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Steelers Upgrade Offense In Rounds 2 and 3

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On day two of the 2013 NFL draft, Dick LeBeau and Keith Butler had plenty of time to get to know first round pick Jarvis Jones, who was in town to meet with the media yesterday. They definitely weren’t needed in Pittsburgh Steelers draft headquarters as yesterday was the Todd Haley Show. Coming off one of their worst offensive showings in years and faced with several notable losses via free agency, the Black and Gold began the process of rebuilding the offense with both their second and third round picks. They also signed their first notable free agent.

In round 2, the Steelers selected Michigan State running back Le’veon Bell. To be completely honest, I find myself less than thrilled about this pick. Bell was only the second back taken so saying the Steelers had their choice of the RB crop is hardly an exaggeration. They chose a guy not radically different than two of the guys already on the roster. Bell is a big (6’1 230, although he played at 245 in college) physical back who projects as a straight ahead downhill runner. Granted he’s probably more athletic than Isaac Redman and won’t have to run to the sideline after every three carries like Jon Dwyer but his running style doesn’t seem markedly different from either of them.

Todd Haley likened him to Eddie George although George had the shiftiness and breakaway speed to break off big runs. The big knock on Bell is his relatively plodding 4.6 40. When you consider he dropped 15 pounds prior to the Combine in hopes of improving his speed, one shudders to think what he’d run at his natural playing weight. Naturally the comparisons to Jerome Bettis have already begun which is a fool’s errand that has trapped the Steelers with a sub-par running game for years now. His game highlights actually remind me more of Michael Turner, who enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career with the Falcons.

In round 3, the Steelers tapped Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton. In a nice bit of serendipity, Wheaton’s scouting report lists his closest NFL comparison as Antonio Brown. At 5’11 189 and running an acceptable 4.45 40, he certainly fits the AB/Manny Sanders mold of small quick guy with good hands who runs good routes. Haley is already talking him up as a weapon out of the slot where he played a lot in college. I’m sure part of the thinking with this pick is having a potential replacement for Sanders already in the system should he leave after the season. Again, like the Bell pick, there are no glaring negatives with Wheaton other than he doesn’t really bring anything to the team that they don’t already have. He’s not a field stretching speed burner like Mike Wallace nor is he a big target like Plax.

Finally, the Steelers rounded out their running back corps by signing ex Pitt Panther LaRod Stephens-Howling, formerly of Pittsburgh West the Arizona Cardinals. Wait, we can sign former Cardinals? Next thing you know they’ll be calling us Arizona East!

Stephens-Howling had the misfortune of attending Pitt at the same time as Shady McCoy so he never got a chance to play as much as he should have. He ended up carving out a nice niche for himself as a third down back and excellent kick returner with the Cardinals. He’s basically filling the role vacated by Chris Rainey except he’s a little more versatile in terms of being able to run the ball out of traditional sets. Considering every other back on the roster is a lumbering oaf, it’s nice to have at least one speed guy in the backfield.

With LaRod and Le’veon in the mix, the Steelers have five backs in the mix for next season. Looks like they’ll spend the remainder of the draft trying to fill holes at other positions. I’ll be back on Monday with a complete Steelers draft recap and analysis complete with pictures!