The Steelers may have been getting better players in the first three rounds of this 2014 NFL Draft, but starting with the fourth round they began selecting the kinds of players their fans wanted.
They used their first of six Saturday picks on the tall wide receiver, and then got to the cornerback for whom the fans had been clamoring since this lottery began back on Thursday at 8 p.m. Their middle two of their six picks on Saturday brought a versatile offensive lineman and a run-stuffing inside linebacker to the team, before they finished things off with SIZE, and a tight end they hope can develop into a “two-way” player.
MARTAVIS BRYANT, WR, CLEMSON
As for the tall wide receiver, his name is Martavis Bryant, and while he can count his height and speed among his assets, he also is a raw receiver with only one season as a full-time starter at Clemson.
Bryant, 6-foot-4, 211 pounds, spent 2010 at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia before joining the Tigers in 2011. In his first two seasons there, Bryant played in 24 games with two starts, and he combined for 19 catches for 526 yards and six touchdowns. In 2013, Bryant started 11 of the team’s 13 games, and he finished with 42 catches for 828 yards (19.7 average) and seven touchdowns.
“I have been kind of campaigning for a big receiver this whole process,” said receivers coach Richard Mann. “He is the big receiver we were kind of hunting. We needed a guy different from what we have. He will be a great weapon in the red zone for us. One of the things he does very well is track the football, and so we feel we got a guy to put opposite Antonio Brown.”
Bryant’s 4.42 in the 40-yard dash was the Combine’s best among the 2014 group of wide receivers, and Mann indicated Bryant uses his speed in conjunction with some other skills to create an intriguing total package.
“He has excellent speed for a big guy, excellent speed,” said Mann. “He also does a really good job of tracking the ball. He does a good job of what I call putting a hump in his back and catching it over the top. A lot of times guys can’t do that, and it’s very hard to teach. I have seen him do it, so I know he’s capable of doing it.”
Bryant joins a depth chart that certainly has room for him if he shows himself capable of making the adjustment to the NFL. In addition to Antonio Brown, the Steelers will count on second-year pro Markus Wheaton, and the team added veterans Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey as unrestricted free agents. Within the sub-category of tall receivers, there is 6-5 Derek Moye and 6-3 Justin Brown as the holdovers from 2013 now to be joined by the 6-4 Bryant and the 6-2 Heyward-Bey.
“A lot of times, in my opinion, you can get cheap touchdowns in the red zone (because of a tall receiver),” said Mann. “A lot of times people know where the ball is going to go, and there’s nothing they can do about it. If there’s a mismatch – and that’s what we think we have with the reach that he has, the arms and the wingspan – I feel like we can get some cheap touchdowns down there.”
SHAQUILLE RICHARDSON, CB, ARIZONA
Finally, Carnell Lake will get a chance to coach Shaquille Richardson.
As a high school senior in California, Richardson was a lightly-recruited player that Lake stumbled upon during his brief time as an assistant coach at UCLA. After suggesting Richardson be given an invitation to a UCLA football camp, Lake left college coaching to take a job with the Steelers. Richardson showed well enough in the camp to draw interest from UCLA, but he ended up transferring and playing at Arizona instead.
In his four seasons at Arizona, Richardson, 6-foot, 194 pounds, started 37 games over four seasons and finished with 10 interceptions. Not invited to the Scouting Combine, Richardson made up for it with an outstanding performance during a pro day in which he ran a 4.43 in the 40 and a 6.95 in the 3-cone, while also posting a 38.5-inch vertical jump.
“Shaquille has been pretty versatile for his college, Arizona,” said Lake. “He has played corner. He has played some safety just because he’s a bigger defensive back with ball skills who can tackle in the open field. I definitely think he could (play in the slot). Will he be required to do it on this team? Probably not, but he’s versatile enough to do it.”
Lake admitted that a major selling point on Richardson was what the stop-watch read at the end of his pro day workout.
“I put a premium on speed,” said Lake. “If you’re not struggling with speed you can do a lot of things. You can make a lot of mistakes, especially when you’re younger, and be able to get right back in and get close to receivers in coverage. Obviously you don’t need to have 4.3 speed to be a great cover corner. There are a lot of corners out there who are not running a 4.3, but it gives you an added edge. These days with the kind of receivers we’re seeing, big fast receivers, having speed is a good thing.”
WESLEY JOHNSON, OT, VANDERBILT
In the three drafts between 2010-12, the Steelers spent two No. 1s and two No. 2s on offensive linemen, and since all of those players still are on the team it wasn’t surprising that the position was something of an afterthought in 2014.
But there is no such thing as enough offensive linemen on the roster, and so the Steelers addressed the area with their second pick of the fifth round. Johnson, 6-5, 297, from Vanderbilt, will bring versatility as his primary weapon in an effort to find a spot on the roster.
“The first thing you hear about him is that he’s very versatile, a guy who has made over 50 starts in the SEC at three positions,” said offensive line coach Mike Munchak. “So he is a guy we feel who can really play center, guard or tackle depending on where we need him. He’s definitely battle-tested having played in the SEC, against guys like Jadeveon Clowney and other top-level competition week in and week out for a long time. That gives us the feeling that he will feel very comfortable coming into the NFL and fitting in here nicely with us. Especially with the offensive line, unfortunately, having so many injuries, here’s a guy who has an opportunity to fill in at those spots if we need him.”
JORDAN ZUMWALT, LB, UCLA
Zumwalt, 6-4, 235, started 30 games over four seasons at UCLA, and only two of his 256 career tackles were sacks. Clearly, Zumwalt’s forte is stuffing the run, and he’ll get a chance to win a job in the NFL based on that skill, plus what’s perceived to be an ability to be a core special teams player.
“He’s a UCLA kid who played in a very similar defense that we use here, so the transition for him will probably be a little bit easier,” said linebackers coach Keith Butler. “The nomenclature is a lot of the same so it’s probably going to be a pretty easy transition for this kid in terms of trying to learn our defense. He’s a long, tall kid, but I would see him as an inside guy at this point.”
DANIEL McCULLERS, DT, TENNESSEE
Coach Mike Tomlin referred to McCullers as “an obstruction” and that’s an appropriate description for a defensive lineman who’s 6-7 and 352 pounds. He will begin as a nose tackle in the Steelers 3-4 alignment, and the belief is that McCuller’s ability to push the pocket and then get his hands in the air is going to force offenses to double-team him on a regular basis.
“He’s a big guy, he can run, and offenses have a tough time moving him from the point of attack,” said defensive line coach John Mitchell. “The thing that we’re going to want him to do is to move, and I told you we play football from the inside-out, so he’s going to have to be able to move from (offensive) tackle to (offensive) tackle. Right now at his size, I think he may have a few problems doing that consistently, play in and play out.”
ROB BLANCHFLOWER, TE, UMASS
Blanchflower, 6-4, 256, started 27 games at UMass, and he finished his career there with 109 catches for 1,164 yards and nine touchdowns. At the NFL level, Blanchflower isn’t going to be making a living based solely on his receiving skills. For him, the key to a professional career will be to develop himself into a tight end who is a dependable blocker with some receiving skills, and not the other way around.
“He has a high level of aggression,” said Steelers tight ends coach James Daniel. “He’s a two-phase guy, which is different than a lot of the guys you have coming at you right now. We look for guys who are either going to be run blockers or they’re going to be pass receivers. He’s adept at both, so that’s something that interests us. He was playing in a multiple-formation offense so that gave us a chance to look at him in a lot of things.”
-- Bob Labriola, Steelers.com
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