Steelers 2014 Rookie Watch 1.0

By Michael K. Reynolds

Is the preseason meaningless? Ask that question of any NFL rookie and general manager and they’ll look at you like you’re smoking crack.

Jobs to support families and the future of the team are on the line every practice and especially during preseason matches.

Here’s how the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie class of 2014 is faring following the first preseason match against the New York Giants.

ROUND ONE: Ryan Shazier – LB

Few rookies enter the Steelers grounds with a roster spot reserved, and even rarer is to come in with the title of starter. But such is the case with Ryan Shazier, this year’s wonder man. His offseason and camp workouts have been eye-popping. Unfortunately, because of a “boo boo” causing him to miss the first preseason game, fans and coaches must wait with bated breath for his debut on the battlefield.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – CLINCHED

ROUND TWO: Stephon Tuitt – DE

The old plan of the Steelers defense was to groom defensive ends for years before they received regular season playing time. No more. Stephon Tuitt has a strong chance of making the starting unit by September and his play against the Giants didn’t hurt this from happening. Although his play wasn’t amazing he certainly seemed to belong with the Ones.

Arrow – UP   |  53-Man Roster Spot – CLINCHED

ROUND THREE: Dri Archer – RB

No one drew more deep sighs and consternation than Dri Archer when his name was announced as a Steelers pick on draft day. But with a spectacular debut (in just a few plays) like he had against the Giants, Archer may end up being this year’s best value pick for the Black and Gold.

Arrow – Up   |  53-Man Roster Spot – CLINCHED

ROUND FOUR: Martavis Bryant – WR

Steelers fans were outraged when their team passed on Martavis Bryant in the second and third rounds of the draft. But when he was available at the fourth round he was declared a true steal. Whether that proves to be the case appears to be months if not a year or so away. Although he certainly flashed his raw talent at times he seemed overmatched by the bright lights and big city moment of the game.

Arrow – Down   |  53-Man Roster Spot – CLINCHED

ROUND FIVE: Shaquille Richardson – CB

The play of “Shaq Daddy” was rather unnoticed against the Giants and for the cornerback position that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The team has yet to see the spark of ability that has coach CarnellLake so excited.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – PROBABLE

ROUND FIVE(b): Wesley Johnson – OL

Wesley Johnson is earning his stripes on the team through versatility. Which is why it was interesting that the only position he played against the Giants was center. With his best position being left tackle, the likely culprit keeping him from getting time there was Mike Adams, whom coaches wanted to get a good look-see.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – PROBABLE

ROUND SIX: Jordan Zumwalt – LB

Everybody’s “Rudy” pick of 2014, Jordan Zumwalt’s fiery disposition will make him a fan favorite—if there is room for him on the team. It hasn’t helped that Zumwalt has been injured. He’ll be a tough decision for the team because he probably isn’t ready for the 53-man roster this year, but would could be snagged before making it to the practice squad. The Giants game didn’t bring much clarity.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – QUESTIONABLE

ROUND SIX(b): Daniel McCullers – DT

Everybody loves a gentle giant. Just ask Ike Taylor who was hooting and hollering for the big fella against the Giants. McCullers has already proven his naysayers wrong who thought he would be a complete bust. He is most definitely a work in process, but with his ability to move the pile it’s unlikely they won’t find a place on the team where he can confidently call Pittsburgh home.

Arrow – UP   |  53-Man Roster Spot – PROBABLE

ROUND SEVEN: Rob Blanchflower – TE

The bell is tolling for young Rob Blanchflower. He has yet to flash positively in practice, has been injured and is at a position where the Steelers may not take too many players this year. This week may be critical for Blanchflower to start making himself heard.

Arrow – DOWN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – QUESTIONABLE

Notable Undrafted Rookie Free Agents

Time waits for no one…and especially undrafted rookie free agents trying to dent an NFL roster. Either your arrow is pointing up or your grip on the cliff’s edge is starting to give.

Here is how some of the notable UDRFA are faring after preseason game one.

Howard Jones – LB

Had it been a different year Howard Jones would have already been pressing for a roster spot. But with the team flush with quality linebackers it’s going to be tough to make the final cut. Fortunately, he can play on the edge where the team is thinnest. Although he is being hyped for his game against the Giants his regular field play was modest, despite being in the right place at the right time for the fumble recovery. Still, for Jones the key will be special teams, and if he continues to make an impression like he did against the Giants he could be bumping one of the veterans off the squad.

Arrow – UP   |  53-Man Roster Spot – QUESTIONABLE

Josh Mauro – DE

The man from Stanford will have to be excellent at math to get a spot on the 53. That’s because the numbers game is working against him. Probably a shoe-in for the practice squad he’ll have to impress even further in the next couple of weeks to get in the team’s stadium rotation.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – QUESTIONABLE

Eric Waters – TE

A bit of a practice phenom, the lack of time on the field against the Giants for Eric Waters was baffling. It certainly didn’t help his cause, which is tenable at best.

Arrow – EVEN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – DOUBTFUL

Brendon Kay – QB

It wasn’t a good sign that Brendon Kay didn’t get artificial turf stains on his jersey against the Giants. Of course, it DID help him that neither the number two or number three quarterbacks for the Steelers did much to impress. Kay’s one shot may come this Saturday.

