Houston junior DeMarcus Ayers was just one of two offensive players taken by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Steelers used the first of two seventh round picks on the speedy slot receiver/return specialist.
Like most of the players in Pittsburgh's 2016 draft class, Ayers is extremely versatile, and he brings a lot to the table as a weapon on both offense and special teams. Initially recruited as running back coming out of high school, he played running back and slot receiver during his three years at Houston, and was also used as both a kick and punt returner.
After working mainly as a returner in his freshman and sophomore seasons, Ayers had a breakout year in 2015, earning first-team all-conference honors while amassing 98 catches for 1,222 yards and six touchdowns. Ayers also fielded 28 punts in his junior campaign, notching one return touchdown, while averaging 10.4 yards per return. He even carried the ball 25 times for 147 yards, and added one rushing touchdown.
PRO DAY RESULTS:
40-yard dash: 4.66 seconds
Vertical: 35 inches
Broad jump: 10 feet
Short shuttle: 4.33 seconds
3-cone: 7.0 seconds
40-yard dash: 4.72 seconds
Vertical: 33 inches
Broad jump: 123 inches
At 5-foot-9, 182 pounds, Ayers lacks the ideal size and top-end speed to play on the outside in the NFL. He could, however, fit in quite well as a slot receiver in Todd Haley's offense, which implements plenty of bubble screens, quick outs, and reverses.
Ayers is more quick and shifty than fast, and has the potential to be an excellent route runner at the next level. He excels at generating yards after the catch, but will need to learn to deal with larger NFL corners and safeties who will look to jam him at the line of scrimmage.
Ayers will likely be competing in training camp with second-year pros Eli Rogers and Shakim Phillips for a spot on the 53-man roster. It's clear the Steelers don't want their All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown returning punts, so there will be an opportunity for Ayers to fill that role in 2016. If he's able to create some splash plays on special teams in the preseason, he could capitalize on his decision to leave school early to pursue his dream of competing on Sundays.