Pittsburgh Steelers: 2014 NFL draft

PITTSBURGH -- The journey that led Shaquille Richardson to the practice fields he stepped onto Friday, the first day of Pittsburgh Steelers' rookie minicamp, started years ago on the other side of the country.

An unheralded recruit in Los Angeles, Richardson caught then-UCLA assistant coach Carnell Lake's eye at a summer camp with the way he stuck to wide receivers like paparazzi. On Lake's recommendation, the Bruins brought Richardson back for another camp.

[+] EnlargeShaquille Richardson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsThe Steelers are banking on fifth-round draft pick Shaquille Richardson to help out Pittsburgh's secondary in the 2014 season.
"He came in and was the best cover guy we had," Lake said. "We offered him a scholarship the next day."

Richardson signed with UCLA in 2009, but neither he nor Lake stuck around Westwood -- though both for different reasons.

Their football paths have finally crossed again and this much is certain: the Steelers need their defensive backs coach to nurture the talent that he was one of the first to discern.

Richardson will receive more scrutiny than any fifth-round draft choice should, in large part because he is the only cornerback the Steelers drafted this year. The Steelers were expected to select a cornerback early in the draft and take two of them, something they have twice done since 2009.

They waited until the draft's third day to take the Arizona product. And the Steelers drafted Richardson in the same round that they selected Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne last year.

Hawthorne didn't make it out of training camp, and he was the only draft pick the Steelers gave up on after preseason practice.

They better have done a better job of evaluating Richardson given their lack of depth at cornerback and need to get younger at the position.

"He’s definitely a good prospect that’s got the measurables that you’re looking for," Arizona defensive backs coach David Lockwood said of Richardson. "He’s a smart player. He picks up things fast and he has some cover skills, which of course you need at that level."

Richardson started 37 of 49 games at Arizona and recorded 189 career tackles while intercepting 10 passes and breaking up 30 of them.

The 6-1, 194-pounder has good size, and he runs the 40-yard dash in the 4.5 seconds range, which Lake said, "is fast enough, especially if he is a good technician."

Lake never got to work with Richardson on the finer points of playing cornerback.

Richardson was arrested (along with three others) for felony theft before his freshman season -- charges were later dropped -- and he transferred to Arizona. Lake left the Bruins' coaching staff after the 2009 season to spend more time with his family, but he kept an eye on Richardson. The Steelers hired Lake in March 2011 to coach the defensive backs.

Lockwood, meanwhile, said Richardson never had any off-the-field issues the two seasons the two were together at Arizona.

"He’s got a good personality and you can hold a conversation with him," Lockwood said. "He likes to have fun and joke around, but when it’s time to work you go to work."

The Steelers hosted Richardson for a pre-draft visit last month, and Lake said he was "instantly likeable."

The Steelers liked Richardson enough that they were content to wait until the fifth round to select a cornerback and hope Richardson was still available.

"I did get a good vibe from coach Lake when I was there," Richardson said of his visit. "I'm so happy to be back under him, learn from him and be a Pittsburgh Steeler."

The Steelers are counting on Richardson -- and Lake -- for that to be the case for a long time.

"Shaquille Richardson has the prototypical size you want in a starter-capable corner," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "He's fast, he's athletic. He's got a chance."
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay don’t always agree when evaluating draft-eligible players. But their thinking falls along the same lines when it comes to Steelers fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant.

Kiper listed the former Clemson wide receiver as one five offensive players drafted in the later rounds who could make an immediate impact in the NFL. McShay also said that Bryant has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers.

“He does a really nice job of getting off the line and he’s a vertical route runner,” McShay said. “You’ve got a big, strong-armed quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and you want a guy that can stretch the field vertically. There’s some boom or bust there, but when you get him in the fourth round you’re not worried so much about the risk factor. If he focuses and does all the right things he could wind up being a real steal from this class.”

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesMartavis Bryant's size and speed could help the WR earn plenty of playing time as a rookie.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant gives the Steelers the tall wide receiver that the offense has lacked. His 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine as well as his career yards per catch (22.2) at Clemson validate his potential as a big-time deep threat.

And he started only one season at Clemson where first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins overshadowed Bryant, meaning he is far from a finished product -- something that should excite the Steelers’ coaches as well as challenge them.

“He’s what I have been hunting,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “Probably had he played more [at Clemson], stayed for another year, he would have been a first-rounder for sure. I think all that he needs to learn we will teach it to him.”

Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of concerns about his maturity as well as his inconsistency as a pass-catcher. The Steelers hosted Bryant for a pre-draft visit and were comfortable enough after what they heard from him to think that he will be fine in the right environment.

As for the drops he had in college, Mann said that is something that can be easily corrected and can probably be traced to Bryant’s hand placement or his trying to run before securing a catch.

“He does a really good job of tracking the ball and catching it over the top,” Mann said. “A lot of times guys can’t do it and it’s very hard to teach.”

