With the 17th pick in the NFL draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select a guy who just two months ago was considered the best prospect in the entire draft, and they fill a need at the same time.
Jarvis Jones fell mostly due to injury and poor workouts, but there’s no questioning that he’s the most polished pass-rusher in the field.
Jones obviously comes in and fills an immediate need with the departure of James Harrison to the Cincinnati Bengals. But Jones could have helped this team even if Harrison had stuck around.
Once the most dominant pass-rushing team in the league, Pittsburgh’s defense fell all the way to 17th and 15th in sacks over the past two years. Both Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have been slowed by injuries, and it’s shown on the field.
As of now, Jones should go into camp competing for the starting role left by Harrison. He’ll have to beat out incumbent Jason Worilds, a former second-round pick who has just 10 sacks in 40 career games, five of which came in 2012.
Pittsburgh probably couldn’t have found a guy in the first round of this draft that was a better fit schematically for Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense.
LeBeau’s original 3-4 scheme was built around getting to the quarterback with heat from the edge. They employed guys like Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene for the original package and worked their way up to Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
But that pass rush has fallen off in recent years, and Jones is the guy to help bring it back.
Jones ran a similar 3-4 defense under coordinator Todd Grantham at the University of Georgia. That was a defense that led to Jones becoming a two-time first-team All-American for the Bulldogs and one of the most feared pass-rushers in the country.
The transition period for Jones shouldn’t be too long given his familiarity with the scheme, and that could be great news for Pittsburgh.
In all reality, it’s pretty hard to predict how any Steelers rookie will ever perform. Typically, they don’t come in as starters but end up working their way into some sort of role and contributing early.
That should be the case with Jones, who will have to compete with three-year veteran Worilds.
The best comparison we can make for the amount of time Jones will see for Pittsburgh in 2013 is going back to 2007 and looking at what Woodley did.
Woodley, a second-round pick, was in a very similar situation with Porter leaving and incumbent Clark Haggans penciled in for the starting role. Although Haggins did end up starting all 16 games for the Steelers, Woodley’s role increased as the season carried on, especially in pass-rushing situations.
That’s the type of season Jones could very well have in 2013.
Jones is most likely a better player than Worilds and is probably more adept at getting to the quarterback, but the Steelers have always had a tendency to hold off on starting rookies unless they’re the only thing they’ve got. Mike Tomlin also tends to lean toward veteran guys when filling out his depth chart.
I gave the Steelers an A for their pick of Jones in my Grades/Analysis piece, and I’m sticking to that.
The Steelers certainly have some holes to fill on offense, such as receiver, running back and (possibly) tight end, but they couldn’t pass on a talent like Jones, especially given his fit with this defense.
As the board shaped up, it began to look more and more unlikely that Jones would fall to the Steelers. But a small run on defensive tackles and cornerbacks pushed the Georgia linebacker into Pittsburgh’s laps. Realistically, the only other option the Steelers had was tight end Tyler Eifert.
Maybe best of all is the fact that Jones’ intangibles are off the charts. This is a guy who was the captain of a vaunted defense for the Bulldogs and, as Mel Kiper put it during ESPN’s draft coverage, “On a scale of 1 to 10, his character is a 15.”
Pittsburgh, without question, made the best pick they could have in the first round this year. The only reason it’s not an A+ would be because of the injury concern, given his condition of spinal stenosis.
In the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Steelers improve on what was one of the league’s worst running games in 2012 and one of the worst in their history. They select former Michigan State running back Le’Veon Bell.
Bell may be a bit of a reach for the Steelers at No. 48, but it just goes to show you how highly they thought of him, taking him over guys like Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and Wisconsin’s Montee Ball.
In today’s more pass-happy NFL, it can become a little complicated to truly gauge a running backs role with a given team. But when I watch Bell play at Michigan State, it’s pretty clear what the Steelers have in store for the former Spartan.
He’s going to be their feature back.
