NFL Teams often use Day 3 of the draft to pad their rosters with “talented hopefuls” who realistically have slim chances to make a fast roster impact.
The Pittsburgh Steelers play their Day 3 cards a bit differently. Rounds 4-7 have provided quite an impact recently:
|#1 Defensive End||Brett Keisel||7||2002|
|#1 WR & Team MVP||Antonio Brown||6||2010|
|#2 Corner||Cortez Allen||4||2011|
|#3 Guard/Tackle (started five games in rookie season after injuries)||Kelvin Beachum||7 (4th pick)||2012|
|#1 Tight End (until Heath Miller’s return from IR)||David Paulson||7||2012|
So when the Steelers boldly traded away their third-round 2014 pick to get the rival Cleveland Browns’ fourth pick this year, it wasn’t hard to imagine hard-hitting safety Shamarko Thomas making an immediate impression.
And, seeing how the Cleveland Browns had an even bigger need at safety, the trade may also leave an impression of Mike Lombardi as the Browns’ newest general manager. The Browns predictably waited until the 175th pick to select Notre Dame strong safety Jamoris Slaughter, the 28th-ranked strong safety prospect.
Thomas, on the other hand, was ranked No. 8 and obviously worth more in value to the safety-needy Steelers. Thomas killed it at the combine with a 40-inch vertical leap and 28 lifts on bench press. The former track star also recorded 4.29-second 40-yard dash times for pro scouts. The Syracuse team captain had 102 tackles last season and six interceptions as a senior.
With the combination of speed, strength, and coverage abilities, the Steelers can use Thomas vs. the NFL’s new favorite, “dynamic duo” tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez of the Patriots, or the Bengals’ Jermaine Gresham and the 2013 No. 1 tight end prospect Tyler Eifert. The Steelers defensive staff has to be excited for the prospect of a Troy Polamalu-like clone roaming in their secondary alongside a healthy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.
Four picks after the surprising trade with Cleveland, the Steelers laid down another shocker, adding quarterback Landry Jones. The four-year starter from O-k-l-a-homa got an OMG from Steeler Nation. With such a need at inside linebacker, I would have never imagined a QB here, especially one with seemingly little Steeler interest leading up to the draft.
Everyone had the Steelers drafting Tennessee wild child Tyler Bray, whom they were caught wining and dining. Even Bray’s father Jeff Bray said the Steelers had told his son they would pick him. If Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t re-sign, they may wish they had.
Bray is a gunslinger – gutsy with an incredible arm – while Jones is steady and methodical, qualities that were likely seen as a better compliment to Roethlisberger. While former Steelers QB Charlie Batch believes the Steelers selected Jones to replace Ben when his contract expires in two years, I believe Jones is proof they are in with Roethlisberger for the long haul.
The Steelers moved back to familiar territory in Round 5 with the selection of Illnois cornerback Terry Hawthorne. Due to injury concerns, Hawthorne dropped in the draft (ankle, concussion) after a stellar junior season but had scouts noticing his press coverage abilities. At 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, with a 4.4 40 time, Hawthorne has typical Steeler cornerback size and speed, i.e. Carnell Lake and Ike Taylor.
If Steelers secondary coach Lake can help him shape his game, Hawthorne could squeak onto the active roster. The top backup spot at outside corner is currently open. The former wide receiver also plays special teams and can return punts.