McShay agreed that Bryant’s ball skills are undeniable.

“He was inconsistent catching the ball but he also makes tough catches,” McShay said, “and he can adjust to the ball below his waist, over his head, behind his body.”

It is way too premature to get overly excited about Bryant, who takes part in the Steelers' three-day rookie minicamp that starts on Friday.

Fred Gibson, the last physically gifted wide receiver that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round (2005), didn’t even make it out of training camp. And for all of the buzz created by the second-round selection of Limas Sweed in 2008, the former Texas standout caught just seven career passes for the Steelers.

Chronic drops were one of the reasons why the Steelers released Sweed in 2011.

One thing that Mann won’t do is speculate on how big of a role Bryant will have in the Steelers’ offense as a rookie. But he also won’t rule out Bryant challenging for the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

“You have to come in and work because we have other guys in the room,” Mann said. “Potentially he will be a starter, you just never know. You play the best. That’s how you win.”
PITTSBURGH -- Kent State coach Paul Haynes and Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey shared a memory -- and a laugh -- recently when they recalled Dri Archer's 100-yard kickoff return for a Kent State touchdown last season in a game between the Mid-American Conference rivals.

"Dri went down his sideline and [Carey] said he was going so fast and he was just thinking, ‘We are so stupid for kicking to this guy,'" Haynes said. "They were the only team that kicked deep to us. Everybody else pooched."

That anecdote neatly distills why the Pittsburgh Steelers were enamored enough with Archer’s breathtaking speed and big-play ability to draft him in the third round -- yet also why taking him that high might be a luxury they couldn't afford after consecutive 8-8 seasons.

[+] EnlargeDri Archer
AP Photo/G.M. AndrewsThe Steelers hope Kent State's
Dri Archer can cause matchup problems for opposing defenses.
Archer already had been compared to former great kick returners such as Mel Gray and Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil, and that was just in the Steelers' building.

But since NFL kickers have been able to boom the ball out of the end zone with regularity since kickoffs were moved to the 35-yard line, how much of a weapon will Archer be if teams simply decide to play keep-away?

That is what teams did last season when Archer managed just two kickoff returns for 128 yards and a touchdown. Haynes said Kent State didn’t even bother practicing kickoff returns once it became apparent that opposing teams weren’t going to let Archer beat them in that phase of the game.

Despite his limited opportunities last season, the Steelers placed a premium on Archer as a return man during their pre-draft evaluation of him.

"In my mind, return guys are starters," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "His kick-return ability is unique. It really is special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, we see some value there."

Where exactly the 5-foot-8, 173-pound Archer fits into the offense remains to be seen. The Steelers feature Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown, and they have an emerging running back (Le'Veon Bell) and a bruising back (newly signed LeGarrette Blount).

"This is a guy that is going to create some unique opportunities for us from a package standpoint in terms of him getting identified," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position, I think he’s a playmaker. He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."

Williams
Blount
Bell
Such talk sounds great in May, but how will it translate in actual games when there are a limited number of snaps and Archer is not a primary option at running back or wide receiver?

"We are all going to work together to make sure this guy is in the right place," running backs coach James Saxon said. "The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands."

Indeed, Archer rushed for 1,429 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior, leading the country with 8.99 yards per carry. His rushing totals plummeted to 527 yards last season, but much of that can be attributed to the fact that Kent State played him extensively at wide receiver to showcase his versatility to NFL teams.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we made here is flexing him out," Haynes said. "We needed to keep him at running back just because we could have gotten him more touches. He has great vision, he has great feet, he has great burst -- all the things a good running back needs to be."

That includes strength and toughness.

It is easy to fixate on Archer’s size and speed and label him a gimmick player, but that evaluation doesn't fit. He ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine in February, but Archer also bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times.

That's only seven shy of the combine bench-press total for defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, the 6-7, 352-pounder the Steelers drafted in the sixth round.

Haynes said Archer is strong and thick enough to absorb a pounding in the NFL, and Tomlin said, “He is not small. He is short.”

It remains to be seen how many touches Archer will get in an offense that returns all but one starter from last season.

Bell averaged 17.2 carries per game in 2013, and he is a legitimate feature back because of his pass-catching abilities. The Steelers also have to find carries for Blount, who as recently as January bulled his way to 166 rushing yards and four touchdowns while leading the Patriots to a playoff victory.

That leaves Archer as a situational player, albeit a unique one, and the Steelers didn’t get favorable results the last time they drafted a ridiculously fast player with plans to use his speed to exploit mismatches.

Chris Rainey, even before he fell out of favor in Pittsburgh because of off-field incidents, didn’t make much of an impact on the offense. In 2012, his only season with the Steelers, the former Florida speedster rushed for 102 yards on 26 carries and caught 14 passes for a mere 60 yards.

