The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2014 NFL Draft with the idea of finding young talent to add to their defense, a running back that could compliment their offense and depth at both the tight end and defensive back positions. The goals aren’t that unsimilar for 2015. In this version of ‘Flashback’, we’ll take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 Draft Class grade ahead of the upcoming draft.
6-1, 237 – ILB, Ohio State
Nearly immediately after the selection of Shazier in the 2014 Draft, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called the young linebacker “a guy who will be on his feet, making sideline-to-sideline tackles associated with today’s football…he’s a defensive playmaker.” Unfortunately for Shazier and the Steelers, the young playmaker didn’t see much time on the field. Shazier saw action in only nine games (five starts) during the regular season and was inactive Weeks 4-7 and Weeks 10, 11 and 13 due to a right knee injury and right ankle injury respectively. Shazier got started off right, becoming the first rookie linebacker to start Kickoff Weekend for Pittsburgh since Kendrell Bell did it in 2001 and the first rookie to do so under then defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau since 2004. Shazier recorded six tackles (one for a loss) and a pass breakup.
It was a disappointing season for Shazier, who finished with just 36 total tackles. Due to injury, it is difficult to give Shazier a grade that truly reflects his worth. If Shazier can come back healthy in his sophomore outing with Pittsburgh in 2015, he is expected to get an opportunity to start.
6-5 , 303 – DE, Notre Dame
The defensive end position was an area where the Steelers felt they needed top-end talent and depth going into the 2014 Draft. Tuitt wasn’t expected to get a “red-shirt season”, but after a slow training camp, that is exactly what he got. Tuitt experienced difficulty picking up the Steelers defense at a pace that allowed him to push for a starting position. Although Tuitt saw action with the defensive line and on special teams in all 15 regular season games, he didn’t earn starts until Weeks 14-17. The highlight of his season could arguably be Tuitt’s first career forced fumble on running back Jamaal Charles of the Kansas City Chiefs that was recovered by teammate, linebacker Vince Williams. Tuitt also recorded his first NFL sack at the two-minute warning at the end of the game. With only 17 total tackles, Tuitt’s grade falls to a “C”.
5-8 , 173 – RB/WR Kent
The multi-purpose back was expected to be able to be an immediate offensive playmaker, especially due to his speed. In May 2014, Bob Labriola of Steelers.com said, “(Archer’s) rookie season will be measured on touches and what he does with them, as opposed to starts.” If that truly was the measure, then Archer did not fare well with only ten touches during the regular season for 40 yards on the ground. Archer caught seven receptions for 23 total yards.
After making his NFL debut on September 7, Archer saw action in only 12 regular season games. Due to an ankle injury, he was inactive Weeks 2-3 and was again inactive Weeks 14-15. Give credit to Le’Veon Bell for being the premier back for the Steelers. With the now infamous actions of LeGarrette Blount at the backup position, Archer rarely had an opportunity to truly give 100 percent to the Steelers offense. By the end of the season, it was clear that his height was an issue for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his ability to get into the open field questionable as a rusher. Archer spent time with fellow rookie Josh Harris trying to give the Steelers a running game when Bell was injured at the end of the season only to watch Pittsburgh bring in free agent rusher Ben Tate. 2015 could be a make-it or break-it season for Archer after being underutilized in Todd Haley’s offense when the opportunity may have presented itself as ideal. Grade: C-
6-4, 211 – WR, Clemson
The Steelers felt that they had time to groom the young Clemson receiver in Bryant, but when production from free agent receivers Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey was ineffective and second-year receiver Markus Wheaton was spotty, it became clear that Bryant was going to be needed to take ownership of his role on the team. Bryant ended up being one of the highlights of the 2014 Draft for the Steelers.
Bryant saw action in a total of ten games (three starts) during the regular season and finished second in franchise history with eight receiving touchdowns as a rookie. Bryant’s 549 receiving yards as a rookie were the eighth-most in team history in a single season. Despite a shoulder injury in Weeks 1-2 that stretched into a period of inactivity Weeks 3-6, Bryant returned to the lineup for his NFL debut against the Houston Texans and caught a 35-yard touchdown on his first reception. Bryant continued to put himself into the Steelers record book and helped Pittsburgh charge into the postseason. Bryant finished the regular season with 26 receptions, averaging 21.1 yards per-reception and eight touchdowns. Grade: A
Rounds Five – Seven (Including Compensatory Picks)
6-0, 194 – CB, Arizona
Richardson was supposed to not only add depth, but top-end talent. With Ike Taylor, William Gay, Cortez Allen, Brice McCain, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green and Devin Smith all looking for a place with the Steelers, Richardson had a difficult road to become a starter in 2014 right out of the gate. After reaching an injury settlement with the Steelers, Richardson signed a contract to play with the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015. Due to his inactivity, Richardson didn’t earn a grade for his time with the Steelers.
6-5, 297- OL, Vanderbilt
Johnson was meant to add depth to the offensive line, even if it meant spending the season on the practice squad. Unfortunately for the rookie, the Steelers needed to make room on the roster and brought safety Ross Ventrone up. Johnson was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets on October 13, 2014. No grade.
6-4, 235 – ILB, UCLA
Zumwalt was expected to be a special teams player right out of the gate for Danny Smith, according to Labriola of Steelers.com. Due to a season-ending groin injury in training camp, Zumwalt spent his time in 2014 on the IR list. No grade.
6-7, 352 – NT, Tennessee
Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas spent the majority of the season taking the position at the center of the defensive line. McCullers was brought in on nine games and had one start. While McCullers showed flashes of being able to double-team offensive linemen, he showed he needed to be able to move along the line faster. McCullers has second-year potential if the Steelers hang onto him for 2015. In 2014, McCullers only recorded two total tackles. Grade: C-
6-4, 256 – TE, MassachusettsBlanchflower was brought in as a matter of depth, plain and simple. The Steelers realized that when Matt Spaeth injured his foot in training camp in 2013, they had zero answers for in-line blocking during his absence. Interestingly, Spaeth was once again injured during the 2014 regular season. Blanchflower isn’t seen as a receiving-type tight end and made almost no impact on the Steelers whatsoever last season spending time on the practice squad and then signing a reserves/futures contract for the 2015 offseason. No grade.
The 2014 Draft was expected to provide much bigger results for the Steelers than it did. With only four of their nine selections showing real significance and injuries plaguing those who made the final roster, the Steelers couldn’t capitalize on potential talent and will need to roll the dice on who they believe can contribute in 2015. Overall, the 2014 Draft grades out disappointingly close to a bust if it weren’t for the efforts of the top four picks to get things together and outstanding improvement by Bryant.
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