Can the Steelers Salvage Something from Artie Burns? Perhaps There’s Hope in Pittsburgh.

If the Steelers and Artie Burns were an actual romantic couple, one might say the two sides have moved on — if not physically, certainly mentally and emotionally.

  • Or, perhaps more accurately, the Steelers have moved on.

After making Artie Burns a bit of a controversial first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft (25th, overall), the rookie cornerback worked his way into the line-up in the second half of the season, starting nine games and intercepting three passes.

Artie Burns started all 16 games in 2017, and even though he often showed lapses in performance — including an inability to play zone coverage on a consistent basis — Burns still seemed to have legitimate “upside.”

That was especially the case during the 2018 training camp, when the third-year man out of Miami reportedly more than held his own against the legendary Antonio Brown.

Artie Burns, Antonio Brown, Steelers 2018 Training Camp

Artie Burns intercepts a pass intended for Antonio Brown. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Review

But Artie Burns’ inconsistency in 2017 mushroomed into downright consistent poor play at the start of the regular season. After starting six games, Burns was eventually replaced in the lineup by veteran journeyman Coty Sensabaugh.

  • Artie Burns was a non-factor down the stretch and contributed nothing in the secondary for a team that missed the playoffs by a mere half of a game.

At a time when Artie Burns should have been coming into his own as an NFL cornerback — there were some who said he had the potential to be the best cornerback from the 2016  NFL Draft — Burns was justifiably labeled a bust by many at season’s end.

The Steelers certainly acted like the label was apt, as their first big free agent move was to ink veteran cornerback Steven Nelson to a fairly lucrative three-year contract.

Fast-forward to the 2019 NFL Draft, and the Steelers doubled-down on the cornerback position by picking Michigan State’s Justin Layne in the third round. Perhaps the final nail for Artie Burns came shortly after that when Pittsburgh announced that it would not be picking up Burns’ fifth-year option, meaning 2019 will be his final one before he hits free agency.

Is Artie Burns a Lost Cause?

Truth be told, while nothing the Steelers have done at the cornerback position should give Artie Burns confidence that they have, well, confidence in him, this doesn’t mean he can’t win back their trust by reviving a career that has already had a few shovels of dirt thrown on it.

William Gay, a 2007 fifth-round pick out of Louisville, once struggled so much at the cornerback position, it didn’t seem like his career would last much beyond the 2010 season.

But in 2011, William Gay suddenly “got it,” and was so effective, he parlayed his uptick in performance into a decent free agent contract with the Cardinals in 2012. William Gay returned to the Steelers one year later, following his release from Arizona, and soon became Pittsburgh’s number one corner, starting a combined 40 games between 2013-2015.

Keenan Lewis, a third-round pick out of Oregan State in the 2009 NFL Draft, did next to nothing during his first three seasons, before suddenly putting it all together in 2012. In fact, Keenan Lewis was arguably Pittsburgh’s best cornerback that year, and the timing couldn’t have been better for him, as he was a much-sought after free agent who signed a huge deal with the Saints.

Point is, the Steelers could have very easily parted ways with both William Gay and Keenan Lewis during the lowest points of their respective careers, yet they were each allowed one more chance to prove their worth–and they were successful in doing so.

Artie Burns may not know who he will be playing for in 2020 (or even 2019, for that matter), but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be Pittsburgh. Joe Haden is scheduled to hit free agency next spring, and I’m sure the Steelers wouldn’t mind finding a younger replacement who is just as effective.

Notice how I didn’t throw “cheaper” into the mix, and that’s because Artie Burns can still pull a William Gay or Keenan Lewis and suddenly “get it” just in time to cash in. And if he doesn’t do that in Pittsburgh, well, there will be plenty of teams looking to throw money at the cornerback position next spring.

Artie Burns may have been left for dead by many — including his employers–but that doesn’t mean he’s buried…not yet.

 

 

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Will New Young Steelers Receivers Morph into the Next “Young Money”?

Let’s take a stroll down memory lane to the days of 2010 and 2011.

  • Ah, those were innocent times, weren’t they?

Mike Wallace, a third-round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, was catching 40-plus yard bombs on such a regular basis, people actually found it endearing that this was his best talent.

As for Emmanuel Sanders, the third-round pick from the 2010 NFL Draft, he was developing into a fine number three receiver and showing signs of morphing into much more. Speaking of morphing, Antonio Brown, who was picked three rounds later than Sanders in the same draft, was just starting to blossom into one of the best, young receivers in all of football.

In-fact, Antonio Brown had blossomed so much after his rookie season–a freshman campaign that included a spectacular and game-saving helmet catch vs. the Ravens in a thrilling divisional round playoff victory at Heinz Field–not only did he supplant the legendary Hines Ward in the starting lineup in 2011, he made his very first Pro Bowl.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, A.J. Bouye, Steelers vs Jaguars

Will JuJu Smith-Schuster lead another “Young Money” movement for the Steelers?. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com

Things were looking up for the Steelers pup-like receivers, a trio that quickly dubbed itself Young Money –for both financial and clutch purposes. The future was bright for Pittsburgh’s wide-out position, so bright, in-fact, it was not uncommon for fans and even experts to proclaim the unit the best in the entire NFL.

  • Then 2012 came along, and Mike Wallace, who was in-search of a long-term deal worth lots of money, decided to negotiate by holding out of all off season activities and the start of training camp.

This, of course, alienated Mike Wallace from the fans, who quickly dubbed him a one-trick pony and didn’t find his deep-threat speed quite so endearing any longer. Mike Wallace would be gone a year later.

As for Emmanuel Sanders, he would also alienate the fans by, one, not leaving in-exchange for the Patriots 2013 third-round pick (New England had signed Emmanuel Sanders, who was a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet which the Steelers matched, rather than allowing him to walk for a fairly high draft choice).

Emmanuel Sanders would go on to further anger the fans late in the 2013 season by dropping an admittedly tough catch on a two-point try in a Thanksgiving Night loss to the Ravens (Pittsburgh missed the playoffs by a Ryan Succop field goal weeks later).

Emmanuel Sanders then went on to sign a lucrative deal with the Broncos prior to the 2014 season — but not before unethically trying to leverage teams into giving him even more money. As a member of the Broncos, Sanders further “endeared” himself to Steelers fans by saying that his new quarterback, Peyton Manning, was so much more disciplined than his old quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

  • When it came to Antonio Brown, the man everyone would soon affectionately call “AB,” he appeared to be the working man’s wide-receiver.