There might turn out to be no comparison between Archer and Rainey aside from sheer speed. And one thing Archer won’t have a problem with, Haynes said, is representing the Steelers -- on the field and away from it.

"You think of toughness, you think hard-nose, you think of discipline," Haynes said of the Steelers. "That’s why I think Dri is going to fit in so well there, because a lot of those things are how I would describe him. Besides the football, he’s going to be a great ambassador for that program.

"You don’t have to worry about him off the field. He’s going to work, he’ll study the game, he’ll surround himself with the great pros that are already there and teach him how to be a great pro himself."
PITTSBURGH -- Of the many things to like about the Pittsburgh Steelers picking Ryan Shazier in the first round of the NFL draft, here is another one: to peg him as just an inside linebacker is shortsighted.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Elsa/Getty ImagesThe Steelers selected Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick in the first round.
"Ultimately, you're in sub packages so much that you really need to have guys that can match up, and that's what Shazier brings, and he brings pass-rushing ability," ESPN analyst Todd McShay said during a post-draft conference call. "I think they [the Steelers] get faster and more athletic with that pick alone."

Yes, they do.

"When we took Ryan, we talked about a defensive playmaker over anything else," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He fit the bill in that regard."

The speedy Shazier is also the kind of player defenses need in order to counter offenses that spread out and increasingly force defenses out of their base set.

"What's happening today is there are multiple receiver personnel groupings, like 60 to 65 percent of the time," Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler said. "[Shazier] fits the part of the game that is starting to put faster people on the field."

Shazier ran a sub-4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Ohio State's pro day, and he is so fast that Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake asked Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby during a pre-draft visit if Shazier could play safety.

And he wasn't joking.

"There is no reason why he couldn't play safety," said Lake, the former Steelers standout who played safety and cornerback during his 13-year NFL career. "This guy is big and fast and aggressive. If for some reason Keith Butler doesn't like him, I'll take him."

That's not going to happen.

But Shazier is going to line up at different spots because of his speed, versatility and ability to play in space.

"He has the athleticism to drop back into coverage and match up," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "He has speed. He's going to get on people quicker than they know because he's very fast."

Shazier is not even the fastest player in the Steelers' draft class -- third-round pick Dri Archer takes that honor -- which shows how much of a premium Pittsburgh put on adding speed through the draft.

"I think you covet speed, but it's football, not a track meet," Tomlin said. "If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it's an asset. Speed players that we were able to acquire in this draft fit that bill: football players first who happen to be extremely fast."
PITTSBURGH – There is a lot to like about a Steelers draft in which they added size and speed. There are also some things that can be questioned, including the lack of attention they paid to a certain position.

Here are three things I liked about the Steelers' draft:
    Tuitt
    Shazier
  • It’s hard not to get excited about the first two picks. Yes, the Steelers didn’t address one of their bigger needs by taking a cornerback, but they added size and speed to a defense that fell last season from its usual lofty perch. Ryan Shazier makes inside linebacker a strength and his sheer speed will allow Dick LeBeau to get creative in how he uses the Steelers’ first-round pick. Stephon Tuitt, like Shazier, has the chance to start right away and he fills a gaping hole at defensive end. Tuitt and Cameron Heyward could form quite an inside pass-rush tandem in the Steelers’ nickel defense.
  • The Steelers let the draft come to them at wide receiver and they were able to get a really good prospect in the fourth round. The Steelers strongly considered taking Clemson’s Martavis Bryant in the third round and were still able to get him after using their third pick on Kent State running back Dri Archer. Bryant has excellent size and speed, and he averaged over 20 yards per catch at Clemson despite getting overshadowed by first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins (2013) and Sammy Watkins. The Steelers, who have made it clear to Bryant that they expect his work ethic to be up to their standards, have given quarterback Ben Roethlisberger an enticing red-zone target.
  • The Steelers were able to add an intriguing prospect and not just a body to their deep offensive line. And it didn’t cost them much to do it. They drafted Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson with the second of their two fifth-round picks, and the 6-5, 297-pounder started 51 career games in college football’s preeminent conference. Johnson is athletic and versatile and he could fill left tackle Kelvin Beachum’s former role as a super sub who can play all five positions.

Two things I question:
  • I’m still a little puzzled that the Steelers took a running back in the third round. I understand that they are enamored with Archer’s speed and game-breaking ability. But how many touches will he get in an offense that already has Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount to shoulder the load at running back? And as much as the Steelers like Archer’s potential as a kickoff and punt returner he didn’t do much of either his final season at Kent State. And it’s a lot easier to keep the ball away from dangerous kickoff returners since kickoffs were moved up to the 35-yard line.
  • Adding to questions about the Archer pick is the fact that a run on cornerback took place in the fourth round. Nine cornerbacks were taken in the fourth round and five before the Steelers picked Bryant. Steelers fans would have felt a whole lot better about the draft had Pittsburgh gone linebacker, defensive end, cornerback and wide receiver. As it turns out the Steelers only picked one cornerback, and they didn’t take Shaquille Richardson until the fifth round. Maybe the Steelers really are confident that free-agent signee Brice McCain can bounce back after struggling last season for the Texans and that Antwon Blake is ready to contribute more than just on special teams. Time will tell on that – and whether the Steelers erred by not doing more to address cornerback in the draft.
PITTSBURGH – Here is a closer look at the Steelers’ final five draft picks:

WR Shaquille Richardson

College: Arizona

Round/pick: 5th/157th overall

Ht./Wt.: 6-0, 194

Last season: Recorded 55 tackles with three interceptions while starting all 13 of the Wildcats’ games.

