COMMENTARY | In terms of their on-the-field prowess, the Steelers are one of the more creative teams in the NFL. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is regarded in many circles as the founder of the Zone Blitz defense, which has given teams nightmares over his 17 years with the team.
Offensively, Pittsburgh has routinely found ways to put tweener athletes on the field and have them succeed. Guys like Kordell Stewart, Antwaan Randle El and Hines Ward all played multiple positions and became household names.
But one place the Steelers really lack creativity is in the front office. And evidence of that can be seen in the way Pittsburgh went about business on the first two days of the 2013 NFL Draft.
In the first three rounds, the Steelers selected Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell and Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton, respectively. All three players fill big needs for the Steelers and there's no question that all of these guys can play, but when you delve a little deeper into these guys' games, you get a pretty familiar picture.
Let's start with Jones.
After the Steelers infamously parted ways with former Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison, the team was delighted to see the two-time Georgia All-American linebacker fall into their laps with the 17th pick.
Jones was an electric pass rusher with the Bulldogs and accumulated 28 sacks in just 26 games against the top competition in college football. If it weren't for concerns regarding his spinal stenosis diagnosis, Jones surely would have been a top 10 pick. By all regards, he's a great fit to replace Harrison on the right side of the defense.
But when watching Jones on film, he comes off as the exact same player Pittsburgh had in Harrison, just 11 years younger.
For example, standing at 6'2", 245 lbs., Jones is just over one inch taller and three pounds heavier than Harrison, making them almost exactly the same size. Both guys are considered to be a little too slow for the position and scouts will always question their size. Even Jones himself has said he'd love to learn Harrison's most famous pass-rush move, the speed bull-rush .
But Jones is just the first player Pittsburgh added to replace a player the draftee closely mirrors.
In the second round, the Steelers hit on maybe their biggest need this offseason by scooping up former Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell is a big, strong, power running back who is at his best when he makes one cut and gets downhill between the tackles. His biggest struggles have come when he dances at the line of scrimmage and becomes more of an east-west runner.
Sound like anyone you know Steelers fans?
When Pittsburgh took Rashard Mendenhall in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, they were hoping for a back who could plow between the tackles. Instead, they got a guy who thought he was more Chris Johnson than Jerome Bettis and managed over four-yards-per-carry just twice in his five years with the team.
Even if the Mendenhall comparison seems like a bit of a stretch (because, frankly, they're not even remotely the same size. Just similar styles of play.), check out this video from Bleacher Report's draft guru Matt Miller who compares Bell to another Steelers running back. One who is currently on the team's roster.
But the third round pick was the selection that made me take a harder look at the previous two and come to this conclusion.
The Steelers most notable loss this offseason was undoubtedly wide receiver Mike Wallace who is known for his speed. To replace the $12 million receiver, Pittsburgh selected former Oregon State wide-out Markus Wheaton.
Wheaton fell because he ran a slower than expected 40-yard dash time (4.45). But in reality, Wheaton was not only just a football player for the Beavers. He also dabbled in track and field, competing in the 100-meter dash and 4x100 relay. They don't generally let guys with just average speed run on collegiate track teams.
Wheaton just also happens to be about one inch and five pounds shorter and lighter than Wallace, making them just about the same size. Add in the fact that Wheaton's career yards-per-catch average at OSU (13.2) nearly mimics Wallace's in his only season in Todd Haley's offense (13.1), and it's more of the same for Pittsburgh.
Now, none of this is to say that these players won't go on to have great careers with the Steelers, but after a highly disappointing 8-8 year, wouldn't it be nice to see some sort of change?
These kind of moves don't stop with the draft class, either.
In a sort of Pittsburgh-esque Nepotism, the Steelers added only players who 1) played for them in the past (Matt Spaeth, William Gay) or 2) played college/high school football in the area (Bruce Gradkowski, LaRod Stephens-Howling).
With the success the team has seen since GM Kevin Colbert took over his position in 2000 (eight playoffs appearances, three Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardi Trophies), it's hard to argue with what he does. For now, the "Trust in Colbert" mantra will rain down in the Steel City. But if Pittsburgh misses the playoffs for the second straight season, all this "more-of-the-same" stuff might just fly out the window.
Dan Snyder has been coving the Pittsburgh Steelers for the past few years for various media outlets including the Bleacher Report. He is also a sports-radio personality and football color analyst in Northeastern PA. Check out more of his work at the Bleacher Report.
Follow Dan on Twitter @dsnyder34
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- Markus Wheaton
- Jarvis Jones
- James Harrison