He played hard and worked (as in, worked out) even harder. His work-ethic and attention to detail were second-to-none. Not only did Brown quickly become the fan favorite among the Young Money trio, he was rewarded with a five-year, $42 million contract extension in the summer of 2012 — or right when Mike Wallace was holding out of training camp.

Not only did Antonio Brown blossom into one of the best, young receivers in the NFL, he soon morphed into not only the very best in the business, but one of the best of all-time–his six-year run that includes 686 catches for 9,145 yards from 2013-2018 is unmatched in NFL history.

  • Antonio Brown was not only a huge fan favorite, he was an all-time Steelers great.

Then the 2018 season ended, and, well, you know what happened. Since I don’t want to focus on Antonio Brown much more than I have to in this piece, let’s just say he did just about everything he could to ensure that he would have the ugliest divorce of any Steelers legend in franchise history.

The question now is, how will the Steelers press on in the aftermath of Young Money? In Brown’s absence is JuJu Smith-Schuster, a third-year man out of USC, who not only became one of the most popular Steelers right out of the gate, he has become one of the new faces of the NFL.

Oh yeah, he’s also a really good wide-out, complete with over 100 receptions and a Pro Bowl bid in 2018. Smith-Schuster has all the potential to be the next in a long-line of great Steelers receivers. But will be also morph into a problem child? Will he be the next in a long-line of diva receivers who the fans can’t wait to see leave town?

  • It’s way too early to know for sure, but Smith-Schuster appears to be more Hines Ward than he does Antonio Brown.

Not only is he a fierce competitor that loves to block almost as much as he loves to catch, he has great character–and it seems genuine. He has all the makings of a team leader, someone who would rather set a good example by being on-time to meetings, than demand preferential treatment while showing up late to them.

  • Not only that, his personality and charm are contagious–like Alejandro Villanueva once said, “Everyone needs a little JuJu in their life.”

Speaking of character, there’s no question the Steelers have been targeting not only talented athletes in recent drafts, but youngsters with few red flags that may morph into the total package one day–including team leaders and captains.

The jury is still deliberating about the future of James Washington, the team’s second-round pick from a season ago. But, so far, his only off-the-field activities seem to involve farming and fishing.

It’s way too early to know the exact future of the Steelers receiving corps as a whole, but given the character of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, it’s hard to see the unit giving birth to more problem children.

In other words, there will be no reboot of Young Money in Steeler Nation.

 

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What the Steelers Decision on Free Agent David Johnson Will Reveal about Ladarius Green

So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” Matthew 20:17

Fear not, Steel Curtain Rising isn’t suddenly going religious, but this quote seems applicable to the story of Pittsburgh Steelers tight end David Johnson. The Steelers drafted David Johnson with their final pick of the 2009 NFL Draft following Super Bowl XLIII.

If the Steelers 2009 Draft is perhaps one of the most misunderstood of the Colbert-Tomlin era, it is perhaps fitting that David Johnson is the last member of that group to remain with the team.

David Johnson, Xavier Grimble, Steelers vs Chiefs, David Johnson Steelers free agent

David Johnson on a 26 yard reception in the Steelers 2016 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images

Capsule Profile of David Johnson’s Steelers Career

Fits and starts – that’s best description of David Johnson’s Steelers career. Johnson had to settle for the practice squad in 2009, but he earned a roster spot as the team’s 3rd string tight end in 2010 doing double duty that year and in 2011 at fullback. In 2012 Todd Haley announced he was moving David Johnson to fullback full time, but Johnson tore his ACL in preseason.

The Steelers brought Johnson back in 2013, ostensibly as a fullback, but he ended up beginning the season as the Steelers number 1 tight end while Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth were injured. David Johnson’s season was off to a strong start when disaster struck again as he tore an ACL, ending his season.

In May of 2016 the Steelers made a surprise move by resigning David Johnson. The move looked to be little more than an insurance policy, yet with Matt Spaeth headed to waivers and Ladariyus Green to the PUP, David Johnson once again found himself beginning the 2016 season as the Steelers number 1 tight end.

The Case for the Steelers Resigning David Johnson

David Johnson provided vital veteran stability to a tight end corps that lost a collective 20 years of experience and dependability with the departures of Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.

David Johnson isn’t going to keep a lot of opposing defensive coordinators up late with worry, but David Johnson will frustrate opposing linebackers who think that running his way will give them a free shot at Ben Roethlisberger or Le’Veon Bell.

  • Jesse James confirmed in 2016 what he’d flashed in 2015 – that he’s a legitimate NFL tight end.

Xavier Grimble had flashes of his own in 2016, but didn’t have the kind of breakout year some were expecting and hoping for. Ladarius Green was a field flipper when he was healthy, but his season only lasted 6 games and one has to wonder if he can, or should, continue to play given his history with concussions.

David Johnson gives the Steelers a valuable, viable insurance policy at tight end who can resigned for the veteran minimum. This is one easy deal Kevin Colbert should get done.

The Case Against the Steelers Resigning David Johnson

The conventional wisdom is that the Steelers will draft a tight end fairly early given the uncertainty surrounding Ladarius Green. The Steelers uncharacteristically kept 4 tight ends in 2016, there’s no chance that they’ll keep 5 in 2017.

  • David Johnson would seem to be the odd man out.

The story of a veteran hanging around as an old hand, acting as sort of a mentor, player coach is romantic, but the fact is that every veteran like that is taking up a roster spot for a younger player who has more upside.

Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and David Johnson

Let’s face it, David Johnson’s impending foray into free agency in 2017 isn’t quite as dramatic as Rod Woodson’s free agent debut in 1997.

Seriously, this writer admits to being somewhat of a homer for David Johnson, but even with that acknowledged, the truth he represents one of Kevin Colbert’s less consequential decisions this spring. David Johnson showed that he still can play and probably remains the Steelers best blocking tight end.

  • Given the Steelers success with the “Big Boy Package” a strong blocking tight end is a must.

But the Steelers also have the luxury of allowing this situation to evolve on its own terms. No NFL team is going to throw money at David Johnson, and the Steelers can go into the draft looking for a tight end, without having to reach for one, because Johnson will still be available afterwards.

Finally, if the decision the Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have to make on free agent tight end David Johnson isn’t terribly consequential, it does promise to reveal something important. If Steelers David Johnson before the 2017 NFL Draft, then we’ll know they’re concerned about Ladarius Green’s future, protestations to the contrary.

