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: Rob Blanchflower
Draft Status: 7th round (230th overall)
The last of the Steelers’ nine draft picks of the 2014 class, tight end Rob Blanchflower is an interesting future prospect who spent his rookie season marinating on the practice squad in the hopes of making the 53-man roster outright in his second year.
Admittedly, it was difficult for Blanchflower to find many opportunities for himself as, at best, the fifth tight end on the depth chart—even sixth or seventh behind undrafted rookie Eric Waters. Not only did Blanchflower play his final year of college ball with an injury that he continued to recover from, however, he also suffered a high ankle sprain on the eve of the preseason.
As a result, his work was fairly limited early in the preseason. In fact, the only game in which he was targeted at all as a receiver was in the preseason finale against the Panthers, in which he was targeted twice, catching one of two passes, with the other target being debatably difficult. On his one reception, he came off a down block to turn upfield and catch an off-target ball wide of his frame.
In his limited time during the preseason, he spent most of his time working with Landry Jones, making it difficult to evaluate him, particularly in the receiving game. He showed mixed levels of awareness, in one game failing to pick up anybody on a screen, while turning upfield to block on a quarterback scramble in the next. As a run blocker, and even in pass protection, he did show that he has some skills to work with in the future.
Blanchflower came in with a reputation as a run blocker with possession receiving abilities, and his preseason exhibitions did nothing to indicate that he can’t achieve that at the next level. Injuries and numbers ahead of him made it difficult for him to make it to the 53-man roster in his first year, but I suspect that he will reach that plateau in 2015.