We’ve all heard the cliche “speed kills” and on the football field, a tenth
of a second can mean the difference between an 80-yard touchdown or a 2-yard gain. With their 2014 draft class full of explosive, speedy players, it’s food for thought as to whether the Pittsburgh Steelers front office became just a bit too blinded by the stopwatches. Their first-rounder, Ryan Shazier, is the definition of explosive, a sideline-to-sideline presence who blistered a 4.37 40 at his Ohio State pro day
“As the offenses continue to spread out, you need speed; you need speed at your linebacker, you need speed at secondary, you need speed everywhere,” general manager Kevin Colbert said. “We’re super excited he was there for us.”
Meanwhile, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, who by many was ranked the #1 inside linebacker in the draft class, ran a slower 4.63 40 and was chosen several picks later by the Baltimore Ravens. Mosley finished seventh in the league with 133 tackles, making the Pro Bowl and second team All-Pro. Although Shazier flashed tremendous skills at times, his rookie season was injury plagued, and much more will be expected next season.
Fast forward to the third round, where the team opened eyes by, in the eyes of many, reaching for running back/wide receiver Dri Archer, who scorched the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis with a 40 time of 4.26 seconds, narrowly missing Chris Johnson‘s record of 4.24 seconds. Hyped up as a dynamo in the return game, and a jack-of-all-trades when it came to running and catching the football, the returns he gave the team during his rookie campaign didn’t meet the team’s investment.
The team’s top rookie last season, fourth-rounder Martavis Bryant, also flashed some serious wheels, posting a 4.42 40, and putting that speed on display throughout the season. He gained 549 yards and 8 scores, while posting a ridiculous 21.1 yards-per-catch average. While the jury is still out on the first two, Bryant is the deep threat the team sorely needed, with the ability to outrun defensive backs like a gazelle, then using his 6-foot-4 frame to go up and get the football.
With the 2015 NFL Combine now a few weeks away, and the Steelers’ glaring needs on the defense, it’s fair to believe all eyes will be on that side of the ball, beginning with outside linebackers and in the secondary. The past few seasons, the defense has eroded, with many analysts accusing it of being “too old and slow.” With the base 3-4 principles being kept intact by new coordinator Keith Butler, but also whispers of more hybrid looks, will the team again play the speed card?
“Good defense is really predicated on being where it is you’re supposed to be and good tackling,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “Speed is an awesome asset but it’s not going to be the defining asset for us. It’s football. It’s not a track meet.”
The players selected to participate in this year’s combine have a little bit more motivation as well. Adidas is offering up three custom Porsche 911 Carrera’s to the three fastest players in the 40-yard dash, provided they sign with the company before stepping up to the line. Each car, valued at about $83,000, are wrapped in a sleek, cheetah print design. Coincidentally, Shazier took his Porsche Panamera to get upgraded with a turbo system this week. The fast get faster.