Steelers' draft pick adds youth

The NFL Draft — and the TV spectacle that it has become in recent years — ended this weekend. The Steelers came into the draft aimed at getting younger members on their offensive line and the entirety of their defense. The Steelers also had to replenish some of the depth at their skill positions like quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, after losing players to both free agency and age.

The Steelers’ first-round pick, the 17th overall, was Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker from the University of Georgia. Jones does not have the prototypical physical attributes desired in a standard 3–4 outside linebacker, but more than makes up for it with his speed, strength, and quick play recognition. He was drafted to replace all-pro linebacker James Harrision, who was cut as the Steelers desperately tried to get under the salary cap this offseason.

Picking Jones is not without risk, though, since he comes with a shaky injury past. Jones started his career with University of Southern California, but was not cleared to return to play after suffering a neck injury during his first year, prompting the transfer to Georgia. Jones also lacks some of the pass-rushing technique needed to exceed at the professional level, often quitting on a rush if it is not initially successful.

In the second round, the Steelers took Le’Veon Bell, a running back from Michigan State University. Bell was taken in an attempt to add some stability to a backfield that shuffled through Rashard Mendenhall, Issac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer due to injury and performance issues. Only Dwyer is still with the team, so Bell will bring some much-needed depth. Bell is a strong running back who fits the traditional Pittsburgh ground-and-pound offensive style, while also bringing the pass-catching ability to work in the modern pass-oriented league.

Markus Wheaton, a wide receiver from Oregon State University, was worthy of the Steelers third-round selection. Wheaton has the measurables to be a starting receiver in the NFL, but doesn’t always play like it. Wheaton has great speed, but can be a little iffy on his route running, neutralizing most of that advantage. He is stepping into big shoes, as Wheaton was drafted to help replace receiver Mike Wallace, who left for the Miami Dolphins in the offseason.

With the first of their two fourth-round picks, the Steelers selected all-pro safety Troy Polamalu’s eventual replacement in Syracuse University safety Shamarko Thomas. Thomas is a physically punishing safety, very similar to Polamalu, but does not yet have the instincts and vision that made Polamalu great. Thankfully, Thomas will have a year or two to spend backing up Polamalu to learn from one of the best.

The second fourth-round pick was used on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s new backup, quarterback Landry Jones from the University of Oklahoma. Jones was picked to avoid having the aging Charlie Batch fill in for Roethlisberger for the fourth straight year. Jones can make and throw in the book, but he is slow in his release, which gives defenders a chance to close whatever hole he was trying to throw into. Jones was part of a quarterback class that was largely unimpressive compared to last year’s and took a slide in the draft as a result.

The Steelers addressed their age at cornerback in the fifth round by selecting Terry Hawthorne out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Hawthorne is a tall, long corner with the speed and the physical attributes to be a great player. His on-field performance has not lived up to this physical prowess, though, and his field vision and instincts leave much to be desired. Hawthorne can be frustratingly inconsistent, showing flashes of greatness followed by stretches of being out of position and making bonehead plays.

The Steelers rounded out their draft with sixth-round picks, Justin Brown, a wide receiver from Oklahoma, and Vince Williams, a linebacker from Florida State University, plus a seventh-round pick, Nicholas Williams, a defensive tackle out of Samford University.

Overall, this was a good draft for the Steelers — it firmed out the team’s foundation that will hopefully allow them to outperform their 8–8 record from last year. They filled in many of the depth issues on offense and found current and future replacements for the aging defense. The further development of last year’s top two picks, guard David DeCastro and tackle Mike Adams, should aid in the transition of the Steelers from an aging veteran team to a youthful, experienced one.