With the 2014 NFL Draft coming up in a bit, and having finished taking stock of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, it’s now time to look back and see how the team assembled the roster they currently have through the draft.
It would be most simple to set a dividing line at 2007, the year Mike Tomlin took over at head coach, so we will revisit the past seven drafts, encompassing 59 selections, to see how the team treated each position, and look into why that is.
The next position we’ll revisit is safety. When you have an All-Pro in Troy Polamalu locking down the position for over a decade and luck out in free agency with a player like Ryan Clark, who ultimately grows into a Pro Bowler in his own right, you don’t really have to spend much time worrying about drafting safeties for a while.
That is precisely why the Steelers under Tomlin have only drafted two safeties over the past seven drafts. And given the extension for Polamalu, and the signing of free agent Mike Mitchell, safety isn’t particularly an emergency need in this draft either. In fact, with five players already at the position, it would be difficult to find a roster spot right now. Particularly since the fifth safety, Robert Golden, is a crucial special teams contributor.
2008 – Ryan Mundy – 6th round (194)
Now the last player still kicking around the league from the 2008 draft in any meaningful capacity (Dennis Dixon might be floating around on a practice squad somewhere), the Steelers in the end got good mileage out of Ryan Mundy, a late sixth-round pick.
While he missed his rookie season due to injury, he made the roster in 2009 and began a promising career on special teams, while making minor contributions (and mistakes) on defense. In 2010, he filled in for two games at safety with mixed success, but he split time with Cortez Allen as the dime back. He continued that role in 2011, and recorded his first interception.
When Polamalu was out for an extended period in 2012, however, he wasn’t up to the task, and he got benched in favor of Will Allen. As fate would have it, the two reserve safeties found themselves starting for opposing teams in the 2013 opener. Allen is now back with the Steelers, while Mundy, who made nine starts last year, signed a fair contract with the Bears, with a possible shot at starting.
2013 – Shamarko Thomas – 4th round (111)
Shamarko Thomas was certainly brought on board with a fair bit of excitement last season when the Steelers traded away their 2014 third-round pick to draft him early in the fourth round last season. Secondary coach Carnell Lake spoke very glowingly of his abilities, saying that he could have been a first-round pick if not for his lack of height.
As a rookie, he became a key special teams player, excelling at forcing fair catches as a gunner on the punt team. Due to his versatility, he also received a fair bit of playing time early in the season as the nickel or dime corner, later in the season getting a bit of work at the back end at actual safety while Polamalu moved up to linebacker level.
After a mid-season injury, however, Will Allen took his job and held on to it, as, according to Tomlin, Thomas was missing valuable practice time for a rookie and they weren’t comfortable putting him out there without practicing. Allen was also playing well, so there was no sense in shaking that up. He got a lot of playing time for a rookie in this defense, but he figures to have a bigger role this year.