A couple of days ago, I wrote an article about a series of grades evaluating the rookie draft classes of each NFL team following their first seasons, and I talked about the arbitrary nature of the process, in particular the signing of a letter grade for players who have yet to really have a meaningful NFL experience, as is the case of the majority of players in their first seasons.
In the subsequent comments, a few people asked about evaluating past draft classes, which is idea that I had already previously considered. While I will not go so far as to provide letter grades for each player, I will cover each of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft picks from the 2014 class. If interest persists, we may do a couple of past draft classes further back as well.
First Round (15): ILB Ryan Shazier: Which injuries have sidetracked his young career, I do believe that Ryan Shazier justified himself as a plug-and-play starter. He did not get off to the immediate spark that many hoped, and he eventually even lost his starting job as a rookie due to injury, but he showed major advances with some big performances and in taking over the playcalling duties this past year. He still has room to grow, particularly in terms of working through contact, but he is well on his way, as long as injuries do not deter him.
Second Round (46): DE Stephon Tuitt: As with Shazier, Stephon Tuitt has also more than justified his draft position. Many believed that Tuitt possessed first-round talent, and that is hard to argue with. He entered the starting lineup late in his rookie season and took off in his second year, starting all but two games due to injury while accumulating 6.5 sacks and making great strides as a stout run defender. And he, like Shazier, still has room to grow.
Third Round (97): RB/WR Dri Archer: The selection of Dri Archer certainly never worked out as planned, and they seemed to have given up on him by his second season, declining to use him even with their starting running back out. While he was making progress as a kick returner, you do not draft kick returners in the third round. He has since been released mid-season, an echo of the seeming consensus that this was as poor draft choice at a relatively valuable spot in the draft.
Fourth Round (118): WR Martavis Bryant: On the other hand, many felt that the selection of Martavis Bryant balanced out Archer. I think it would be hard to deny that the Steelers have gotten their money’s worth out of the fourth-round receiver, who in spite of his off-field issues and on-field drops added a new dimension to the offense that has helped make it among the most potent in the league.
Fifth Round (157): CB Shaquille Richardson: Perhaps overly enamored by ties to the Steelers’ defensive backs coach, Shaquille Richardson didn’t have much of an experience with the team. He spent much of training camp injured, with limited participation in the preseason. He landed on the practice squad, then injured reserve, before being waived. Fifth-round picks are not a shoe-in, but the succession of disappointments at the cornerback position is a sore spot.
Fifth Round (173): OL Wesley Johnson: The Steelers’ interest in Wesley Johnson was in his potential versatility as a lineman who started in college at all five offensive line spots, but he only played center during the preseason. And he played well, making the final 53-man roster, but was released a few games into the season to make another roster move. He was claimed off waivers, signed by the Jets. He did not make their 53-man roster in 2015, but was added back to the roster from their practice squad mid-season, and even made a start at center. I was a bit surprised the team did not attempt to reacquire him.
Sixth Round (192): ILB Jordan Zumwalt: Jordan Zumwalt has spent the past two seasons on injured reserve for the Steelers, which has been his best course of action, considering the team has been loaded at his position. But lack of health may doom his chances to ever make the roster, even if his brief play has been moderately enticing as a potential depth player.
Sixth Round (215): NT Daniel McCullers: The drafting of Daniel McCullers was based almost purely on his size at 6’7” and over 350 pounds. Since then he has not been a great deal more than a load. He was said to have been in excellent shape heading into 2015, but his role was limited, especially after an early season ankle injury that caused him to miss four games. He will look to become a valued contributor in 2016.
Seventh Round (230): TE Rob Blanchflower: Yet another player who could simply not get healthy, tight end Rob Blanchflower seemed to fit the Steelers’ profile for the position pretty well, but he couldn’t stay on the field. He made the practice squad as a rookie, but he was waived injured early in training camp in 2015 and spent the year on injured reserve. He has since already been released this offseason, the organization evidently deciding that he was given enough opportunities.