This was an important draft for a Pittsburgh Steelers franchise coming off back-to-back non-winning seasons. Did the Steelers do enough to win the AFC North for the first time since 2010? Pittsburgh is +240 on NFL odds to capture the division.
Defense Wins Titles
With all due respect to offensive stars in Steelers history like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, Ben Roethlisberger and others, Pittsburgh has always succeeded with defense first. Last season, the Steelers finished 13th in the NFL in yards allowed (337.6 per game) and 14th in points (23.1 per game). Not awful, but not up to Steelers' standards. It was the first time this century the Steelers finished outside the Top 10 in total defense. Both those rankings were also worse than their two top competitors in the AFC North, the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
Pittsburgh knew it needed to add youth and athleticism to an aging defense and thus took Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier with its first-round pick a Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt in Round 2. It's a good thing that Pittsburgh didn't trade back a few spots from No. 15 overall, because Shazier was on the phone with the Dallas Cowboys, who picked No. 16 and told Shazier they were going to take him.
Coach Mike Tomlin has said Shazier, who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash as his pro day, will play the team's Mack inside linebacker spot. The team definitely had a need at the position. Outside of Lawrence Timmons, the other inside linebackers on the Steelers roster are Vince Williams, a sixth-round pick who started 11 of 15 games as a rookie last season, and Sean Spence, a 2012 third-round pick who still hasn't played because of a knee injury. Undrafted free agent Terence Garvin, who played 15 games last season before injuring his knee, also returns.
As for Tuitt, he was considered a first-round lock entering last season at Notre Dame. He had a career-high 50 tackles with 7.5 sacks and nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage in 2013 but played at a heavy weight of 330 after double-hernia surgery limited his training in the offseason. That likely dropped him into the second round because he was more dominant in 2012. Pittsburgh wants him around 315. He fills a major need at end.
Cornerback was also a big need for Pittsburgh and the Steelers surprisingly only took one, waiting until the fifth round to grab Arizona's Shaquille Richardson. He had 55 tackles, three for loss, three interceptions and seven pass deflections as a senior.
Why A Running Back?
Those who grade drafts for a living questioned why Pittsburgh took Kent State running back Dri Archer in the third round when that position is well-stocked and the team needed receivers and cornerbacks. Archer rushed for 1,429 and 16 touchdowns as a junior and led the country with 8.99 yards per carry. Last year he rushed for only 527 yards, but Kent State was using him largely as a receiver. Archer ran the fastest 40-yard dash time (4.26 seconds) at the NFL combine. The Steelers say they will figure out a way to use him; he's also a good return man.
"Is he a running back? Is he a wideout? Regardless of position I think he’s a playmaker," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "He's a guy that gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."
Pittsburgh answered the receiver question with Clemson's Martavis Bryant in the fourth round. The team considered taking him instead of Archer in Round 3. Playing opposite No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins last season with the Tigers, the 6-foot-4 Bryant caught a career-high 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns. His 22.2 yards per catch broke the career ACC record. Bryant has huge upside and the Steelers are weak at receiver outside of Antonio Brown after losing Emmanuel Sanders to free agency.
Full List Of Draft Picks
Ryan Shazier, outside linebacker, Ohio State (Round 1, No. 15 overall); Stephon Tuitt, defensive end, Notre Dame (2, No. 46); Dri Archer, running back, Kent State (3, No. 97); Martavis Bryant, wide receiver, Clemson (4, No. 118); Shaquille Richardson, cornerback, Arizona (5, No. 157); Wesley Johnson, center, Vanderbilt (5, No. 173); Jordan Zumwalt, outside linebacker, UCLA (6, No. 192); Dan McCullers, defensive tackle, Tennessee (6, No. 215); Rob Blanchflower, tight end, Massachusetts (7, No. 230).
NFL free picks: The Steelers think Shazier is a future Pro Bowler but as far as your NFL picks, there are questions about the rest of the guys in this draft. Pittsburgh finishes third in the AFC North and misses the playoffs a third straight season.