It may not come this year, but Pittsburgh has to think that Bell is the future back for this football team, taking him relatively early in the draft. Bell also had to catch the Steelers eye because of his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
With Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman already in place and the recent signing of LaRod Stephens-Howling, Pittsburgh will have a very crowded backfield to start the 2013 season. It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how they use all of these guys.
If there’s a back in this draft that embodies what the Steelers love in their running backs, it’s Le’Veon Bell. At 6’2″, 230 pounds, Bell runs with immense power and has one of the most powerful stiff arms you’ll ever see.
But for a 230-pound man, Bell has quick feet and has been known to hurdle some defenders. He makes very strong cuts and gets downhill quickly. Bell doesn’t dance at the line of scrimmage, which is a nice change for the Steelers.
Bell is more of a complete back than most people will give him credit for and should eventually become the lead ball-carrier in Pittsburgh. Given the big, mauling offensive line the Steelers have in place up front, I’d say Bell is a good fit in the Burgh.
As was the case with Jarvis Jones last night, it’s very rare to see a Steelers rookie completely take over a starting role in their inaugural season. The last player to do so was Maurkice Pouncey.
Pittsburgh also has the luxury of having a deep backfield with Dwyer, Redman and the newly-acquired Stephens-Howling already in place. That’s not good news for people who want to see Bell start right away.
But, the Steelers don’t generally take guys early in drafts who won’t contribute in some way in their rookie season. Bell won’t be a returner and his special teams contributions will most likely be very limited. So what will Bell’s role be in 2013?
One spot he could very easily come into camp occupying is as the third-down back. Bell comes in as probably the teams’ best pass protector and receiver out of the backfield. Goal-line touches are another immediate opportunity for Bell in Pittsburgh. He had 33 touchdowns in three seasons with Michigan State.
As the season goes on, expect Bell to touch the ball more and more while Dwyer and Redman do battle for the rest of the carries. Realistically, Bell could carve out a respectable 600 yards and be in double-figures in touchdowns. Wouldn’t shock me if he was the team’s leading rusher by the end of 2013.
Initially, I gave the Steelers a C+ in the Grades/Analysis piece for the selection of Le’Veon Bell at No. 48 overall, but admittedly, that may have been a little premature. Bell was certainly a bit of a reach for the Steelers in the second round and they probably could have traded back and still got their guy.
But Bell is the type of back that fits what the Steelers like to do in their running game. He’s got great size and power with quick, choppy feet and some pretty good athleticism to add. He can be an immediate impact player in the backfield in what becomes a relatively deep platoon for Pittsburgh.
Mike Wallace is no easy man to replace. The fastest man in football left the Steel City for a big contract in Miami, leaving the Steelers with a void at wide receiver.
With the 79th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh made an attempt to rectify that situation by adding Oregon State’s all-time leader in receptions, Markus Wheaton.
Wheaton is a very good fit for what the Steelers want to do offensively under Todd Haley. His game is very similar to that of current Pittsburgh receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. He’ll catch the ball across the middle and can make guys miss in space.
But Wheaton can add some of the deep speed back to the Steelers’ offense.
Wheaton routinely dabbled in track and field while at Oregon State and those teams don’t take guys who can’t run. His deep speed won’t compete with that of Wallace, but it’s probably better than anything the Steelers currently have on the roster.
There’s going to be serious contention for slot receiver roles this season in Pittsburgh as Brown, Sanders and Wheaton all fit that role. It’ll be interesting to see how the Steelers decide to divvy up that role.
Schematically, Markus Wheaton makes a lot of sense for the Steelers.
Under Todd Haley, Pittsburgh has really converted their offense to that of the short, quick passing attack and letting the receivers make people miss in space. Brown and Sanders have exceeded at these roles.
At Oregon State, Wheaton did just the same thing. Although he’s got the ability to beat defenders down the field, Wheaton is at his best beating defenders in open space with underneath, crossing routes.