If they take a wait and see approach, then we’ll know their confidence level in Green’s return is high.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season

Just stop and think for one moment of everyone and everything that comprises the product of an team’s NFL season? It’s a process the delivers the collective sum total of the actions taken by hundreds of players, dozens of scouts and coaches and scores of front office personnel .

  • Trying to quantify that endeavor is as daunting as it is foolish.

While we’re not quite so ambitious here at Steel Curtain Rising, we have tried to single out the 16 Defining Moments of the Steelers 2016 Season.

Antonio Brown, Zach Orr, Steelers vs Ravens, Steelers 2016 season defining moments, antonio brown christmas touchdown ravens

Antonio Brown’s last second touchdown vs the Ravens on Christmas was a defining moment for the 2016 Steelers. Photo Credit: Fred Vuich, AP.

1. Steelers Sign Alejandro Villanaueva

This moment of course came 2 years before the 2016 season even started and, in the predigital age, only would have warranted an inch or two of column space, if even that had it not been for Alejandro Villanueva’s Army background and service in Afghanistan.

  • But Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Mike Munchak saw something they linked in the young man, decided to give him a shot at a new position.

Two years later that move paid dividends as Kelvin Beachum left, while Ryan Harris and Jerald Hawkins got hurt – yet thanks to Villanueva’s development, the Steelers offensive line played perhaps its best football of the Tomlin era.

2. Heath Miller Retires

After a highly depleted 2015 Steelers roster came SO close to upsetting the Denver Broncos at Mile High in the AFC Divisional playoff game, it was tempting to look to 2016 and imagine the team picking up just where it left off.

However, as Mike Tomlin reminds the media and his team at the end of every season, each year brings a new start and there is no carry over.

And Heath Miller’s retirement was the first example of this. The move, while not surprising, wasn’t anticipated and, if Heath Miller was no longer a threat to stretch the field, Heath Miller gave Ben Roethlisberger about as dependable target as a quarterback can get.

3. Martavis Bryant Suspended

If Heath Miller’s retirement was a subtle but sobering reminder that the Steelers won’t field the same team in 2016 that they finished with in 2015, Martavis Bryant’s latest suspension of substance abuse made the point with shocking clarity.

While consistency eluded Martavis Bryant during the 2015 regular season, during the 2015 playoffs Bryant showed that he had Jerry Rice-like transformation talent.

His suspension showed that he also had Randy Moss off the field discipline issues that could prevent him from realizing his full potential.

4. Steelers Release Cortez Allen

The Steelers decision to release Cortez Allen 2 weeks before the 2016 NFL Draft hardly ranks as a surprise, given Mike Tomlin’s comments on Allen at the 2015 season’s end. But cutting Cortez Allen, along with the decisions to let Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin depart as free agents, and not bring back safety Will Allen for yet another year, showed that Tomlin, Colbert, Keith Butler and Carnell Lake were going all in on renewing the Steelers secondary.

Artie Burns, Sean Davis, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers secondary 2016

Sean Davis and Artie Burns at Steelers rookie mini-camp. Photo Credit: Tribune-Review

5. Steelers Draft Burns, Davis and Hargrave

The Steelers need to rebuild on defense has been well documented, particularly their failure at rejuvenating the secondary.

The Steelers went into the 2016 NFL Draft with a plan to boost the defense, and Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin never flinched drafting Artie Burns in the first round, Sean Davis in the second round and Javon Hargrave in the second round.

The move paid handsome dividends as each player stepped up to make important contributions to the Steelers 9 game winning streak that closed the season.

6. David Johnson Returns

In June the Steelers surprised everyone by signing David Johnson, the final pick from the 2009 Draft Class who’d spent 2014 and 2015 with the San Diego Chargers. The move telegraphed Matt Spaeth’s release, further reinforcing the turnover theme.

However, as training camp dragged on, and Ladarius Green came no closer to practicing, it was clear that David Johnson would give the Steelers a veteran presence and solid blocking ability to a very green crops of tight ends.

7. Senquez Golson injures Lisfranc

During the off season, Mike Tomlin spoke glowingly about Senquez Golson, the cornerback the Steelers took in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft who lost his rookie season to shoulder surgery.

  • The Steelers were counting on Golson to do big things in 2016.

Unfortunately, Senquez Golson’s 2016 season amounted to two padded practices in change as he injured his Lisfranc. The Steelers kept Golson on the active roster, but ultimately had to put him on injured reserve, further highlighting the magnitude of the risk the Steelers were taking with their secondary.

8. Steelers Sign Cobi Hamilton

When the Steelers signed Cobi Hamilton on August 5th they were picking up a guy who’d bounced around to several practices squads over the last three years. By the look of it, they were doing little more than picking up another body to help them get through training camp drills.

  • But Hamilton did well enough to make the final roster.

And if Hamilton did struggle during the Steelers AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, the rookie effectively functioned as the Steelers 3rd wide receiver during their 9 game winning streak.

Cobi Hamiltion, defining moments steelers 2016, steelers vs browns, steelers new years overtime win browns

Cobi Hamilton catches game winner in overtime over Browns in Steelers New Years Day win. Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham, AP via Herald Star

9. Markus Wheaton Gets Hurt in Steelers Preseason win over Saints

The Steelers preseason win over the New Orleans Saints served as their dress rehearsal for the season, and by all accounts the Pittsburgh passed with flying colors.

Steel Curtain Rising admits to being somewhat of a homer for Markus Wheaton, but Wheaton played very well down the stretch in 2015 and the Steelers sure could have used him during the second half of 2016. Alas, Wheaton did return for a 3 game stretch in early part of the season, but was lost for good in week 11.

10. Le’Veon Bell Returns

Le’Veon Bell started 2013 injured, finished 2014 injured, began 2015 on suspension and finished the year on IR. Again, he began 2016 serving a suspension. So let’s remember that there WERE legitimate question as to whether this young back could deliver on the field when the Steelers hosted the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football.

  • Le’Veon Bell steamrolled the Chiefs for 178 all-purpose yards.

In doing so, the young running back put the NFL on notice that stopping the Steelers would mean stopping him.

11. Big Ben Gets Injured in Miami

Its no secret that Ben Roethlisberger remains the one, indispensable player on the Pittsburgh Steelers roster. His injury, in addition to the coach’s decision to abandon the run early, cost the Steelers the game in Miami, and arguably cost the Steelers on the road to the Ravens. Those losses prevented the Steelers from securing a first round bye, which proved costly.

12. Ryan Shazier Returns to Full Health

The naysayers in Steelers Nation have long been down on Ryan Shazier for being injury prone. The fact is that, with on disrespect to Vince Williams, the Steelers missed his athleticism during the middle portion of the season.

