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: Martavis Bryant
Draft Status: 4th round (118th overall)
I doubt little that there would be much disagreement if I were to suggest that wide receiver Martavis Bryant was the most successful draft pick of the Steelers’ 2014 rookie class through their first season.
After all, he did produce nine touchdown receptions in 11 games played, all the while averaging a league-leading 21.1 yards per catch. For the regular season, of which he played the last 10 games, Bryant totaled 26 receptions for 549 yards and eight touchdowns, helping the Steelers become the only team in the league to boast five different players who gained at least 500 yards through the air.
In the Steelers’ playoff loss, he continued his upward ascent in his rookie campaign, catching five passes for 61 yards and the team’s only touchdown from six yards out, adding a six-yard run into the mix for good measure.
The playoff game, as well, was also the game in which he saw by far his most extensive playing time of the season. Using the numbers compiled by Pro Football Focus, Bryant never played 40 snaps in a game until the opening round of the playoffs, in which he accounted for 62 of the Steelers’ 76 offensive snaps.
That just so happened to be a dozen more snaps than Markus Wheaton played in the same game, though neither receiver started the game with the Steelers opening with three tight ends. Indeed, as the season progressed, the snap counts of the two became more and more balanced as Bryant seemed to become increasingly more up to speed with the offense.
All of this seems to be setting up a position battle for training camp between the two young receivers to start opposite Antonio Brown. Bryant certainly seems to have the greater upside, and perhaps it is only his understanding of the offense that can hold him back at this point. His height and speed are certainly a tremendous advantage to have within the system that the Steelers haven’t had in a while.