While it has been true for many years in recent times that the Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten little productivity on offense or defense out of their rookie players, that has been less of a truism in recent years, particularly, perhaps, over the last two seasons.
While the Steelers have gotten some starts out of rookie offensive linemen over the years, they have gotten greater productivity from skill position players and defensive players in more complicated roles recently, which has been a change of pace—and frankly makes reviewing a draft class after its first season a more enjoyable task.
The Steelers selected nine players in the draft, though only six made the initial 53-man roster. Seven of them remain with the organization. While one undrafted free agent did spend some time on the roster, there are also a few who have spent time on the practice squad that are worth consideration as well.
Player: Jordan Zumwalt
Draft Status: 6th round (192nd overall)
Of the Steelers’ last five draft picks in the 2014 NFL Draft, only one of them ever saw the field in the regular season. Only two of them even made it to the 53-man roster, and Jordan Zumwalt was not one of them.
He did, however, spend his entire rookie season on the injured reserve list, no doubt in very large part because the Steelers knew they would have a hard time finding a roster spot for him and justifying using it.
That’s because the Steelers carried five inside linebackers on the roster in 2014, which is Zumwalt’s position. As he battled injuries in training camp and the preseason, it became clear that he would not make the roster. He only participated in the preseason opener for the Steelers against the Giants, logging 25 snaps, in which he played well, particularly against the run.
A lingering groin injury, however, prevented him from playing further—one might speculate that the coaching staff encouraged that injury to keep him from playing in order to place him on injured reserve.
As far as Zumwalt’s future goes, it’s hard to say, though the hardest part is already won: he’s on the roster. After a stunted rookie season that began with him being unable to participate in early OTAs, he’ll have had a full offseason of soaking in the defense to compete in year two.
The Steelers will be returning all five inside linebackers from the 2014 roster, however, so it won’t be easy for him to find a spot on the roster. Some of them will presumably be competing for a starting spot, while the losers of that battle have already carved out a niche for themselves on special teams.
The special teamer among this group is of course Terence Garvin, and it’s something that he does very well. It’s why he originally made the roster. If he is Zumwalt’s main competition for a roster spot, things could get interesting.