Ben Roethlisberger is going to love this guy. Wheaton can beat the defenders with his elite quickness and is sure-handed. He’s a good fit in Pittsburgh.
Losing Wallace didn’t deplete the Steelers receiving corps as much as most people think. Pittsburgh still has Plaxico Burress and Jerricho Cotchery who, although aren’t the receivers they were four years ago, are still effective.
Wheaton, to me, is more of a pick for 2014.
Pittsburgh paid to keep Emmanuel Sanders in the city for one more year, but it’s going to take a big contract to keep him here in the future. Wheaton is a very nice replacement for Sanders and could steal some snaps from him in 2013.
I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of Wheaton in 2013. He still has to come in and learn the offense, get a report going with Roethlisberger and gain the trust of his coaches. He’s a good character guy so I don’t expect this to be an issue, but there’s still going to be a learning curve.
Wheaton could go anywhere from 300-500 yards receiving this season. That’s not half bad when you think about it.
In the Grades/Analysis piece, I gave the Steelers a B+ for taking Wheaton at No. 79 and I think that’s pretty fair.
Pittsburgh certainly got good value for a guy like Wheaton who could have easily been a second round pick. He’s a good fit for the offensive system and is a faster clone of Antonio Brown.
The only issue I have with this pick is that it’s more of the same at receiver. A guy with more size may have been nice, but still a very good pick by the Steelers.
The Steelers were interested in this year’s safety class as high as the first round.
They filled a major need by trading a third rounder next year to get back into the fourth and grab Syracuse safety Shamarko Thomas.
Behind starters Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, the Steelers had absolutely no depth on their roster at safety. Things got even worse as Polamalu missed nine games with a calf strain, forcing Ryan Mundy into the lineup.
This offseason, Mundy left for a deal with the Giants, and fellow backup Will Allen also flew the coop, leaving the Steelers very vulnerable.
Shamarko Thomas makes a lot of sense for the Steelers because of the way he plays the game. He’s a bit undersized, but is a force around the line of scrimmage. This guy looks like a missile when he’s on the field.
Thomas won’t open camp as a starter, but he’s got to be ready to play. Polamalu and Clark both play a style of football that’s conducive to injuries and could force Thomas into the lineup.
Dick LeBeau is going to love Shamarko Thomas.
Thomas plays the game at a high rate of speed and can flat out blow people up. He’s versatile enough to play up in the box or drop deep into coverage. That’s something the Steelers can play with.
Right now, Thomas is in a great position to learn the game from Polamalu, who plays a similar style, and execute on the field when he’s call on. He’ll have to get better in coverage, but he can immediately fit as a pass-rusher from deep.
With Polamalu and Clark firmly cemented in place as the starters, Thomas will start the season as a backup. But given the injury history of those two players, he could end up seeing some significant time as a rookie.
Immediately, Thomas is going to be an impact player on special teams. Think about a guy like Thomas sprinting down the field in kick and punt coverage. Scary stuff, huh?
But I’d be shocked if Thomas didn’t end up becoming a significant contributor on the defense by the end of the season. Given the injury history of the Steelers’ two starting safeties, Thomas will end up on the field this season.
In the Grades/Analysis piece, I gave the Steelers an A for the Thomas pick because I thought they both filled a big need and they get great value.
The Steelers had to dump a third rounder in the 2014 draft, so it goes to show you how highly the team thinks of Thomas. He’s great depth for the time being and could eventually become a regular in Pittsburgh’s lineup.
Dick LeBeau will find a way to use this guy.
One of the major problems the Pittsburgh Steelers faced in 2012 was the short-term loss of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Backups Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch struggled to keep the Steelers afloat, which was a direct cause of the team missing the playoffs.
Pittsburgh made an attempt to get some better talent behind Roethlisberger by acquiring Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones in the fourth round.
Landry Jones’ role seems pretty well-defined at this point. He’s going to be a backup and compete with Bruce Gradkowski for the second string job.
But there’s a little more to it than that.
