though we have a clear number 1 and a high draft pick expected to be a number 2. Let’s start to consider nickelback as a starting position. That means we still need a starter this year or next. It’s clear from the predrafts that they’re considering drafting one high. As I’ve said for a while, I’d love to see Calvin Pryor in the bumble bee uni. I’m glad they still think so enough to bring him out.

  • moderatelysane

    There also has to be an element of bpa. If Pryor or bucchannon are awesome, they’re worth a look. Personally, I think Pryor is awesome. I like him almost as much as Dave likes Benjamin.

  • shawn

    I think we still are short a stud Safety … Thomas might turn into something special, but as of now i see him more of a sub package guy and nothing wrong with that !

  • shawn

    Great point … thanks for the input !

  • shawn

    This does not surprise me one bit … after the Mitchell signing i was one of the few that believed that we still NEEDED and that there was a decent chance of us drafting a Safety high !

    They very well might view Shamarko as a Sub package nickel back/ wild card guy … and nothing wrong with that as it should be viewed as a starter quality position ( no more Willie Gay types … we have been lucky long enough with him)

  • Toddy Bravo

    Shamarko’s value is clearly his versatility. He can potentially save a Safety or CB roster spot by having the ability wear different hats. It most definitely doesn’t surprise me that the Steelers are looking for a more traditional young Safety to groom. I just wasn’t sure if that would be a FS or SS…and most of that uncertainty was due to the fact that I just don’t know if you count Shamarko as a SS, FS or CB.

  • Toddy Bravo

    I think they like Golden more than we think.

  • steeltown

    Don’t get me wrong he’s a demon on special teams, but so was C.Brown

  • Toddy Bravo

    Point well taken, but don’t forget that many starters and quality backup position players start out as ST demons. I take the fact that he’s a good ST player as a purely positive thing.

  • D.j. Hoy

    I mentioned in a separate post that it seems like they are looking for those hybrid type players and one would think that Ryan Shazier would have to top that list. The guy can cover some ground in a hurry and has a great nose for the ball.

    At the same time, that is exactly why Sean Spence was drafted. Unfortunately injuries have derailed him before he got a chance to really play. I am really hoping that he gets his knee to where it needs to be for mini/training camp(s) because that kid is a real player.

  • D.j. Hoy

    I remember when Keisel was purely ST. That is one scary thing running down the field on kick offs.

  • D.j. Hoy

    I always have and always will love the Steelers with all my heart. That being said, it angers me to no end when they let the younger talent sit on the bench

  • shawn

    especially in cases that involve lackluster depth guys like Will Allen at the expense of possible blooming players such as Shamarko !

  • Toddy Bravo

    James Harrison also cut his teeth on ST (after being released several times). A crazed Deebo coming at you with a full head of steam would also be a terrifying sight.

  • Steve

    Troy played a lot of LB/SS last year. Shark will be in that same mold.