By Michael K. Reynolds
Shocked to see Ryan Shazier taken in the first round? Wondering why the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t take a cornerback or receiver in the second? Foaming at the mouth about their selection of a scatback with their third round pick?
Before becoming completely apoplectic, consider some of the hidden layers of beauty behind these admittedly surprising picks.
These players are not just workout wonders (with both Shazier and Archer offering particularly jaw dropping stopwatch feats). Each of these new Steelers come bearing impressive college tape that reasonably projects they will have success in the big leagues.
But it’s not just what they can provide on an individual basis that is exciting. It’s how their additions could dramatically affect the roster around them that truly captures the imagination.
After two consecutive seasons of 8-8 the Steelers were on the verge of fulfilling Warren Sapp’s prophecy of them being old, slow and boring.
So why not be bold with the 2014 draft? It seems like the dice were rolling in the front office and after a closer look, the gamble might just pay off big time.
Here are the potential holes filled and problems solved by these first three picks:
- Solves the slow inside linebacker liability that has plagued the Steelers since James Farrior began to lose a step.
- Between Shazier and Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers now how the ability to defend against teams with two strong tight ends like the Bengals.
- The linebacker position has always been the “captain” of the defense. Since Farrior retired no one has seemed willing to fill the role. Look for Shazier to grow into this responsibility within a couple of years as he has served as captain of his college team.
- Shazier frees up Timmons to be Timmons.
- Gets Troy Polamalu out of his quasi-linebacker role allowing him to reassert his claim as one of the league’s top safeties.
- Rips a whole lot of plays out of the offensive coordinator’s playbook. Think you create a mismatch by having Shazier stuck covering a running back or wide receiver? Go ahead. With 4.38 speed there won’t be many players running away from him.
Of course, this all becomes null and void if Shazier becomes a bust (or even a disappointment). But this is where GM Kevin Colbert’s track record makes this unlikely. He rarely misses the mark with his first round picks.
- With lighter and faster linebackers behind them, the burden of the big boys up front to “hold up the line” becomes even more significant. Tuitt instantly adds significant strength and athleticism to the front three.
- Having two reliable and healthy defensive ends will truly allow Steve McLendon to be Steve McLendon (as his defensive line coach John Mitchell has asked him to be).
- When coupled with the ascension of Cameron Heyward, the addition of Cam Thomas and with the anticipated improvement of players like Brian Arnfelt and Nick Williams, the Steelers are suddenly younger, faster and more promising at this position than they have been for years.
- Should help reverse the team’s slide in defending against the run.
- With Heyward, could provide the best 1-2 pass rushing push from the end position than the Steelers have had in years.
- Brings back the adrenaline rush in kickoff returns.
- Provides the perfect high speed complement to pounders Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.
- Takes the pressure off of Marcus Wheaton to be “the speed guy” allowing him to be a more complete receiver.
- Who needs Mike Wallace when you have Darrius Heyward-Bey, Wheaton and now Archer to run the fly routes?
- Adds one more factor that makes it difficult for opponents to double-team Antonio Brown.
- Will greatly enhance the overall speed of all Steelers special teams.
What about their “greatest needs”?
Yes…it would have been great for the Steelers to have added one of the top three talents in this year’s draft. But after that ship sailed, it no longer made sense to reach for a mediocre player as those players are already on the existing roster. Both Shazier and Truitt have the ability to make our current corners better with an increased pass rush. Shazier can provide significant help in coverage. It’s not too late for the Steelers to find a developmental project or two in the remaining rounds.
Sure…it would have been dreamy to have acquired Mike Evans. But now with Archer on the team (and with the acquisition of Lance Moore and Heyward-Bey, the Steelers may not feel it necessary to choose from the remaining scraps of this year’s draft. After all, that tall receiver may already be on the team in the likes of Derek Moye, Justin Brown or Heyward-Bey.
So what now?
It’s been the Steelers modus operandi in 2014 to choose the most exciting player available, so why stop now? At this point keep shooting for the moon. There just might be a few more stars left in the drafting sky.