  • Shazier returned to his status as a full time starter against the Ravens.

And while the Steelers defense didn’t pick up its performance immediately, within two weeks Ryan Shazier was back to making splash plays all over the field, and by the season’s end, he was easily the Steelers best defender.

James Harrison, James Harrison color rush, defining moments steelers 2016

James Harrison’s return to full time starter helped fuel the 2016 Steelers nine game winning streak. Photo Credit: USA Today sports via 247 Sports

13. James Harrison Returns to Full Time Stater

Since James Harrison returned from retirement in 2014 the Steelers have rotated him in some form or fashion, attempting to groom Jarvis Jones to take over the role full time. But Jones flinched on the critical play of the Steelers loss to the Cowboys, and Mike Tomlin wasted little time in promoting James Harrison to a full time starter.

  • All Harrison did was lead the team in sacks in his 7 starts.

More important, James Harrison held transform the Steelers rush defense from a liability into an asset. As Mike Tomlin rhetorically questioned when he announced the move, “What are we saving James Harrison for?” A playoff run, which is what the Steelers got.

14. Steelers Christmas Comeback over the Ravens

Yes, the Steelers needed this one to clinch the AFC North division in an all or nothing shot. Yes, this epic Christmas game was worth of narration by NFL Films legend John Facenda, yes Antonio Brown last minute stretch was an act that revealed his sheer greatness.

  • But there’s something more important that happened on Christmas 2016 for the Steelers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers snapped a 5 game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens with this win. And while that hardly reestablishes the Steelers as the alpha male of the division, a six straight loss would have conferred that status to the Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell, Steelers vs Dolphins, Le'Veon bell breaks playoff rushing record, le'veon bell dolphins

Le’Veon Bell breaks the Steelers playoff rushing record vs. the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus, Getty Images via CBS Pittsburgh Local

15. Le’Veon Bell Breaks Steelers Playoff Rushing Record. Twice

When Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers single game playoff rushing record the first time this, we stopped and reflected on what it meant. Then Bell went out and did it again in the following week.

On an individual level, this feat highlights just how special of talent Le’Veon Bell has. However, on a team level this also seemed to underscore that the Steelers were going to go as far as Le’Veon Bell would take them….

16. Steelers get Thumped by Patriots in AFC Championship (Again.)

…And Le’Veon Bell’s ride would end early in the first quarter against the New England Patriots, where the Steelers would fall 36-17 in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicates.

For all of the growth they made and for all of the adversity they overcame, the 2016 Steelers simply weren’t Super Bowl worthy, as their latest AFC Championship loss to the Patriots revealed.
We’re wrapping up coverage of the Steelers 2016 season this week. Check back for their regular season report card and season summary.

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Mike Tomlin Names Darrius Heyward-Bey Starter. Is There Worse News in Store for Markus Wheaton?

he Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette has lamented Mike Tomlin’s mastery of the “informationless press conference” on more than one occasion. But in this week’s conference, Mike Tomlin shared a news bit that is important on several fronts:

This announcement of Darrius Heyward-Bey’s starter status Steelers Nation three important pieces of information.

Darrius Heyward Bey, Mike Tomlin names Darrius Heyward-Bey starter, Markus Wheaton

Darrius Heyward-Bey on his 60 yard touchdown run vs. Miami. Photo Credit: AP via Yahoo! Sports

First, the move represents a huge win for Darrius Heyward-Bey. When the Steelers signed Darrius Heyward-Bey during the 2014 off season, you could safely classify the move as another bargin-basement free agency signing made out of desperation by the salary capped Steelers. The Oakland Raiders had made the former Maryland Terrapin the 7th pick overall in the 2009 NFL Draft, and he was now signing a free agent minimum deal.

But Heyward-Bey buckled his chin strap, and reinvented himself on special teams, settling for a mere 5 pass targets from Ben Roethlisberger during the 2014 season. Darrius Heyward-Bey got more opportunities during the 2015 season, earned a new contract, and teamed with Landry Jones to give the Steelers offense some fireworks in their loss to the Patriots.

  • Second, the move tells us that Sammie Coates still isn’t ready to assume the number 2 slot, either because of injury or his development.

The third piece of information perhaps carries some ominous implications for the incumbent starter Markus Wheaton.

Worse News Ahead for Markus Wheaton?

The Pittsburgh Steelers made Markus Wheaton their third round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, with an eye towards grooming him as Mike Wallace’s replacement. Injuries ruined Wheaton’s rookie season, but he rebounded to start 11 games in 2014.

Fans won’t soon forgive or forget Wheaton’s drop in the 2014 road loss to the Ravens, but during latter half of the season, Wheaton flew under the radar to make any number of drive-extending catches. Wheaton also had a shaky start to 2015, but came on strong late in the season.

Unfortunately it hasn’t worked out this way. Perhaps the one negative piece of news to come out of the Steelers preseason offensive masterpiece over the New Orleans Saints was Markus Wheaton’s shoulder injury. Wheaton missed Pittsburgh’s first two games, making his return in the Steelers disastrous loss to the Eagles.

  • Markus Wheaton certainly doesn’t deserve blame for a team-wide “Below the line” performance, but his drops set the tone early on.

Wheaton did rebound with a nice touchdown catch vs. the Kansas City Chiefs, and caught two short passes against the Jets. He’s been injured since and Darrius Heyward-Bey starter status is not good for Wheaton, neither the news on Ladarius Green.

Markus Wheaton’s demotion despite his apparent return to health could be the first sign that he is a possible candidate to get a visit from The Turk. The Observer-Reporter’s Dale Lolley has thrown out that Wheaton’s roster spot could be in jeopardy, although Lolley did not indicate that he was basing this on information gleamed from inside sources. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler also suggested Wheaton might be a trade target.

Of course, the NFL trading deadline came and passed without a serious whisper about Wheaton being on the block so Fowler’s comment was more about filling space in a mandatory ESPN column than anything else. But the fact that two major Steelers beat writers are even classifying a former starter as dispensable is not something to ignore.

  • It’s unusual for the Steelers to cut a starter at midseason, but it did happen with Isaac Redman in 2014.

The odds are against the Steelers cutting Markus Wheaton to make room for Ladarius Green, but clearly Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley’s decision to name Darrius Heyward-Bey starter that Markus Wheaton’s stake in the Steelers offense is declining.

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Steelers Tight End David Johnson – Can Johnson Fill the Void Until Ladarius Green Recovers?