Hidden number: 20 cornerbacks were drafted before the Steelers took Richardson.

Upside: Richardson has good size and speed and the Steelers seem confident that he can develop into a starter down the road.

Possible red flag: Didn’t get invited to the NFL scouting combine and an off-field issue caused Richardson to transfer from UCLA to Arizona before his freshman season.

Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake: “He gives us good size out there and somebody that has the ability to put a lot of pressure on tall receivers that have been drafted in recent years. He’s a smart, young corner that can come in and contribute.”

Richardson: “I’m definitely coming in to learn from Ike Taylor and other veterans and defensive backs they have on the team. I got a lot to prove and I’m ready to work.”

OL Wesley Johnson

College: Vanderbilt

Round/pick: 5th/173

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 297

Last season: Started 13 games at left tackle and gave up just one sack in helping the Commodores gain 4,765 yards and average 30.1 points per game.

Hidden number: 22 of his blocks in 2013 led to touchdowns.

Upside: Is versatile, having started at both tackle positions as well as at center for Vanderbilt, and is also very athletic for a big man.

Potential red flag: Doesn’t have long arms, which might make him an interior lineman at the next level, and may not get much bigger.

Offensive line coach Mike Munchak: “He is definitely battle-tested playing in the SEC. He has played against guys like Jadeveon Clowney and played well against top-level competition week in and week out for a long time. That gives us the feeling that he will be very comfortable coming into the NFL.”

Johnson: “Being a Nashville guy, growing up [Munchak] was one of my favorite players. I knew all about him obviously because he’s a Hall of Fame offensive lineman and he’s been a great coach for a long time.”

LB Jordan Zumwalt

College: UCLA

Round/pick: 6th/192

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 235

Last season: Had a career-high 93 tackles with 5 of those behind the line of scrimmage and also forced three fumbles and intercepted two passes.

Hidden number: Zumwalt’s 30 career starts came at four different linebacker positions.

Upside: Big hitter who is passionate about football and is also versatile.

Potential red flag: Not a great athlete and needs to get bigger. Also, is there room for Zumwalt in what has become a crowded field at inside linebacker?

Linebackers coach Keith Butler: “This guy was probably the best player on the board for us (when the Steelers first picked in the sixth round). He’s a long, tall kid but I would see him as in inside guy at this point. He can provide some backup for us and he should be able to play some special teams for us.”

Zumwalt: “I have a lot of passion for the game and if you’ve seen me play then you know what I can bring. I’m going to bring everything that I have possible to bring to the defense. It’s like a dream come true.”

DT Daniel McCullers

College: Tennessee

Round/pick: 6th/215

Ht./Wt.: 6-7, 352

Last season: Made 33 tackles, include 4 for losses, and assisted on a sack while starting all 12 of the Volunteers’ games.

Hidden number: Wears size 18 shoes.

Upside: Enormous and what general manager Kevin Colbert calls an “obstruction,” McCullers also has the position flexibility to play both nose tackle and defensive end.

Potential red flag: It could be tough getting the leverage necessary at nose tackle since McCullers’ height makes it difficult for him to stay low after the ball is snapped.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell: “He’s a big guy but those types of guys are hard to find. I’d rather work with a guy that is too big than one that you can’t see him when he goes down in a stance. I’m excited about that.”

McCullers: “Growing up I was always the big kid. Once I hit my sophomore and junior year of high school that’s when I started getting my growth spurts. I guess I got like four of them each year and just kept growing.”

TE Rob Blanchflower

College: Massachusetts

Round/pick: 7th/230

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 256

Last season: Caught 27 passes for 313 yards and three touchdowns despite playing with an injury that required sports hernia surgery after the season.

Hidden number: Four of the Steelers’ seventh-round picks since 2009 have played at least one season for them.

Upside: Is adept at blocking and catching, which is what attracted the Steelers to Blanchflower as well as his demeanor.

Potential red flag: Has to make the jump from FBS competition (formerly Division I-AA) to the NFL, and the Steelers have four returning tight ends.

Tight ends coach James Daniel: “He has a high level of aggression. He’s played in a multiple-formation offense so that gave us a chance to look at him in a lot of things. I think he’s special-teams capable.”
PITTSBURGH -- Here is a closer look at the Steelers' first four draft picks. A look at the Steelers' final five picks will be posted later today.

