Steelers Draft Class Should Be Able To Restock Shelf In Special-Teams Meetings

One of the areas of the game in which Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been critical in recent years has been in the special teams department, particularly when it comes to returns, but injuries in recent years have also seen sporadic lapses in the coverage units as well, which have not been as good as they could be.

It doesn’t help that the Steelers are looking at losing, or have already lost, some of their best special-teams players in recent years. As much of a favorite whipping-boy he may have become for his defensive capabilities, the departure of Antwon Blake was a blow to the unit.

It’s certainly looking as though the team is prepared to part ways with Shamarko Thomas, who has been the team’s best gunner in the past couple of seasons, after electing not to re-sign him when he hit free agency, and he remains available. It’s also a distinct possibility that another special-teams standout, Darrius Heyward-Bey, fails to make the roster.

These losses will naturally have to be compensated for, and there are plenty of good names to choose from coming out of the Steelers’ 2017 NFL Draft class. It should go without saying that the Steelers did not draft these players—sans Colin Holba—for their ability to contribute in the third phase of the game, but it is a critical role, and it often falls to young reserves.

Potential contributors start right at the top with first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt. If that sounds surprising to you, it shouldn’t. If you look back to the 2015 season, both former first-round outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Bud Dupree each contributed roughly 100 snaps of special-teams work.

I have a feeling that second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is eager to start smacking people on special teams, personally. He has already stated his willingness to “do anything possible to bring the Steelers back to the Super Bowl, whether that’s special teams”, among other duties.

And you know James Conner, another offensive player, will get his load of work there, something that Head Coach Mike Tomlin talked about after the draft, citing his history also contributing on the defensive side of the ball at the high school, and in spot work, even the college level. He likes to hit.

It’s interesting that the Steelers added two very physical and aggressive offensive players, by the way, which, perhaps, some might have felt lacking in a more finesse offense in recent years.

Pittsburgh also added a pair of cornerbacks, which is often the bread and butter of many critical special teams roles, and you know Tennessee team captain Cameron Sutton is going to embrace that role. Brian Allen and Sutton could both benefit from special-teams assignments, frankly, when it comes to sharpening their teeth for the physicality of defense at the NFL level.

Bypassing the obvious contributions of Holba, we get to Keion Adams in the seventh round. His scouting report, frankly, reads like that of a special teams player. Perhaps Joshua Dobbs won’t be chasing down any returners this year, but outside of their fourth-round selection, it seems as though any draft pick that makes this roster will be likely to put his hand in the pile to try to revamp the Steelers’ special teams.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Guys like Adams and Allan better be nearly ST studs if they expect to make the team initially. I also hope they can find some guys to block so that the kick return team can occasionally get them some explosive returns. I’m not asking for much, just the once in a blue moon type of thing to midfield. Please.

  • Sam Clonch

    Curious if VW is going to come of STs now that he’s a full time starter. He could make all-pro just from kick coverage, lol.

  • Dorian James

    Without a penalty to back them up

  • Peter MacDonald

    I hope not! He and Rosie are beasts in that phase

  • Michael Mosgrove

    i’m sorry but you lost me at sham…arko the best gunner. dhb smoked him.

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    And dhb that hit last year was a thing of beauty

  • Reg Sayhitodabadguy Hunt

    Can’t wait to see who’s going to be the new special teams demon this year

  • LucasY59

    If they lose DHB and Thomas they will definitely need some guys to step up as gunners, it is a much more important part to the game than some people realize, I think Coates could replace Hey-Bey, and hopefully Allen can replace Shamarko, Knile Davis might be another guy with speed that would be able to play in that role, but they definitely need guys that are sub 4.5 getting down on punts as fast as possible

  • LucasY59

    also if the punt team no longer has a guy waiting down there with the returner, forcing the fair catch more often than not, there will be some people that previously trashed Thomas, that will be wishing he was still on the team, I know Berry will definitely miss him (unless a guy steps up and fills that role as well as Shamarko did)

  • blackandgoldBullion

    He will not be on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps. He should definitely be on the field for ST. He’s a flippin’ stud!

  • Smitty 6788

    I expect the ST to be much improved. I pray both rookie CB’s make the 53 along with Golson. Even if Allen is not initially ready no way do I want a 6’3 215 lb cb exposed on the PS too keep a washed up Will Gay.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think the only way that happens is if they really find a lot to love on ST in this draft. To be fair, they *have* found some recent/future ST studs in Chickillo, Nix, and Matakevich. Johnson coming back is big too. Maybe his ST ability even influences his ability to make the roster by allowing Williams to focus on defense. But of course the coaching staff would have to tell Williams he can’t play ST, and that might not go over so well…

  • Matthew Marczi

    DHB is a better ST player overall, but Shamarko very specifically was a better gunner. He did a lot of things that don’t show up in stats, inducing a lot of fair catches, for example.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I’m still hoping there’s a spot on this roster for Shark. I agree with you his special teams play was impressive. There’s not a stat for inducing fair catches but i’m sure Shark influenced more than his share of them. Maybe he’s a late pickup for a 1 yr vet minimum?

  • Matthew Marczi

    Considering they only have five safeties, one would have to think they’ll be bringing more in, so Thomas being one of them couldn’t hurt.

  • RASTA

    I agree. I think we could possibly have a plethora of decent men on speed dial this season in case of injuries to our young and upcoming team (in the molds of: Gay, DHB, Warren, Shamarko, Johnson, and Moats).

    Steelers going to the Super Bowl!