With Ladarius Green lingering injury creating chaos, could forgotten man, David Johnson fill the 2016 Steelers void at tight end, at least in the short term? Clearly, Steelers coaches want Jesse James to fill that void.

Coaches don’t always get what they want but Steelers tight end David Johnson just might provide enough of what Pittsburgh’s offense needs until Ladarius Green recovers….

Steelers tight end David Johnson, pittsburgh steelers, david johnson, steelers lions preseason

Steelers tight end David Johnson catches a pass in preseason. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune-Review

Whether it is because of his ankle, as Mike Tomlin insists, or because of headaches (sinus or concussion related), the Pittsburgh Steelers are in no hurry to take Ladarius Green off of the PUP list. Green insists his issues are with his ankle and not his head, and that he’s improving. But the Steelers 2016 opener vs. the Washington Redskins is two weeks away, and Green has yet to take a snap with the Steelers offense in practice, let alone a game.

  • And that leaves the Steelers in a quandary at tight end.

Heath Miller has retired. Matt Spaeth failed his physical and the Steelers and has been cut. That shifted most of the focus on Jesse James, the Steelers 5th round pick from the 2015 NFL Draft. So be it. Jesse James looked good as a rookie, catching his second and third passes for scores. But Landry Jones ill-fated 4th interception came as the result of getting drilled before throwing the ball, and James blocking on that play.

If his preseason stats are any indication, the Steelers are not looking to use Jesse James as a weapon on the passing game. And that means that whoever starts for the Steelers at tight end needs to block well. And James is having issues there.

That leaves David Johnson.

David Johnson from Forgotten Man to Key Role Player (Again)

Let’s get this out in the open. I’m a David Johnson fan. David Johnson wasn’t the 2009 NFL Draft’s “Mr. Irrelevant” but he was pretty close, as the Steelers drafted Johnson at 241 in the 7th round, or 16 picks before the final player was taken.

  • What exactly are the odds of a 7th round draft pick of a defending Super Bowl champion making the final roster?

Who knows, but they cannot be good, especially when that Super Bowl team has Heath Miller playing in his prime and Matt Spaeth growing into his third year. But Johnson bucked the system and made the Steelers. Johnson first came to my attention in the Steelers 2010 road upset of the Baltimore Ravens. That might seem odd, given Troy Polamalu’s strip sack of Joe Flacco, LaMarr Woodley’s recovery, Ben Roethlisberger’s brawl with Terrell Suggs, and Isaac Redman’s will-power touchdown.

Yet, in naming David Johnson as the game’s unsung hero the Steelers-Ravens Report Card observed this:

…For a guy that never caught anything, to come in to the number two tight end position and bring down three catches including a 25 yarder that was the Steelers first long gain of the night. The Steelers continue to win in the face of so many injuries because David Johnson and players like him are stepping it up.

And that’s largely the kind of player David Johnson has been. There’s nothing sexy about him. He’s a guy who has made a career of fighting for an winning one of those final 10 roster spots year-in-and year out. He’s also overcome adversity.

Todd Haley tapped him to transition into a full-time fullback in 2012, only for Johnson to get injured in training camp. The Steelers made an unhearalded resigning of Johnson in the 2013 off season, and Johnson worked his way back in 2013. A year after being asked to drop weight and become play fullback full time, with Health Miller and Matt Spaeth out, David Johnson stepped into the number 1 tight end role.

  • David Johnson didn’t make anyone forget he wasn’t Heath Miller in 2013, and he’s not going to do it in 2016 either.

But Johnson did have the makings of a nice comeback story until he tore his ACL in the Steelers victory over the New York Jets. The Steelers let Johnson depart to San Diego where he put up the kind of numbers you’d expect him to put up playing behind Antonio Gatesa nd Ladarius Green.

At this stage of his career, it’s clear that even at his best, David Johnson isn’t going to draw comparisons to Bennie Cunningham from fans who are my parents age, or to Mike Mularkey or Mark Bruener from fans who are 40 something. It would be idea if David Johnson could deliver at that level , but that’s simply not realistic. Jesse James might reach that level, but he’s not there now.

  • It says here that if the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are to climb the Stairway to Seven, Ladarius Green is going to have to contribute at some point.

But Ladarius Green isn’t ready to do that now, and won’t be for some time. In the meantime, the Steelers need someone who won’t be a liability at tight end. Jesse James hasn’t shown he’s able to fill that role yet. Likewise, Xavier Grimble can’t do that yet either. David Johnson likely can.

David Johnson is in no way the Pittsburgh Steelers “answer” at tight end. But he could fill an important void in the here and now.

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Steelers Sign Veteran Cornerback Donald Washington

It is not unusual for the Steelers, or any NFL team, to make a couple of three roster moves following a rookie minicamp. An unsigned player on a tryout contract might catch a coach’s eye, as Terence Garvin did in 2013, or an undrafted rookie free agent blows his chance by showing up out of shape. So its nothing out of the ordinary to see the Steelers sign four players following their rookie minicamp.

It is who the Steelers signed that should turn some heads….

https://twitter.com/steelers/status/729385544359227394

  • But quartet of new Steelers signings brought a surprise with it.

Donald Washington, unlike backs Cameron Stingily and Brandon Brown-Dukes, along with wide receiver Marcus Tucker, is a veteran NFL cornerback….

That’s no misprint.

The Steelers website confirms the team signed “four try out players” from the rookie mini camp, but Donald Washington is no rookie.

The Kansas City Cheifs drafted Donald Washington in the 4th round of the 2009 NFL Draft as a safety. Per Pro Football Reference, Donald Washington saw action in 32 games for the Chiefs, and even made 5 starts from 2009 to 2011.

  • After that, Washington disappeared from football for two years, before resurfacing in the CFL in 2014 and 2015.

Washington switched to cornerback and played the 2014 CFL season for the Toronto Argonauts where he appeared in 3 games and made 14 defensive tackles and one special teams tackle. The Argonauts cut Washington before the 2015 season, but the Hamilton Tiger-Cats signed him where he made 13 defensive tackles, 2 special teams tackles and recorded one sack.

Washington = Wired Signing for Steelers

At the recent NFL owners meeting, Mike Tomlin assured reporters that the Steelers had no plans to sign a veteran cornerback, however, Tomlin is wont to promise to “Leave no lose stone unturned” when it comes to finding talent that can help the Steelers.

  • The Steelers signing Donald Washington certainly qualifies as “found beneath a loose stone” discovery.