Jones should be coming into Pittsburgh with a chip on his shoulder. He was once considered one of the most promising young quarterbacks in college football, before suffering two straight seasons of inconsistent play. He’ll need to prove his critics wrong.
The former Sooner comes to Pittsburgh in a great position to learn from Roethlisberger and hone is craft in an offense that isn’t one of the most complicated in the league. Jones needs to gain back his confidence and he can do that in a low pressure situation with the Steelers.
Like Roethlisberger, Jones is a tall and thick pocket passer. But unlike Big Ben, Jones really struggles under duress in the pocket.
In terms of the scheme Pittsburgh employs under Todd Haley, quarterbacks have to be accurate and get the ball out quickly. Those are two things Jones does well. Jones gets the ball out of his hands quickly and can throw to any part of the field.
He’s going to have to learn how to deal with pressure, but with the quick passing game, it’s less of an issue in Pittsburgh than it would be elsewhere.
Like Shamarko Thomas, Jones won’t come into the season as the Steelers starting quarterback. But if he wins the second string job, he could end up seeing time on the field.
With the injury history that Roethlisberger has and an offensive line that has a lot of moving parts, Jones is in a position where he may have to play immediately and fill in for at least a few games. That means he’s got to be ready to play.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be shocked if Jones ended up starting two to three games for the Steelers in 2013. He’ll have to beat out Bruce Gradkowski for the backup job, however.
The Steelers apparently had Jones pretty high on their board because they wasted little time snagging him in the fourth. But with the talent that was still on the board (Jesse Williams), Pittsburgh certainly could have gone in a different direction.
I gave the Steelers a B- in my Grades/Analysis piece because I’m a little higher than most on Jones and I think he can develop into a good quarterback. But there were certainly other players on the board who made more sense.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have continued the trend of replacing exactly what they lost in free agency by taking former Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne. Pittsburgh lost corner Keenan Lewis to the Saints this offseason, so adding more depth makes sense.
For the 2013 season, Hawthorne will most likely find his primary role to be a contributor on special teams for the Steelers.
As for his main priority of playing cornerback, there’s probably not a great chance he makes a significant impact this season. But he should be able to compete with Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian for some reserve roles.
His biggest concern, however, may be staying healthy long enough to make the team.
Hawthorne was injured in his sophomore and senior campaigns in Illinois but showed flashes of promise in 2011 when he was an All-Big Ten Honorable Mention performer.
Hawthorne is just the kind of cornerback the Steelers like to draft. He’s pretty tall for a defensive back and plays bigger than his frame.
He has good ability to cover bigger receivers in the NFL and needs to get better in his backpedal. But he has experience in zone coverage schemes and started all four years with the Illini.
Most importantly, Hawthorne is one of the best tackling corners in this year’s NFL draft, and we all know that if you want to play for the Steelers, you better be able to tackle. He’s a good fit for Dick LeBeau’s defense.
I wouldn’t expect a whole lot out of Hawthorne in his rookie campaign given the fact that he’ll be buried on the depth chart. Cornerback wasn’t an immediate need for the Steelers, and Hawthorne will probably compete for no higher than the No. 4 job.
His biggest impact will most likely be made on special teams in 2013, and for a willing tackler like Hawthorne, he can make some plays.
I’d give the Steelers a C+ for taking Hawthorne in the fifth round simply because I think there were more pressing needs still on the board.
But, in the fifth round, Pittsburgh has the luxury of taking a guy they can develop, and Hawthorne has some serious skill. If he can get over the injury issues, this could end up being a very good pick for the Steelers.
Even thought the Steelers took receiver Markus Wheaton in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft, they didn’t feel they had enough at the position.
As a result Pittsburgh selected sizable receiver Justin Brown from Oklahoma.
Brown is in a position where he won’t have to play immediately for the Steelers but he could be in the teams’ future plans. Brown is 6’3″ and with Plaxico Burress set to become a free agent after the 2013 season, the Steelers need a size guy.