Arrow – DOWN   |  53-Man Roster Spot –DOUBTFUL

Chris Elkins – G

If you are an undrafted free agent you MUST shine brightly at every moment you have. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for the underdog Elkins against other backups and he’ll need something big next week to keep in the running.

Arrow – DOWN   |  53-Man Roster Spot – DOUBTFUL

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds
Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic and author of the acclaimed Heirs of Ireland series.
  • srdan

    Awesome write up.

    Can’t wait for 2.0. You guys are putting a lot of work into the site. We appreciate the thought and research that goes into it.

  • disqus_WrRvUyG2DA

    McCullers looked pretty good. I would like to see him play against first stringers. He could possible be a big steal.

  • Caesar

    From what I have heard on practice reports, seems Blanchflower and Waters should be the same status. Probably both “questionable” at this point, just because the guys standing in the way aren’t really that exciting.
    And also seems like Johnson is a lot more “questionable” to “doubtful” than “probable.” Him only playing center could be a bad omen, maybe that they just don’t see him offering as much at the other spots as other guys on the roster do.

  • Stuck in Ravens country

    Enjoyed the write up. Can you provide an article on the Practice Squad showing:
    – Those on the bubble for the 53-man roster that will likely make the Practice Squad
    – Those on the bubble to make the Practice Squad

    – Those most likely not to make the Practice Squad
    – Those that won’t make the 53 and aren’t eligible to make the Practice Squad

    Also, an article for each of the last 3 draft classes and how they look so far this season would also be interesting.

  • Aric Brown

    I thought Johnson was getting reps all over the place with the 2s and 3s

  • Jake Miller

    Have to say, I agree with your stance on most of the rooks, but I don’t so much with UDFAs. Mauro for example has been getting very regular looks at 2nd team over guys like Arnfelt and Williams. I almost consider him probable at this point.
    Aside from that, Wesley has had some ups and downs. I think he makes PS. Chris Elkins seems to be doing a fair job, and Eric Waters has shown to be on equal, if not slightly better, standing than Blanchflower.
    I am also of the opinion that either Zumwalt or Howard Jones makes it, but probably not both unfortunately.
    Food for thought.

  • steeltown

    Mike Adams played every snap at LT against NYG after Beachum left. The coaches really wanted to get a long look at Adams and who can blame them! In addition, Hubbard who has been playing a lot of 1st and 2nd Team LG in camp looked awful. So, I bet we’ll see Wes Johnson playing more LG and some LT moving forward.

  • SumnerYoung

    Why are NFL rosters fixed at 53 players? IMO, they should be 55. Also, I believe if a team drafts or signs a rookie free agent, they should have complete control over that player for one league year. That way, if a first year player does not make the final roster in year one, they can go to the team’s practice squad without threat of being hawked away by another team. However, when year two rolls around the team loses that control but still has first right to sign, trade or cut the second year player. This stuff is probably all part of the legalese in the CBA, but thought I’d throw in my two cents as I’d like to see Zumwalt in Pittsburgh.

  • Steelers12328882

    My only question is, what is the difference between POSSIBLE and PROBABLE?

  • Zach

    this would be good for the teams but awful for the rookies to get a job. I’d like zumwalt too, but it’s a bit selfish to lock the guy up for a year in the PS. that said, I dunno how many rookies initially on a team’s PS go play for another team in the same year 1.

  • Jeff

    Out of the later draft picks, I’m hoping McCullers can develop throughout training camp and earn a spot on the 53.

  • Ken

    I give the Steelers credit on this group. When you nail the first two draft picks and possibly 3, everything else you get from it just makes it even better. And they McCullers and Bryant with loads of potential.

  • srdan

    you mean a biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig steal?

  • srdan

    Another argument to support your view is that 55 players on a team puts less wear and tear on players than 53, which would in theory lead to less injuries. I think the PA could push something like that through.

  • srdan

    I would say in percentages 40% and 51%

  • Biggie

    I definitely like this group alot. Top 4 will contribute this year, though with Bryant how much will depend on his progression through the season. Definitely rooting for McCullers to make it, I think throwing him in the rotation especially later in games will wear out opponents OL and give the LBs ability to make more plays. I think H. Jones still has a great opportunity, especially if Carter doesn’t step it up big time and really love our depth at LB. At the least hoping a few make the PS like Elkins (technically sound, just needs time), Waters/Blanchflower (hoping one makes rosters over likes of Palmer/Paulson), one or two of the DEs and also Dangerfield. Dangerfield is a serious hitter, need to see him more in coverage but want him on PS at the least.

  • joed32

    Probably because of cost, I can’t come up with any other reason.

  • NW86

    Interesting article, will you be doing a “version 2” next week?
    Honestly, I think you’re being a little on the optimistic side on a lot of them. If probable means ~75% chance, questionable is ~50%, and doubtful is ~25%, then I would bump all of your probables down to questionable and all your questionables down to doubtful.

  • Great feedback…and we appreciate the encouragement. Yes…I am planning on doing a version after each preseason game. Keep in mind that I’ll be adjusting the status after each match so a CLINCHED could be UNCLINCHED due to injury or terrible performance (or great effort by someone behind them). Part of the rankings have to do with the team’s resistance to release a player to the Practice Squad (i.e. Martavis Bryant) Here’s the approximate percentages behind the words.:
    – CLINCHED 95% (Hey…nothing’s 100% right?)
    – PROBABLE 75%
    – POSSIBLE 50%
    – DOUBTFUL 10%