Which rookies will make their mark on the field in their debut season?
The Pittsburgh Steelers, at least on paper, put together one of the best draft classes of any team in the NFL this past April. Kevin Colbert and Co. checked off their boxes one by one, meeting each need with high character, starter-potential players, especially with the first four picks. This looks to be one of the better draft classes for the Steelers in years. Let’s take a look at who might prove to be the cream of the crop in terms of the Steelers draft picks.
Depth For Now
9. Vince Williams
8. Nick Williams
7. Terry Hawthorne
Vince Williams, a middle linebacker from Florida State, would surprise many people if his role extended beyond special teams in his rookie season. The Steelers system requires extensive training, especially for middle linebackers. Williams will benefit from a year or two behind Lawrence Timmons, another Seminole. Nick Williams is a great athlete for a nose tackle, but he’s also a project for now. Corner Terry Hawthorne has some talent, but he’s battled injuries throughout his career and underwent knee surgery in May.
6. Justin Brown
5. Landry Jones
The Sooner pass-catching combo isn’t likely to connect in 2013 unless something goes horrendously wrong for Pittsburgh’s injury situation. It’s too early to tell if Jones is considered the heir-apparent to starter Ben Roethlisberger long-term, but if he is it’s nice to have a receiver with whom he’s built up a rapport. Brown isn’t a blazer, but he has good size and reliable hands.
4. Shamarko Thomas
3. Markus Wheaton
The Steelers landed two late-risers in the middle rounds of the draft. Some draft pundits have said that speed demon Markus Wheaton is a plug-and-play replacement for departed WR Mike Wallace, except with better hands and crisper routes. Shamarko Thomas has drawn comparisons to Bob Sanders, and was a great value for Pittsburgh in the fourth round. He’ll take over for either Troy Polamalu or Ryan Clark when either safety’s time in Pittsburgh comes to a close.
Potential Rookies of the Year
2. Jarvis Jones
1. Le’Veon Bell
The Steelers have two legitimate contenders for the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in Jones and Bell. The defensive candidate Jarvis Jones has to overcome Jason Worilds in order to secure the starting rush linebacker position, but if he does, watch out. Jones’s experience in Georgia’s 3-4 scheme should shorten his learning curve when it comes to learning Pittsburgh’s defense, and he’ll be playing with a big chip on his shoulder. Jones was passed over for several pass-rushers who “had more upside” than the ultra-productive Bulldog, and he steps into a city known for its outside linebacker history.
Le’Veon Bell is the Steelers rookie in the catbird seat. An assumed starter in a league where it’s easy for rookie tailback to become impact players, Bell will get the lion’s share of the touches in the Steel City backfield. Steelers fans should expect a 1,500 yard, eight touchdown campaign for the Michigan State product. Bell has a great shot to claim rookie of the year hardware in the 2013 season, especially with Pittsburgh’s desire to protect Ben Roethlisberger by extended use of the ground-and-pound.