Brown started his career at Penn State before transferring to Oklahoma following the NCAA sanctions against the Nittany Lions. Brown never accumulated 1,000 yards in a given season but did compile over 1,900 career yards and eight touchdowns.
Schematically, the Steelers actually have very little use for a big wide receiver. But Ben Roethlisberger has been begging for a big target for years and they can utilize some size near the goal line.
Burress currently occupies the position of “tall receiver” on the Steelers and given how raw Brown really is, he’s probably not in any position to make an impact for Pittsburgh in 2013.
I’d be stunned if Brown made any sort of real impact on the Steelers offense in 2013. In fact, I’d be a little shocked if Brown ended up on the Steelers active roster for the season.
That’s not to say the Steelers made a poor pick in the sixth round.
Brown has good potential, it just needs to be honed. He could become an impact player in a few years for the Steelers, but his most likely destination is the practice squad in 2013.
I gave the Steelers a B- for taking Brown in the sixth round because I like the potential of the pick. He’s not ready to make an impact immediately for Pittsburgh but with good coaching, he could become an effective receiver in a few years.
One thing’s for sure, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly lacked depth at inside linebacker in 2012. They added Sean Spence during the 2012 NFL Draft, but a devastating knee injury ended his season before it even started.
So with their compensatory pick in the sixth round, Pittsburgh added former Florida State linebacker Vince Williams into the fold.
Williams actually enters a great opportunity with the Steelers. He’s not going to immediately contend for a starting role, but he could be in line for a backup spot.
Williams is the type of inside linebacker the Steelers have looked for recently. He’s a bit undersizedat only 6′ and around 230 pounds, but he can attack the line of scrimmage as well as anybody. Expect Williams’ name to come up in camp this year.
Williams is the type of linebacker the Steelers like to have behind Larry Foote. In fact, he and Foote are relatively the same size.
Dick LeBeau likes to use guys like Williams who can attack the line of scrimmage and are good against the run. One may think that would work better with a bigger player, but that isn’t how the Steelers have drafted.
As I said above, Williams is in a good position to compete for a backup role with the Steelers this season. That could lead to decent playing time for a young player.
At the very least, Williams should be a contributor on special teams. He’s fast and strong enough to make an impact on some coverage units that have been less than average this season.
I’m not really sold on this pick because I would have like to see the Steelers take someone with a little more size inside. Williams comes off as a bit too small to cover ground inside for the Steelers, but he’s fully capable of adding some bulk.
I give the Steelers a C- for the pick.
The Steelers certainly needed to find depth across the defensive line and they do just that with the selection of Samford defensive tackle Nick Williams.
Williams can come in and compete immediately for a backup role because Pittsburgh has struggled with their depth on the defensive front for years. Brett Keisel is solid and Ziggy Hood has shown flashes, but Cameron Heyward hasn’t impressed and beyond that there’s not much.
Williams has good size and build. He plays the downhill and is long and sleek. Williams can be more than just a run defender as he accumulated seven sacks last season at Samford.
Williams is an interesting guy for the Steelers.
At 6’4″, 309, he certainly has the size Pittsburgh looks for in a five-technique defensive end. But unlike the ends the Steelers currently have on the roster, Williams is more of a pass rusher than run defender.
That brings an interesting fold into the Steelers defensive plans.
Regardless, Williams has the size to play defensive end in the Steelers scheme and is at the least good depth for the team in the meantime.
Honestly, Williams could jump right into the Steelers rotation if they feel he’s ready. That’s a big if, however.
Williams has only been playing football for five years and is still pretty raw. But he makes plays solely on instinct. He won’t be able to do what he did at Samford in the NFL, but he can still make some things happen.
Williams certainly could battle his way into the rotation. He’d have to beat out Al Woods which isn’t saying a whole lot.
Pittsburgh gets potential in the seventh round of the draft which isn’t a bad thing. They’ll have to unleash that potential and let Williams grown into a football player. I gave the grade a B because there are still good players on the board.