Need For Speed With Size To Boot

Matt Steel says the Steelers got the necessary speed, plus some surprising size.

Kevin Colbert said something revealing during the post-Ryan Shazier press conference Thursday night.

"As offenses continue to spread out, you need speed. You need speed at your linebacker; you need speed in your secondary; you need speed everywhere."

So following the drafting of the fastest linebacker in the draft, Colbert followed that up on Day 2 by drafting the fastest overall player and a defensive lineman fast enough to hold the second-longest fumble return in the long history of Notre Dame football.

As Day 3 rolled in, many fans were still concerned that the Steelers had yet to address two of the roster's most glaring needs: wide receiver and cornerback. The hope here was that Martavis Bryant would somehow slide to their fourth pick. He was the only player I had an emotional investment in on Day 3 in what was an overrated draft from a depth standpoint. I had hoped he would be the pick at No. 97.

As wide receivers coach Richard Mann discussed following the pick, Bryant's much-needed size outside the numbers in the red zone provides the option for "cheap touchdowns" as well a physical presence in the run game. With a 4.41 40, Bryant also provides the vertical speed necessary to stretch the field and open things up underneath for the quick and speedy Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton. Mann expressed that had Bryant stayed in school, he "would've been a first-rounder for sure".

Some analysts expressed how scouts were concerned over Bryant being "a one-year wonder". But up until last year, he played behind DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins. That's almost like saying Steve Young was no good for all the years he was stuck behind Joe Montana.

So the Steelers drafted a first-round talent who apparently has seventh-round maturity. No great risk taking him in Round 4. It's a perfect opportunity for Ben Roethlisberger to mentor a young player.

Jerome Bettis took Ben under his wing. Maybe this is the opportunity for Ben to pay it forward.

With the first pick in the fifth round, the Steelers were finally able to address the cornerback position with Shaquille Richardson.

Following the Bryant pick, I had concluded that Richardson would be the next pick for three reasons: 1. Colbert's words about needing speed to go against spread offenses; 2. I believed Justin Gilbert was the only corner they would have taken over Shazier despite Gilbert's mediocrity defending the run; 3. The Steelers brought Richardson in for a private visit.

There were only two corners who ran a sub 4.45 still on the board following the Bryant pick, and Dontae Johnson was gone by the end of Round 4. Richardson and his 4.43 speed recorded at his pro day workout was the only one left standing.

The Steelers were then able to address the tackle position with a Mike Munchak type (smart, mobile, experienced with good size) at the end of Round 5. Wesley Johnson's 5.11 speed suggest he'd succeed in outside zone if he were stay at tackle. His ability to play all positions along the line makes him a quality selection at the end of Round 5.

While they added speed and versatility in Rounds 4 and 5, the Steelers went with size in Round 6. The first pick of the sixth round was a bit of a surprise from the standpoint that the Steelers now seem to have a logjam at inside linebacker. Jordan Zumwalt's size and physicality apparently provided too much value to pass up.

At 6-4, Zumwalt should match up well against many tights ends should he ever be forced into the starting lineup. The hard-hitting/hard-playing linebacker should be a quality asset on special teams.

One of the primary questions fans had going into the draft was how or if the Steelers were going to address nose tackle. With spread offenses, there was uncertainty if the traditional two-down "bowling ball" type nose tackle was still a good fit. That question was answered when Louis Nix slipped all the way to pick No. 83. It was reinforced when the Steelers drafted the 6-7, 352-pound Daniel McCullers.

A mammoth human being, McCullers can occupy two blockers like a traditional nose, yet he also has the position flexibility with his size to be an asset in sub-package football.

With the addition of McCullers, the Steelers will likely have no defensive linemen on the roster shorter than 6-4. In a base 3-4, the idea of the long-armed 6-7 McCullers, 6-6 Stephon Tuitt, along with 6-5 Cameron Heyward is intriguing. Expect more batted balls and smaller throwing windows with this suddenly tall defensive line group.

The Steelers then rounded their draft by selecting TE Rob Blanchflower with their final selection. Blanchflower was a predictable selection considering the Steelers had brought him in for a visit and the tight end position had yet to be addressed. I had hoped they would select Trey Millard with this pick, but the tough and scrappy Blanchflower will provide competition to David Paulson for the third spot there. A likely practice-squad candidate, he has a chance to step in for Matt Spaeth next season as the blocking tight end.

Overall, the Steelers addressed many areas of need with intriguing size and speed. It should make for an interesting August.


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