The 2016 NFL Draft can be a fast and furious event, and fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers were in for a draft to remember this past weekend. I focus on three things we learned about the Steelers after a wild and crazy NFL Draft weekend.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers have full confidence in current receiving corps without Martavis Bryant
The Pittsburgh Steelers are going into the 2016 season with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Sammie Coates, and possibly with Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips with realistic chances to make the final active roster.
The Steelers are going to be without the suspended Martavis Bryant for the entire 2016 season and several websites and draftniks had the Steelers taking a wide receiver in the first four rounds to help offset the loss of Bryant and his deep threat playmaking ability. The Steelers did draft a receiver, but it was a return specialist in Demarcus Ayers in the 7th round.
Some within the Steeler Nation are excited about Eli Rogers getting a chance to make the team in 2016 and the front office and the coaching staff feel confident enough about the current group that no selection was made for a wide receiver until the waning moments of the draft. This also speaks volumes about Sammie Coates as well, who was drafted in 2015 to help offset Bryant’s four-game suspension. Coates admitted he was not physically prepared for the rigors of professional football at the beginning of last season but now has been seen working out frequently in preparation for his close-up in 2016. If the performance against Denver is any indication of Coates's abilities, Sammie Coates will step up just fine.
2. The pressure is officially on Carnell Lake
Secondary coach Carnell Lake has been a polarizing figure on BTSC. Some believe that he has not been given fair chances to coach a strong secondary because of the lack of attention defensive backs have gotten from the Steelers’ front office in previous drafts (from 2011 when Lake became a member of the coaching staff, the Steelers have drafted just three defensive backs in the first three rounds: Curtis Brown in 2011, Shamarko Thomas in 2013, and Senquez Golson last year).
Others believe Lake is a mediocre secondary coach. Well, you can’t make chicken salad out of chicken droppings. However, now Lake has two draftees selected in the first two rounds from this weekend in Miami cornerback Artie Burns and Maryland safety Sean Davis. While no one will expect the Steelers to become the Legion of Boom overnight, Lake will finally have bona fide talent to work with.
Much like how the offensive line has improved after investing two first round picks (Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro) and two second round picks (Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams) from 2010 to 2012, it is fair to expect the Steelers’ much-maligned secondary to show some signs of improvement in 2016. If the secondary play does not improve this season, Lake can expect to be relieved of his position at the end of the season.
3. The coaching staff and the front office still loves Landry Jones more than we do
Many draftniks (including those who are paid by large sports media corporations) had the Steelers taking a quarterback in the draft. Would it be Ohio State’s Cardale Jones? Or how about Dak Prescott? Or even Oregon’s Vernon Adams? Well, none of it happened. The Steelers did not even bring Adams in for a tryout after the conclusion of the draft. The team actually will not bring a rookie quarterback into rookie camp next week but did sign long-time veteran Bruce Gradkowski to a one-year deal.
What this likely means is that the coaching staff and the front office still loves the embattled Landry Jones, who will now go into his fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Jones, who finally got regular season experience last season, had his ups (the game winner to Martavis Bryant against Arizona) and his downs (several come to mind but the fake field goal pass to Alejandro Villanueva is something I can’t erase from my memory). While most of us here at BTSC think Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite can offer more as a quarterback than Landry Jones, the coaching staff and the front office made their decision by not picking a quarterback this offseason. Barring unforeseen circumstances, we can all expect Jones to suit up and take most of the snaps this preseason again.