The Pittsburgh Steelers went into this draft week with a pall of sadness cast over the organization after the loss of longtime scout Bill Nunn earlier in the week.
Nunn, one of the architects of the Steelers' great teams of the 1970s, died earlier in the week after suffering a stroke. And given the Steelers were celebrating the 40th anniversary of the 1974 draft, considered the greatest single haul in league history, the irony of the loss of Nunn in the days leading up to this draft was not overlooked.
"We worked with a heavy heart this weekend," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "Hopefully, we honored his legacy with the work we were able to get done and learned some of the lessons taught to us by Bill with the work that we were able to get done this weekend."
Did the Steelers come out of the weekend with a haul like the four future Hall of Fame players Nunn helped the team draft in 1974? Unlikely.
The likes of that draft will never be seen in this league again.
But the Steelers certainly appeared to help themselves.
They wanted to acquire offensive and defensive difference makers, players capable of changing the outcome of a game in one play. In linebacker Ryan Shazier, their first round selection, versatile running back/wide receiver Dri Archer, and wide receiver Martavis Bryant, they might have done just that.
All three have something the Steelers were lacking at times in recent seasons: game-changing speed.
"I think you covet speed, obviously, but it's football, it's not a track meet," said Tomlin. "If you get a capable football player who happens to be fast, it's an asset. The speed players we were able to acquire in this draft, fit the bill in that regard. They are football players who happen to be extremely fast."
In the case of Shazier and Archer, they happened to be the fastest players available in this draft at their respective positions.
Shazier, who will play inside linebacker for the Steelers, was timed by the Steelers at 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which is lightning fast for a 237-pound man. Ahile Archer was timed by the team at "sub 4.2," or 4.26 by the combine electronic watch, which was not only the fastest time at this year's combine, but one of the fastest in combine history.
"When we took Ryan, we talked about how we coveted a defensive playmaker over anything else. He fits the bill in that regard," Tomlin said. "I think you could say the same thing about Dri Archer. He's a playmaker. He's a guy who gets yards in chunks and rings up the scoreboard."
The one thing that was noticeable about the Steelers in 2013 in particular was how slow the team had become, with a few exceptions. That was especially evident after they were beaten by New England, when, defensively, the team looked a step behind the Patriots on nearly every play.
Pittsburgh made one move to help solve that issue in free agency, replacing aging free safety Ryan Clark with speedy Ryan ShazierMike Mitchell. Shazier will pair with Lawrence Timmons to give the Steelers perhaps the fastest set of inside linebackers in the NFL.
Add in the value pick of Stephon Tuitt, a defensive end from Notre Dame who fell to the Steelers in the second round after an injury-plagued 2013 season , will also be given a chance to start this season and Pittsburgh might have gotten a nice influx of talent that could pay immediate dividends.
"I'm open to it," said Tomlin in regard to some of this rookie class starting. "It's not something that's going to be given to them. They'll be given an opportunity to earn it. But I do believe that within this group there are some guys that are very capable of doing just that."
Forget the four Hall of Fame players, the Steelers will be happy to get four players who can make a difference on this year's roster out of this draft.
If they can do that, this draft will be one with which Nunn would have been proud.
(Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.)