Players do sometimes disappear and then reappear. Mark Stock, a member of the 1989 Steelers draft class, and the guy who dropped a would-be late 4th quarter third down conversion pass from Bubby Brister in the 89 Steelers playoff loss to Denver, was out of football from 1990 to 1992, reappearing with the Redskins in 1993, disappearing for two more seasons and then reappearing in 1996 at as a 30 year old kick returner with the Colts.

In all fairness, Kevin Colbert’s skill at making astute “street free agent” signings and/or waiver wire pickups has been incredible.

As Steel Curtain Rising has previously recounted (at least twice), one of Colbert’s first moves upon arriving in Pittsburgh in 2000 was to sign former Detroit Lions offensive tackle Larry Tharpe, who’d sat out football in 1999.

No one will confuse Tharpe with Max Starks, let alone Larry Brown, but he did start 5 games in 2000, and was better than either of the Steelers 1999 starting right tackles Chris Conrad or Anthony Brown.

  • Perhaps Donald Washington is 2016’s Larry Tharpe.

Or maybe there’s a Todd Haley connection. Todd Haley drafted Washington and Washington left the NFL after 2011, at the same time Todd Haley joined the Steelers. Perhaps the two men have a bond, and Haley was able to get Washington a try out.

  • Or maybe Donald Washington just owes Haley money…..

Washington’s past performance suggests he’s got a greater chance of getting cut after minicamp than he does getting reps late in the 4th quarter of the Steelers first preseason game, but stranger things have happened….

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Steelers Draft Tyler Matakevich, Close 2016 Draft with Linebacker from Temple

Going into the 2016 NFL Draft all signs indicated that the Pittsburgh Steelers would go all in on defense, and that is what they did from start to finish. The day’s end saw the Steelers draft Tyler Matakevich, a linebacker from Temple with their second 7th round pick.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin praised Tyler Matakevich explaining “He’s easy to track. You watch Temple play, he makes all the tackles.” Kevin Colbert offered this:

Such comments hark back to the end of the 2009 NFL Draft, when the Steelers used their next to last pick to take center A.Q. Shipley. Shipley’s supposedly had short arms for a center and lacked other measurables, but Colbert insisted that Shipley displayed the heart needed to play in the NFL.

  • A.Q. Shipley never played for the Steelers, save for the practice squad, but had a respectable career for the Colts, Ravens and Cardinals.

Tyler Matakevich played inside linebacker for Temple, and assuming the Steelers keep him there, he does have a decent shot at a roster spot, as the departures of Sean Spence and Terence Garvin leave at least one opening to be filled.

Video Highlights of Tyler Matakevich

Tyler Matakevich was a four year player for the Temple Owls where he amassed 338 tackles, 7 sacks, 7 interceptions, forced 4 fumbles, and tackled 40 people behind the line of scrimmage. You can see some of his best work for yourself, thanks to the magic of YouTube:

Tyler Matakevich looks to have been a big fish in a small pond. Now he must prove he can do it with the big boys. You can imagine that Steelers Inside Linebacker coach Jerry Olsavsky will give Tyler Matakevich every chance he deserves to impress enough to make the team.

After all Olsavsky himself entered the NFL as a longshot 10th round draft pick from Pitt who supposedly wasn’t big enough, strong enough, or fast enough. But Jerry O was good enough. Matakevich will get the chance to prove the same thing about himself.

Welcome to Steelers Nation Tyler Matakevich.

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The Colbert Record: Steelers 4th Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

In its current incarnation, the 4th round represents balance point of the NFL Draft. Rounds 1-3 represent the cream of the crop. Rounds 5-7 represent the bottom feeders.

  • Round four falls squarely in between.

A fourth rounder maturing into a starter should surprise no one; yet a fourth rounder who only develops into a part-time role player cannot be written off as a bust. This year’s edition of The Colbert Record looks at Kevin Colbert’s history with 4th round picks.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2000 Fourth Round Pick – Danny Farmer

Wide receiver had been a weakness of the Steelers in 1998 and 1999. Based on the early returns, Troy Edwards had given the Steelers a foot hold on rectifying the problem, and the earlier pick of Plaxio Burress looked to improve the Steelers further. No one paid much attention to Hines Ward, so the pick of Danny Farmer seemed enticing.

  • At least until the Steelers opened camp at St. Vincent’s in Labrobe

Danny Famer couldn’t cut it, so Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert cut him. Bob Smizik of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette decried the move, pointing the Farmer’s absence after the Steelers 16-0, 2000 opening day loss to the Ravens. Smizik doubled down in December (when the 2000 Steelers had turned around their season), extolling Farmer, by then a Cincinnati Bengal for a great game against Jacksonville.

Farmer, however was out of football by 2003, and never had more than 19 catches in a season. He didn’t do much for the Bengals, which is better than what the Steelers got from him. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2001 Fourth Round Pick – Mathias Nkwenti

Unlike wide recievers, there are few stats measure offensive lineman. But one stat that does stand out is this: Mathias Nkwenti appeared in two games for the Steelers one in 2001 and another in 2003. Then he was out of football. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2002 Fourth Round Pick – Larry Foote

If you were looking to define a prototype for a “quality 4th round pick” you’d need to look to Kevin Colbert’s 2002 4th round pick of Larry Foote.

When news broke that 2001’s rookie stand out Kendrell Bell was injured and wouldn’t be able to suit up for the opener, most Steelers fans figured that John Fiala would be the “Next man up.” Fiala wasn’t a superstar, but he’d paid his dues on special teams and as a backup since 1998, and sort of fit the Jerry Olsavsky mold.

  • Bill Cowher instead looked to the rookie Larry Foote to start.

Foote got the first three starts of the season, and while Bell kept him on the bench in 2003, Foote assumed the starting role in 2004 and started from that moment until the Steelers hoisted Lombardi Number Six over their heads after Super Bowl XLIII.

Foote of course departed in 2009, but was back in 2009 as a backup, only to reassume the starting role after James Farrior’s retirement. 105 regular season starts and 11 playoff starts including two Super Bowls is pretty impressive for a fourth round pick. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2003 Fourth Round Pick – Ike Taylor

If Larry Foote fulfilled all that can be expected of a 4th round pick, then 2003’s fourth round pick is an example of a 4th rounder who completely exceeds expectations. And to think, Mark Madden declared the pick of Ike Taylor as the worst pick in franchise history.

  • Something tells me that Mike Holmgrem and Matt Hasslebeck would beg to differ.