LB Ryan Shazier

College: Ohio State

Round/pick: 1/15

Ht./Wt.: 6-1, 237

Last season: Led the Big Ten in solo tackles (103) and tackles for losses (22 ). Made 143 total stops and also recorded six sacks.

Hidden number: Set an Ohio State record with nine career forced fumbles.

Upside: Shazier can flat out fly. Like Lawrence Timmons, he should be a three-down linebacker who will be disruptive around the line of scrimmage and will also be able to run with tight ends in pass coverage.

Potential red flag: Not the biggest guy and could struggle if the Steelers’ defensive line doesn’t keep blockers off of him.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau: “I’ve been impressed with his instincts. He can diagnose and get through some trash to get to the ball. He has the athleticism to drop back into coverage and match up. It’s going to be fun with him to be honest with you.”

Shazier: “I’ve heard from the coaches that my weight is fine. I don’t want to get any bigger.”

DE Stephon Tuitt

College: Notre Dame

Round/pick: 2/46

Ht./Wt.: 6-5, 303

Last season: Recorded a career-high 50 tackles with 7 sacks and nine stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Hidden number: Played at 328 pounds in 2013 after double-hernia surgery limited his training in the offseason.

Upside: Has the size and strength to stand his ground as a five-technique end; is athletic enough to provide an inside pass rush when the Steelers are in the nickel.

Potential red flag: The Steelers want Tuitt between 310 and 315 pounds and he is prone to putting on extra weight when he is injured.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell: “If this guy had been healthy coming into his junior year he probably would have been in the top 10 guys drafted. We feel like we got a steal. I don’t care what scheme you play, you have a guy who is 6-5, 310 pounds who can run and who stays on his feet and is physical and you have a pretty good football player.”

Tuitt: “It was meant for me to come to the Steelers. The history of that defense is tremendous, and I can’t wait to put it back up there. I’m ready to roll.”

RB/WR Dri Archer

College: Kent State

Round/pick: 3rd/97s overall

Ht./Wt.: 5-8, 173

Last season: Rushed for 527 yards and six touchdowns and caught 25 passes for 327 yards and four scores.

Hidden number: His 240 career points were just six shy of the school record held by Josh Cribbs

Upside: Can be a game-changer because of his breathtaking speed and versatility, and he should make an immediate impact as a kickoff returner.

Possible red flag: Won’t get a lot of touches on offense, and if he excels as a kickoff returner opposing teams may simply try to boom kickoffs out of the end zone.

Running backs coach James Saxon: “The kid is a special football player with the ball in his hands. He’s as tough as any of the kids I’ve been around and he’s going to learn to do a number of different things.”

Archer: “I have returned [kickoffs and punts] but I didn’t return too much in college. It’s something I’ve been working on this offseason when I’ve been training.”

WR Martavis Bryant

College: Clemson

Round/pick: 4th/118th overall

Ht./Wt.: 6-4, 211

Last season: Caught a career-high 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hidden number: His 22.2 yards per catch broke the career ACC record previously held by Herman Moore.

Upside: Has excellent size and speed, and his best football is in front of Bryant if he is willing to work for it.

Possible red flag: There are questions about his maturity and needs to become more consistent catching the ball.

Wide receivers coach Richard Mann: “He’s what I have been hunting. What I can say to you is that potentially he could be a starter. I’m not going to say he is going to start but potentially he could.”

Bryant: “When I took my [pre-draft] visit I really enjoyed the coaches. I had a great talk with the receivers coach. I told my mom the whole time I wanted to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and I’m glad they have faith and me and I won’t let them down.”
PITTSBURGH -- Count Mel Kiper Jr. among those who think the Steelers hit it big in a draft they had to get right.

The Steelers were one of just five teams that received an "A" grade from the ESPN analyst following the NFL draft, one in which Pittsburgh made nine picks.

Kiper gave the Steelers an "A-minus"Insider for their draft haul and the only thing he questioned is why they didn’t add more reinforcements at cornerback.

“Did they do enough at cornerback? Maybe not,” Kiper wrote. “But they got everything else right.”

Such praise emanates from the Steelers' top two picks, linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. Shazier adds speeds to the Steelers’ defense and should make an immediate impact. Kiper wrote that Tuitt is a “stud” who is a perfect fit on a defensive line that needed help.

As for cornerback, here is what general manager Kevin Colbert said on why the Steelers only picked one and waited until the fifth round to take Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson: “The way [the draft] broke, any player that we took really we were happy to get them where we got them. We weren’t going to reach for any position that we didn’t feel comfortable with. You knew a guy like Shaquille Richardson was probably going to be available in the fourth or fifth round. You just hoped he was going to be there and fortunate for us he was."

Time will ultimately tell whether the Steelers did enough to help themselves at cornerback and whether Kiper’s glowing assessment of their draft is correct.

