PITTSBURGH – The Steelers believe they were lacking in playmakers the past two seasons as they stumbled to a pair of 8-8 finishes.
They might have taken some steps to alleviate that issue in the NFL draft, which wrapped up Saturday.
Pittsburgh selected a pair of potential first-year starters in speedy linebacker Ryan Shazier of Ohio State and Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt in the first two rounds.
With its next two picks, the Steelers acquired potential offensive gamebreakers in running back/wide receiver Dri Archer of Kent State and Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant. They are players capable of scoring touchdowns quickly.
Archer (5-8, 173), who was selected late Friday night at the end of the third round, was the fastest player in this year’s draft with an official time of 4.26 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He rushed for 2,342 yards in his career, averaging 7.2 yards per carry, and also caught 99 passes for 1,194 yards as a slot receiver on passing downs. His 40 career touchdowns are just one behind former Cleveland Browns star Josh Cribbs on Kent State’s all-time list.
The Steelers envision Archer as a player who can help both on offense and in the return game. He scored four touchdowns in college on kickoffs.
“Return guys change games,” said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, noting that he was a scout in Detroit when the Lions had Mel Gray, one of the best return men in NFL history.
“His kick-return ability is unique. It’s really special. Whatever he can add to us offensively, there’s some value there.”
The Steelers considered taking either Archer or Bryant in the third round and wound up with both when Bryant was still available in the fourth round.
Like Archer, Bryant (6-4, 211) is a gamebreaker. Playing opposite Sammy Watkins, the first receiver taken in the draft, Bryant caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns last season. For his career, he averaged 22.2 yards per catch on 61 receptions with 13 touchdowns.
Bryant didn’t get a lot of playing time working behind Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round pick of the Houston Texans in 2013, but the Steelers believe he is a value pick in the fourth round.
“In previous drafts, this kid would have gone probably in the second round,” Colbert said. “But with the depth of the receivers, we were fortunate he was available to us in the fourth. He’s big and he’s fast and he’s raw. He’s got a lot of upside.”
The Steelers finally drafted a cornerback – a position many considered their top need – in the fifth round, selecting Arizona’s Shaquille Richardson (6-0, 193).
Richardson was originally a recruit of Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake when he was on the coaching staff at UCLA. But Richardson and two others were accused of stealing a purse and UCLA wanted him to sit out his first semester while the charges were sorted out.
“I had moved on to here by then, but he called me and asked what I thought he should do,” Lake recalled. “I asked him what his other options were and he told me Arizona. I told him to take it.”
The charges were dropped and Richardson went on to have a solid career in Arizona with 189 tackles, 10 interceptions, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
“I cannot complain,” Lake said. “I think we got a good one.”
With their four perceived needs filled in the first five rounds, the Steelers moved on to improving their depth with their remaining picks, acquiring versatile offensive lineman Wesley Johnson of Vanderbilt, linebacker Jordan Zumwalt of UCLA, massive 6-7, 354-pound nose tackle Daniel McCullers of Tennessee and tight end Rob Blanchflower of Massachusetts.
“We got five defensive players and four offensive players,” said Colbert. “We got somebody for every position group except at quarterback. We realize we got some good players, but they’re not finished products. Each one will have a different challenge. We’re excited about it.”
After the draft, the Steelers agreed to terms with 10 rookies who went undrafted, including a pair of former Stanford standouts, defensive end Josh Mauro and defensive end Devon Carrington.
Also added were offensive linemen Chris Elkins of Youngstown State and Will Simmons of East Carolina, defensive linemen Ethan Hemer and Roy Pilon of Louisville, linebacker Howard Jones of Shepherd, quarterback Brendon Kay of Cincinnati and tight end Eric Walters of Missouri.