Ike Taylor won’t get recognition alongside the Jack Butler, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson as one of the franchise’s true great cornerbacks because he couldn’t hold on to interceptions. But from 2005 until 2012ish, Ike Taylor was able to shadow the opponents best receiver and often times take him out of the game. Grade: Grand Slam

Steelers 2004 Fourth Round Pick – Nathaniel Adibi

If Steelers lore is correct, a faction of the Steelers draft room wanted to use this pick on Michael Turner. Bill Cowher wanted Nathaniel Adibi. Unfortunately Cowher got his way. Nathaniel Adibi never played a down in a regular season NFL game, Michael Turner rushed for 7,338 yards in a 9 yard career. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2005 Fourth Round Pick – Fred Gibson

Just as he did in 2000, Kevin Colbert drafted wide receiver in the fourth round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Like Danny Farmer, Fred Gibson never played a down for the Steelers. Unlike Danny Farmer, Gibson never played anywhere in the NFL. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2006 Fourth Round Picks – Willie Colon and Orien Harris

Many times during Mike Tomlin’s early tenure, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette refered to a lack of alignment between the front office and the coaches on the offensive line, and looked to the Steelers seemingly bipolar treatment of Max Starks.

Bouchette might have had a point, but Steelers coaches were already angling to replace Max Starks with Willie Colon by the end of his rookie year. Colon did beat out Starks on the right side, and held down the fort there from 2007 to 2009. Injuries of course ruined his 2010 and 2011 season and derailed it in 2012 when he’d settled in at offensive guard. Grade: Quality Value Pick

Orien Harris, defensive tackle out of Miami was the Steelers second fourth round pick in 2004. He never played a down for the Steelers, but did appear in 18 games for the Bengals and Browns in the next three season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2007 Fourth Round Picks — Daniel Sepulveda and Ryan McBean

The Mike Tomlin era began with two fourth round picks and it started with a bang, of sorts.
Mike Tomlin looked to make a statement with his first draft by trading up to get a punter to emphasize the importance of special teams. Daniel Sepulveda was the pick.

Sepulveda had two decent seasons punting, until injuries cost him the 2008 season. He injured himself again in 2010. To the surprise of many, the Steelers brought him back in 2011, but his last game was the Steelers All Saints day upset of the Patriots. It is not Sepulveda the Steelers picked him first, but if you pick a punter in the fourth round, he’d better be All World. Sepulveda wasn’t that even when healthy: Grade: Disappointment

The Steelers second 4th round pick was of Ryan McBean, a defensive tackle out of Oklahoma State. McBean played one game as a rookie in Pittsburgh during 2007 for the Steelers, and then 46 the three years afterwards including 21 starts. Unfortunately, McBean played his last four seasons for Denver and Baltimore. His stats indicate OK value for a 4th round pick, unfortunately, the Steelers didn’t benefit from any of that value. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2008 Fourth Round Pick – Tony Hills

As mentioned when profiling 2008’s 3rd round pick Bruce Davis, Jim Wexell wrote that Mike Tomlin would match Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together during training camp and extol both men on, saying, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you.”

  • Unfortunately, Tomlin was wrong about both men.

Davis was gone in a year. Tony Hills however, stuck around. However, he did not dress in 2008 nor did he suit up in 2009. Hills got a little bit of a reprise under 2010’s special teams coach Sean Kugler, and he actually saw action in four games. The Steelers experimented with him at guard during the 2011 preseason, but cut him.

Since then Tony Hills has stuck on with Denver, Indianapolis, Dallas, Miami and most recently in 2015 New Orleans, seeing spot duty (and one start) in 18 games. But when you draft a tackle in the 4th round, you really need more than four games in 3 seasons. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2009 Fourth Round Pick – Traded

The Steelers traded their 4th round pick along with their second to get Denver’s two 3rd round picks in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Steelers 2010 Fourth Round Pick – Thaddeus Gibson

The Steelers used their 2010 4th round pick on linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. The early reports on Gibson out of Latrobe were positive. However, when the Steelers needed to make a roster move in October, Gibson’s spot was sacrificed. San Francasico snapped him up, where he saw spot duty in two teams. He’d get spot duty in two more games the next season with the Bears, and then a roster spot sans the spot duty with the Titans. Gibson was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 Fourth Round Pick — Cortez Allen

Kevin Colbert certainly has had bigger 4th round disappointments than Cortez Allen (see 2012’s) and the same can be said for Art Rooney, Dick Haley and Tom Donahoe before him. But none have had a stranger trip than Cortez Allen.

The Steelers took Allen in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft and as a rookie, Allen played a role in shutting down (or at least containing) the Patriots Rob Gronkowski in the 2011 Steelers upset of the Patriots. Word was that in 2012, Allen pushed Keenan Lewis hard for the starting slot. Lewis won, but when injures opened the door for Allen to start late in 2012, Allen responded with two interceptions and one forced fumble vs. the Bengals and then two forced fumbles in the season finale vs. the Browns.

  • The Pittsburgh Steelers, it appeared, had found their cornerback.

Allen got injured in the Steelers season 2013 opener vs. the Titans (who didn’t get injured that day), and struggled when he returned to health. However, his pick six in the snow at Lambeau sealed the Steelers win over Green Bay.

  • That was the Cortez Allen the Steelers had been waiting for.

The Steelers went out on a limb, and resigned Cortez Allen to a 25 million dollar contract before the 2014 season. IT was a good deal for Allen. He pocketed just under 6.3 million for just 12 games. The Steelers of course have cut Allen and moved on. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 4th round pick – Alameda Ta’amu

By 2012 Casey Hampton was on his last legs and, while Steve McLendon was looking good, the Steelers still were not ready to anoit him as Hampton’s successor. So Kevin Colbert traded up to get the last pure nose tackle in the draft Alameda Ta’amu.

  • One of the ironies about the pick, was that David DeCastro’s highlight reel showed him manhandling Ta’amu earlier in the year.

That was worrisome, but not nearly as worrisome as Ta’Amu’s drunken rampage through the South Side that could have easily killed someone. To the chagrin of many, the Steelers kept him around, but eventually let him go. Ta’Amu landed in Pittsburgh West aka the Arizona Cardinals, where he played in 21 games. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2013 4th round picks – Shamarko Thomas and Landry Jones

The Pittsburgh Steelers don’t trade future draft picks. It simply runs against the franchise’s philosophy. In 2013 the made an exception, however, and traded up to grab Shamarko Thomas, a safety out of Syracuse.