Remember, none of the players drafted have played a down in the NFL and we probably won’t know for three years how well the Steelers did.

But I agree with Kiper that, at first blush, it looks like the Steelers had a really good draft.

“If you look at the men that we had an opportunity to select, their size, their speed, their versatility, obviously those are things we value,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We buy into the upside of these young men and we look forward to getting down to business and working with them.”
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


PITTSBURGH -- A wrap-up of the Pittsburgh Steelers' draft. Click here for a full list of Steelers draftees.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIThe Steelers expect big things from Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.
Best move: Taking Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in the second round. The Steelers had no bigger need than at defensive end, and they were smart to pounce on Tuitt, who had been widely projected to go late in the first round. The 6-foot-5, 303-pounder has the ideal build for a five-technique defensive end, and he also has the pass-rushing skills to move inside when the Steelers go to their nickel package. Tuitt had 21 career sacks at Notre Dame, and the Steelers are convinced his play slipped last season because recovery from double-hernia surgery compromised his training and caused him to put on too much weight. Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said Tuitt is back to his 2012 playing weight when he dominated for the Fighting Irish, and they expect him to play significantly as a rookie if not start at some point in 2014.

Riskiest move: The Steelers took just one defensive back in the draft and they didn’t select cornerback Shaquille Richardson of Arizona until the fifth round. That won’t do anything to allay the anxiety of Steelers’ fans about the state of the secondary and specifically cornerback where Ike Taylor isn’t getting younger and where there isn’t much depth. Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake said he is confident free-agent signee Brice McCain and Antwon Blake, who played almost exclusively on special teams last season, can be key contributors this season. They better be since the draft didn’t deliver the reinforcements at cornerback that most thought it would.

Most surprising move: The Steelers bypassed a cornerback and wide receiver in the third round to take speedy but diminutive running back Dri Archer. This looks like a luxury pick since the Steelers had more pressing needs when they selected the 5-8, 173-pounder. Archer ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL combine, and the Steelers plan to carve out a role for him in the offense. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has compared Archer to Darren Sproles because of his explosiveness and versatility. Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said Archer reminds him of former Browns scatback/receiver Gerald “Ice Cube” McNeil. “He’s not small,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s short.”

File it away: First-round pick Ryan Shazier will be an immediate difference-maker as a rookie -- and will make multiple Pro Bowls if he stays healthy. His speed is such that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has said he envisions playing Shazier all over the field. Lake said he will gladly take Shazier as a safety if linebackers coach Keith Butler doesn’t want him. Butler, when told that, smiled and said “I’m not in favor of doing that. Shazier can make mistakes and has make-up speed to get back into position and make plays.” Butler scoffs at the notion that the 6-1, 237-pound Shazier is undersized for an inside linebacker at this level. Butler said former Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior played between 225 and 230 pounds in the latter part of his carer, including 2010 when he made the Pro Bowl. “A lot of times young linebackers get in their head, ‘I have to weigh 250 or I have to weigh 260 [pounds] but can they move? Can they get where they need to be when they need to be there? This guy can do that.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers will make six picks today, one each in the fourth and seven rounds and two apiece in the fifth and sixth rounds. They have to address cornerback and wide receivers after not taking a player at either position with their first three picks.

Here are 10 players who might interest them today.

CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood: The Steelers found smaller-school cornerbacks in the fourth round when they drafted current starters Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen. Will they unearth another one if the 6-1, 198-pound Desir is available in the fourth round and they take him?

WR Martavis Bryant, Clemson: Bryant has good size and speed and averaged almost 20 yards per catch at Clemson. The depth at wide receiver pushed him into the third day, and he could go off the board early in the fourth round.

DE Brent Urban, Virginia: The 6-7, 295-pounder has the build of a prototypical 3-4 defensive end and defensive line coach John Mitchell said the Steelers still need to add players up front. Injury concerns may be why Urban is still available.

WR Bruce Ellington, South Carolina: A terrific athlete, Ellington provides good value on the third day. Not sure how much of a fit he is for Pittsburgh as he is lacking in size, and the Steelers don’t need a return man after drafting Dri Archer.

OLB: Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas: The Steelers need to add a pass rusher and Jeffcoat has the build to convert from defensive end to outside linebacker. The son of former Cowboys star Jim Jeffcoat, Jackson Jeffcoat recorded 12 sacks last season.

CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida: The 5-11, 194-pounder has good size and speed, and he played both cornerback and safety in Gainesville. Watkins is the brother of Sammy Watkins, the fourth overall pick of the draft.

DE DaQuan Jones, Penn State. Big and physical, Jones projects as a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme after playing tackle at Penn State. The 6-4, 322-pounder might also have the position flexibility to play nose tackle as he holds up well at the point of attack.

