With the exception of Le’Veon Bell, many have already condemned the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers‘ draft class with the likes of the 2008 group, as prominent draftees like Jarvis Jones, Markus Wheaton, Shamarko Thomas, and Landry Jones have struggled to consistently make their mark in the NFL. While there is no denying the issues the 2013 class has had, don’t declare them lost just yet. We’ve long said that at least three seasons is needed to surmise the quality of most NFL players, and patience is certainly a virtue in this situation.
Having said that, the career trajectory of a few of these players looks unavoidably clear at the moment. Given Landry Jones’ immense struggles in practices and preseason action, it is difficult to imagine him ever contributing to an NFL offense outside of the God-help-us, emergency situation. Jones is reportedly a great guy who works hard, but major accuracy issues and skittish feet under pressure have dismantled any shot he has of becoming the successor to Ben Roethlisberger. He’ll be competing for the third string quarterback spot this offseason with Tyler Murphy and Tajh Boyd, which should be an intriguing preseason positional battle to watch.
Many have said the 2015 Steelers’ secondary success will hinge somewhat on the play of Thomas, who is slated to step into a starting role in place of the recently retired Troy Polamalu. Thomas appeared primed for heavier usage in 2014, after registering 189 defensive snaps and 237 special teams snaps in 2013, mostly as an extra defensive back. Instead, 2014 was a curiously large step back for the Syracuse product, as Thomas saw the field on only three defensive plays and 164 special teams snaps. The Steelers’ coaching staff has limited options at the position this season, as the aging Will Allen is the only other viable strong safety on the Steelers roster unless someone arises between now and Week 1. This means Thomas will undoubtedly get plenty of opportunities to shine, especially in the box as a physical presence around the line of scrimmage.
Wheaton is the Steeler with the most production amongst this group, catching 53 passes for 644 yards and two touchdowns last season, while starting 11 games. While Wheaton has been serviceable through two seasons, the emergence of Martavis Bryant and drafting of Sammie Coates could mean a limited snap count for the speedy receiver if he can’t become more consistent. The main issue for Wheaton has been chemistry with Roethlisberger, as the former Oregon State wide receiver consistently wasn’t on the same page with his quarterback in 2014. According to Roethlisberger, Wheaton studies his butt off and works hard to correct his mistakes, so year three could be the time to shine for the young wideout.
Perhaps no recent draftee has been shredded quite like Jarvis Jones, and much of the criticism is warranted, as the now third-year player has had his fair share of struggles on the field in his first two seasons. Despite playing in 21 games, Jones has managed only three sacks, failing to make much of an impact as a pass rusher. The young edge defender has struggled with injury, breaking his wrist in Week 3 against the Panthers, before returning in Week 13 against the Bengals. Jones could not regain his starting job however, which should open up a fierce battle in camp between he, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, and rookie Bud Dupree for the two starting outside linebacker positions heading into the 2015 season.
Yes, patience is a virtue, but Pittsburgh doesn’t need to wait any longer. Now is the time for each of these players to step up into a prominent role with the team and perform, regardless of what has happened the past two seasons. What we see from the 2013 draft class in 2015 is likely what they will be, and that will go a long way toward determining how much longer each player remains a Pittsburgh Steeler.