  • The word was that Shamarko would have gone 1st had he been 2 inches taller.

The Steelers put their money where their mouth was by working Shamarko into the slot early in the season. Shamarko got hurt, Will Allen returned, and after the Steelers 2013 debacle vs. New England, Shamarko’s snaps with the secondary can be counted in single digits (or almost.)

The Steelers haven’t give up on Shamarko yet, but at this point he’s doesn’t look to get off of special teams outside of an emergency. Grade: Bust

The Steelers surprised many when they drafted Landry Jones in the 4th round of 2014. Many speculated he was arriving as Ben Rothlisberger’s replacement. Instead, he replaced Charlie Batch. Landry Jones struggled in both the 2013 and 2014 preseasons, making fans long for the days when Brian St. Pierre held the clipboard.

  • The Steelers challenged Jones in 2015 at St. Vincent’s and Jones responded.

Landry Jones quite frankly still must prove he’s a competent number 2 NFL quarterback, but his off the bench performances vs. the Cardinals and the Raiders prove he’s a competent number 3 NFL quarterback. Grade: Serviceable Pick Up

Steelers 2014 4th Round Draft Pick – Martavis Bryant

When the Steelers turn comes to pick in the fourth round, it would be wise for Dan Rooney to veto any decision to pick a wide receiver…. As he did in 2000 and 2005, Kevin Colbert looked to build wide receiver depth in the 4th round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Unlike Danny Farmer and Fred Gibson, his pick, Martavis Bryant, has played in the NFL.

  • And unlike Farmer and Gibson, Bryant has shown he has transformational talent.

But Bryant is of course dogged by off the field substance abuse issues, and will miss his third season due to a suspension.

Please Mr. Colbert, do not draft any more wide receivers in the 4th round. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2015 4th Round Draft Pick – Doran Grant

When the Steelers cut Doran Grant to make room for some waiver wire pickups, Steelers Nation reacted as if Mel Taylor Woodson had been sent packing. The reaction was exaggerated as the Steelers resigned Grant to the practice squad, and then the active roster.

  • But Grant only had one snap in 3 games.

Normally one would caution that it is far, far too early to come to any conclusion on a 4th round pick after a rookie year, and it IS too early to give up on Doran Grant. But given Kevin Colbert’s track record here, one would like to see more encouraging results. Grade:  Farm Team

Kevin Colbert’s Record in the 4th Round

In his seven drafts with Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert had some bad misses with his fourth round picks, but he also found Larry Foote, Ike Taylor, and Willie Colon in the fourth round, and those men have 5 Super Bowl rings between them for games in which they started.

  • Unfortunately, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have been a disaster in the 4th round.

They’ve traded up three times and only have an oft-injured average punter, a nose tackle most famous for an off the field incident, and safety who was supposed to replace Troy Polamalu but can only seem to play on special teams. Cotez Allen flashed ability, but faded even more quickly. Martavis Bryant tantalizes, but his toking might cost him an NFL career.

Landry Jones has grown into a respectable player, but his late development in 2015 isn’t enough to compensate for all the other outright busts. Grade: D

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Steelers 2016 Draft Needs @ Defensive End – Need Depth Behind Heyward and Tuitt

Fairly or unfairly tackles, linebackers and defensive backs have long overshadowed defensive ends in Pittsburgh Steelers defenses, as the Steelers went 21 years between drafting defensive ends with a first round pick.

Yet, after drafting Aaron Jones in 1988* then Ziggy Hood in 2009, the Steelers only waited two years to draft to use another first rounder on Cam Heyward in 2011. Twice as much time has elapsed since then so the question must be asked, will the Steelers look to draft another defensive end in in the 2016 NFL Draft? Should they? Let’s take a look.

*Pittsburgh drafted Huey Richardson as a linebacker in 1991, but since 2011 the Steelers Media Guide has listed Richardson as a DE. Steel Curtain Rising rejects such Orwellian attempts to re-write history.

Steelers Depth Chart @ Defensive End Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – the Starters

In Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt the Pittsburgh Steelers field their strongest pair of defensive ends since the days of Dwight White and L.C. Greenwood.

  • Yes folks, we just went there.

That’s no disrespect to Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel, both of whom proved themselves worthy of successors on the Steel Curtain, but Smith and Kesiel’s careers peaked at different times. Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, John Mitchell and Steelers Nation are more fortunate with Heyward and Tuitt.

When the Steelers picked Cameron Heyward first in 2011, Kevin Colbert labeled it a “historic day for the franchise.” The Steelers general manager was right on the money there, as Heyward has not only arrived as a hell raiser on the field, but also as a leader off of the field.

Why Heyward started 2013 on the bench with Hood starting remains a mystery, but Heyward’s ascension to the starting lineup and the reversal of the Steelers 0-4 start are in no way coincidental. In 5 seasons, Hewyard has 22 sacks, 15 passes defensed and a whole lot of other impact plays that don’t show up on the stat sheet.

Stephon Tuitt is only entering his third year, but already he has proven himself as an impact player on the Steelers defense. In 2015 Tuitt had 6.5 sacks and one interception and this is a player who still has a lot of “upside.”

Steelers Depth Cart Defensive End @ Entering the 2016 NFL Draft – Backups

For all of the accolades heaped on Heyward and Tuitt, the brutal reality is that the Steelers have little or no depth behind him. Yes, the Steelers will return 2015’s 6th round pick L.T. Walton to the line up, but he only had 6 spot appearances in 2015. Beyond L.T. Walton, the Steelers also signed Ricardo Mathews, a journeyman defensive lineman who can play both end and nose tackle if necessary.

Kevin Colbert caused alarm in Steelers Nation when he picked up Caushaud Lyons from the waiver wire, thus exposing Doran Grant.

Grant returned both to the practice squad and then to the active roster, where Lyons held a spot all season long, but never got in any game action.steelers, draft, needs, priority, 2016

Steelers 2016 Draft Need at Defensive End

At defensive end the Steelers sport two stud starters, and have three backups who offer untested potential. The Steelers philosophy at defensive line is evolving under Keith Butler, but that is unlikely to alter Johnny Mitchell’s long-time philosophy of rotating his defensive linemen, something he was unable to do much in 2015.

  • That means that the Steelers won’t look to defensive end in rounds one or two.

But picking a defensive lineman after that might not be a bad idea, if a quality one remains on the board, but that would also assume that the Steelers have addressed more pressing needs, a defensive end really is a best available athlete on the board.

All things considered the Steelers 2016 draft need at defensive end must be considered Moderate.

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