CB Ross Cockrell, Duke: The 6-feet, 191-pounder intercepted three passes, defended 12 of them last season and held his own against Texas A&M’s Mike Evans in Duke’s bowl game. Cockrell, who made a pre-draft visit to the Steelers, would be a good pick in the fifth round.

WR Quincy Enunwa, Nebraska: Big and physical, the 6-2, 225-pound Enunwa could be available in the sixth or seventh round and might be a nice late-round find. Keep an eye on him, especially if Steelers wait until after the fifth round to take a wide receiver.

CB Antone Exum, Virginia Tech: Would have likely been a second- or third-round pick if not for injury issues in college. Exum has the versatility to play both cornerback and safety and he performed well at both positions for the Hokies.
PITTSBURGH -- No one at Pittsburgh Steelers’ headquarters could have been happier than Dick LeBeau by the end of Friday night.

The first two rounds of the NFL draft provided the Steelers’ defensive coordinator with a speedy, instinctual linebacker who could be used all over the field -- think a certain iconic safety who is nearing the end of a spectacular career-- as well as a hulking defensive end who could be a steal if his motivation stays up and his weight stays down.

A delayed flight from New York made linebacker Ryan Shazier late for his own introductory news conference Friday afternoon but the first-round pick otherwise arrived just in time for a defense that badly needed an infusion of speed and youth.

The timing, meanwhile, couldn’t have been better for defensive end Stephon Tuitt to fall into the middle part of the second round after he had been widely projected as a late first-round pick. The Steelers gave up 4.3 yards per carry last season -- their highest since 1999, according to ESPN Stats & Info -- and had a gaping hole at defensive end.

Tuitt could help solve both problems, and sooner rather than later.

He may be starting this season along with Shazier on a defense that is in the midst of a pretty serious makeover.

Yes, that is right.

LeBeau said the Steelers will remove the training wheels from Shazier and Tuitt faster than they do with most first-year players.

And that is saying something considering how conservative the Steelers generally play it with their rookies.

“Both of these players, if all develops as anticipated, are going to get a lot of playing time.” LeBeau said. “Sometimes in the past we’ve been in a position where our draft choices didn’t necessarily have to play for a year or so. That is definitely not the case in this situation.”

The Steelers have already drafted two potential starters, and their third-round pick could also make an immediate impact though Kent State running back Dri Archer looks like a luxury pick for a team that can’t afford any of those.

Archer is faster than a rumor, if on the small side, and the Steelers will try to use his speed and versatility to create mismatches.

If offensive coordinator Todd Haley is excited about the possibilities Archer provides him when calling plays, LeBeau feels the same way about Shazier.

LeBeau, in fact, said Shazier could be used in ways similar to strong safety Troy Polamalu, who has long been hard for opposing offenses to track because he lines up in so many different places.

“From what I have been able to gain from watching him play, there is not a heck of a lot that you can ask him to do that he doesn’t have the athletic ability to do it,” LeBeau said of Shazier. “He’s going to be a problem. He’s going to get on people quicker than they know because he’s very fast.”

Fast could apply to several things when it comes to Shazier, including how long it takes him to crack the starting lineup.
videoPITTSBURGH -- The pick: Dri Archer, RB, Kent State

My take: The Steelers added more speed, and arguably the fastest player in the draft, when they took Archer in the third round Friday night. This seems like a little early to take a running back, even one who could add a dynamic element to the offense. Archer is a blur -- running backs coach James Saxon said the Steelers timed him in under 4.2 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine -- but he is also small. Not that the Steelers will ask the 5-foot-8, 173-pounder to shoulder much of a workload. Archer will be used as a situational back as well as a kick returner, and he averaged 7.8 yards per carry last season while also catching 25 passes for 327 yards.

The Steelers tried this two years ago with ultra-fast Chris Rainey, and he was pedestrian even before they cut ties with him due to off-the-field issues. They must think Archer is a much better player, and his versatility and production at Kent State impressed the Steelers as much as his sheer speed. Archer rushed for 2,342 career yards and had 1,194 career receiving yards while also starring as a return specialist for the Golden Flashes. He should at least make an impact in the return game as a rookie.

Still waiting: Who would have guessed this? Two days and three rounds into the draft, the Steelers have yet to take a cornerback or a wide receiver. They have addressed inside linebacker, defensive end and running back, with only the middle position qualifying as one of serious need. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he is not worried about the Steelers' depth at cornerback. "I feel good about the cornerbacks that we have, and we have more numbers there than people realize," LeBeau said. "We may have great players in the building; they just haven’t had the chance to show us they are greater."

What’s next: The Steelers will be plenty busy Saturday. They have one pick in the fourth round -- which starts at noon -- two in the fifth, two in the sixth and one in the seventh. The Steelers have made some late-round finds in recent years, getting wide receiver Antonio Brown, left tackle Kelvin Beachum and linebacker Vince Williams in the sixth round or later since 2010.
video
PITTSBURGH -- The pick: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame

My take: The Steelers addressed one of their most glaring needs, and they did so without taking a cornerback or wide receiver with their second-round pick. I like the pick, though I would have thought long and hard about taking Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer or Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptise with this selection.

