There has been a lot of talk about the second year players for the Steelers this year, and while I wasn't impressed with this draft when it happened, it's grown on me a lot since. Here's who we drafted and where they are now:
1 Lawrence Timmons - He certainly had a disappointing first year, missing training camp with an injury and not contributing much, but he has a good chance to contribute this year. The overall success of this draft class will hinge on whether he is a star, a solid starter, or a bust.
2 LaMarr Woodley - He had a good rookie campaign, despite not getting on the field a whole lot. He's shown enough enough to think he'll be somewhere between a solid starter and a star.
3 Matt Spaeth - This was the strangest pick they made, and he was unimpressive as a rookie. There have been reports that he's been working hard this off-season, though, and he's looking like a solid #2 TE. I don't know if that's what you're looking for out of a 3rd rounder, but it could have been worse.
4 Daniel Sepulveda - He had a decent first year. He has a big leg and is good at placing the ball. He'll have to improve, but he definitely has a high ceiling as punters go.
4 Ryan McBean - He missed the cut his rookie year, but we hung onto him on the practice squad. He apparently was looking good toward the end of the year last year, and has been working out like James Harrison this off-season when healthy. If he develops into a Brett Keisel kind of guy or better, it will do our DL good. He looks more promising than Orien Harris, anyway.
5 Cameron Stephenson - This was the only pick that didn't even make the practice squad, but he brought a friend we liked more. Apparenly he was just waved by the Packers.
5 William Gay - Gay had a great pre-season and seemed to have a knack for getting turnovers. He played decently in the action he got, and drew comparisons to Townsend from Tomlin. If he can be a good #3 or #4 and develop into that savvy veteran in his late 20's, this will be a great 5th round pick. At worst, he's an average 5th rounder.
7 Dallas Baker - Baker wasn't too impressive in his first training camp, but he hung onto the practice squad. Apparently he worked out with Ben a lot and has shown a lot of improvement. He's probably worth a roster spot, but he still may get beat out by a deep corps. My guess is that he'll make someone's 53 man roster this year if it's not ours.
UDFA Darnell Stapleton - If the draft is like dating, Stapleton is your so-so girlfriend's hot sister. He followed his line-mate to the Steelers, and we quickly dumped Stephenson for his friend. Stapleton didn't get on the field his rookie year, but he's put on 20-30 pounds (from 285) since then and was seen practicing at guard with the first team this spring when Simmons was absent. He could be a future starting center or guard.
UDFA Gary Russell - This was a great signing. Russell was a decent prospect who flamed out right before the draft. He wasn't worth a draft pick, but he was a low risk, high reward guy after the draft. He probably won't see the field much this year, but he should make the team and be ready to contribute if we have any injuries.
UDFA Jason Capizzi - He had an up and down first year, seemingly being on a path to make the team, then missing it and bouncing around the league. Somehow we managed to get him back, and supposedly he's improved going into his second year. If he can contribute as a tackle, he could give us much needed depth going into a period of uncertainty at the position. Once again, a low-risk, high reward guy.
This class looks pretty solid from top to bottom, which is one of the reasons we're enjoying good depth at most positions this year. The two most uncertain picks right now, ones that could make this an outstanding class or an average one, are Timmons and McBean. If Timmons lives up to Tomlin's Derrick Brooks talk and McBean gives some capable youth to the DL, this could be our best class in recent memory. Add in an apparently solid 2008 class and we could be in a good situation for several years to come.