PITTSBURGH – Like every other NFL team, the Steelers came out of the 2013 NFL Draft happy.
Now, the question will be whether the team did enough with its weekend haul to stay competitive in 2013.
The Steelers had a busy weekend, signing veteran running back LaRod Stephens-Howling and making nine selections in the draft, including first-round pick Jarvis Jones, an outside linebacker from the University of Georgia, while also making a rare inter-division draft-day trade on Saturday.
After selecting Jones Thursday night, the Steelers took running back Le’Veon Bell of Michigan State and wide receiver Markus Wheaton of Oregon State in Friday’s second and third rounds.
That left them with only Saturday to fill their remaining needs, and the Steelers made a bold and unusual move – at least for them – to make sure they got the safety they coveted.
In round four, the Steelers sent a 2014 third-round draft pick to division rival Cleveland to take safety Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse. It was the first time the team has dealt a future pick for one in a current year since 1973. They then used their own fourth-round selection to take quarterback Landry Jones of Oklahoma.
The 5-9, 217-pound Thomas has been compared favorably to former Indianapolis Pro Bowl player Bob Sanders.
“We traded next year’s third-round pick to get Shamarko Thomas because we viewed him as valuable as a third-round pick would be next year, and we’re anticipating we’ll have some compensatory picks,” said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. “We felt going into the draft if there was somebody available in the fourth round, we’d trade a future pick.”
The Steelers should get at least two and possibly three compensatory picks for the losses of wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis and running back Rashard Mendenhall as free agents.
And while the Steelers looked forward to getting extra picks for those losses in 2014, they spent the 2013 draft trying to replace those players along with linebacker James Harrison and safeties Ryan Mundy and Will Allen.
“Sometimes, it appears that you took need,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “But obviously, we could have used guys at a number of positions throughout the draft.”
Pittsburgh came back in the fifth round to take cornerback Terry Hawthorne of Illinois, then used its two selections in the sixth round to take Jones’ top target at Oklahoma in 2012, wide receiver Justin Brown, who transferred from Penn State in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky sanctions. Inside linebacker Vince Williams of Florida State was taken with a sixth-round compensatory pick that the Steelers received for losing William Gay as a free agent last offseason. Gay has since re-signed with Pittsburgh.
In the final round, the Steelers went after little-known defensive end Nicholas Williams of Samford as a project for defensive line coach John Mitchell.
The selection of Jones in the fourth round was interesting in that it was the highest spot the Steelers have taken a quarterback since making Ben Roethlisberger their top choice in 2004.
“When you have a franchise quarterback like we do, you really don’t get a lot of opportunities to add another young quarterback to the mix,” said Colbert. “Hopefully, we’re never in a position where we’re picking a quarterback high … but this kid was highly regarded as an underclassman.”
Jones threw for 4,267 yards and 30 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 2012 after deciding to stay at Oklahoma for his senior season. His best season came in 2010 when he had 4,718 passing yards with 38 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The selection of Jones means the Steelers will go into training camp with free agent signing Bruce Gradkowski, Jones and untested John Parker Wilson backing up Roethlisberger. Longtime backup Charlie Batch will not be re-signed.
“I think we are comfortable with the four guys we have now,” Colbert said.
Odds and end zones
With the signing of Stephens-Howling and selection of nine rookies in the draft, the Steelers had room to add 15 undrafted rookie free agents. … The Steelers will have a mini-camp for rookies and first-year players that begins Thursday and ends Saturday.