Tuitt will help fill a gaping hole at defensive end. Tuitt, who doesn't turn 21 until later this month, had been widely projected as a late first-round pick. He put on weight in the 2013 offseason after recovering from a hernia injury and didn't play up to expectations as a junior. The Steelers worked out Tuitt in Atlanta and are confident that his weight issues are a thing of the past. "We feel like we got a steal," Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell said.

Tuitt has the size and physical talent to excel as a 5-technique defensive end, and he will get an opportunity to learn under Mitchell, who molded Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, among others. Tuitt had 21.5 career sacks at Notre Dame, so he can push the pocket as well as hold up physically against the run. Mitchell said Tuitt would have been a top-10 pick in the draft had he been healthy in 2013 and built on a sophomore season in which he had 47 tackles and 12 sacks. "When you're drawing up an end for our defense, that's the guy you want," Mitchell said of Tuitt.

Still no CB or WR: The Steelers have yet to address two of their biggest perceived needs, and part of that is probably because of the draft's depth at wide receiver and cornerback. Teams seem to be content to wait until later to take a wide receiver because there are so many quality ones in this draft. The Steelers figure to take a cornerback or wide receiver later Friday.

What's next: The Steelers don't pick again until late in the third round since it is a compensatory selection. They traded their third-round pick last year to the Browns for a fourth-round selection. They used the pick on safety Shamarko Thomas, and the Steelers made the trade because they were confident they would get a third-round pick this year as compensation for free-agent losses in 2013. The pick is No. 97 overall, and the Steelers are not allowed to trade it.
PITTSBURGH -- Ryan Shazier posed with a No. 50 Steelers jersey presented to him by team president Art Rooney II Friday afternoon.

There was a potential problem and it had nothing to do with the shirt per se that Shazier and Rooney held up as photographers snapped pictures in the Steelers’ media room.

The No. 50, however, previously belonged to former Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteRyan Shazier started at Ohio State as a true freshman. Will he impress the Steelers enough this summer to start as a rookie?
Foote played his college ball at Michigan and Shazier is an Ohio State product.

The question, asked in a light vein, of whether he was OK taking a number that had been worn by a Michigan man left Shazier a tad flustered.

But what emerged from his latest stop in what has been a whirlwind since the Steelers made him the 15th overall pick of the draft is that Shazier has long been comfortable in whatever he is wearing.

That is especially true of his own skin.

Shazier overcame childhood taunts while growing up in South Florida, and he continues to have the last laugh over those who teased him when Alopecia, a condition in which the immune system attacks hair follicles, robbed him of his hair.

“I was probably the only little kid walking around with a bald head,” Shazier said. “It was tough because kids are mean. I just embraced it. I feel like if you didn’t like me for who I am, it’s a problem with you. I feel like it’s my signature now. I love having Alopecia. Having a bald head actually saves me a lot of money.”

Shazier will cost the Steelers a few bucks, especially if he comes anywhere close to living up the effusive praise that general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin lavished on him Thursday night.

Reaction to the Steelers picking Shazier has been mixed at best, and it has little to do with the player who piled up 143 tackles, including 22 for losses, and six sacks in 2013 and is only 21 years old.

Many fans wanted the Steelers to take a cornerback or wide receiver in the first round. When they went in a different direction some wondered why the Steelers didn’t try to trade down in the first round and still get Shazier.

There actually is a very good reason why the Steelers stayed where they were: the Cowboys were ready to pick Shazier if he made it past the Steelers.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said Shazier, UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr, Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin had been targeted by Dallas for its first-round pick.

The Cowboys would have picked between Shazier and Martin but the Steelers did not provide them with that option, and they drafted Martin.

“My dad said that people were hinting to him that the Cowboys were going to draft me with the next pick,” Shazier said. “I’m happy that the Steelers drafted me. I can’t wait to go to Heinz Field and go out there and play in a Steelers jersey.”

The real work for Shazier starts next week when the Steelers hold rookie minicamp.

It will be the first look the Steelers get at Shazier and the rest of the first-year players on the field. And Shazier will be among those who feel utterly lost at times because the 6-foot-1, 237-pounder is learning a new and complex system.

But if Shazier, who played as a true freshman at Ohio State, makes steady progress during offseason practices he will go to training camp with a good chance of winning a starting job.

Such progress will start after his feet touch down and are back firmly planted on the ground.

“It’s just amazing to be in a great city like this with the greatest franchise,” Shazier said of getting drafted by the Steelers. “The plan is to come here and get a seventh [Super Bowl] trophy.”

Live draft blog: Steelers, Rds. 2-3

May, 9, 2014
May 9
6:00
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Join ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown as he gives you all the latest news from team headquarters during the 2014 NFL draft.

 

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