The 2021 NFL draft is now only four weeks away. Each week leading up to the draft, we are going to dive into an NFL draft class starting with the Steelers 2004 NFL draft. In doing so, each player selected by the Steelers will be highlighted as to how their NFL career, or lack thereof, took shape. As we get to more recent years, some will be combined as many of those draft choices are still with the Steelers.
Part 11 of 15 will highlight the Steelers 2014 NFL draft where I still get choked up thinking about what could have been.
So let’s take a look at the nine players drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2014 NFL draft:
Linebacker, Ohio St.
Monday, December 4, 2017, will be a day many Steelers fans would like to forget. With 11:26 remaining in the first quarter, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton completed a short pass for 3 yards to rookie wide receiver Josh Malone. It would be the last play of Ryan Shazier‘s NFL career as he would endure a horrific spinal injury on the tackle and days later would undergo spinal stabilization surgery. Shazier played 46 regular season games along with six playoff games in his NFL career. Selected to the Pro Bowl in 2016, Shazier was also selected in 2017 despite his injury. With seven career interceptions and 25 passes defensed along with seven forced fumbles, three fumble recovery and 7.0 sacks, Shazier had 299 regular season tackles in his career. Continuing to rehab back to a normal life, Shazier officially retired from the NFL prior to the 2020 season.
Defensive end, Notre Dame
The only member of the 2014 draft still with the Steelers, Stephon Tuitt has arguably the best season of his career in 2020. Struggling with injuries at times, Tuitt appeared in all 16 games as a rookie but has missed at least two games per season every year up until 2020. Appearing in 15 games last season after missing one contest due to being on the Reserve/COVID-19 List, Tuitt finished 2020 with 11.0 sacks, the most he’s had since achieving 6.5 sacks in his second season. In his seven-year career, Tuitt has started 79 games and has an interception, 13 passes defensed, six forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 34.5 sacks, and 246 tackles. Tuitt also has 48 tackles for loss and 94 quarterback hits, achieving career highs in both categories last season with 10 tackles for loss and 25 quarterback hits.
Running back, Kent St.
The first of three compensatory draft picks in 2014, the Steelers traded their 3rd round pick the previous year in order to draft Shamarko Thomas. Drafted for his blazing speed, Archer never really found where he fit with an NFL team. Appearing in 12 games as a rookie where he had 10 rushes for 40 yards and seven receptions for 23 yards, Archer also saw time as a kick returner. During his second season, Archer only saw three snaps on offense while acting primarily as a return man on kickoffs where he had 354 yards on 14 returns with a long of 38 yards. Archer was waived in November 2015 as the Steelers decided on using Jacoby Jones as their a kick returner. Archer reportedly turned down other practice squad opportunities and sat out the remainder of the season. After being signed to a Reserve/Futures contract by the New York Jets in the offseason, Archer was released following the NFL draft. Claimed off waivers by the Buffalo Bills, Archer never reported to the team, subsequently ending his NFL career.
Wide Receiver, Clemson
Held out his first six games rookie season due to not being ready for the NFL, Bryant had eight touchdowns in 10 games in 2014. Bryant missed the first four games of the 2015 season due to suspension for violating the league substance-abuse policy. Upon his return, Bryant appeared in 11 games and had six touchdowns and 765 receiving yards on 50 catches and added a rushing touchdown. After being suspended for the entire 2016 season for once again violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Bryant appeared in 15 games in 2017 with 603 yards on 50 catches and three touchdowns. In the offseason, Bryant was traded to the Oakland Raiders for a third-round draft pick. Released before the start of the regular season, the Raiders re-signed Bryant 10 days later despite the fact he was facing another suspension. Bryant appeared in eight games with 19 catches for 266 yards for the Raiders before being placed on injured reserve. A week after landing on IR, Bryant was suspended indefinitely by the NFL and has yet to be reinstated. This past January, Bryant signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League.
Defensive back, Arizona
Richardson failed to make the Steelers 53-man roster his rookie year but landed on the practice squad. Unfortunately, Richardson only lasted several weeks as he was released in October. Richardson spent time in the offseason or on the practice squad’s of a number of NFL teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals, Tennessee Titans, and Carolina Panthers. Richardson then spent two years with the Calgary Stampeder‘s of the CFL before returning to the Oakland Raiders in the 2018 offseason. Unfortunately, Richardson was placed on IR during training camp and later cut before the start of the season. Richardson currently plays for the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.
Offensive line, Vanderbilt
Able to play any position across the offensive line, Johnson made the team for the Steelers his rookie season and appeared in two games and played 25 offensive snaps. Released in mid October, Johnson was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets but did not appear in any games in 2014. Johnson played an additional three seasons in New York where he started eight games in 2016 and 15 games in 2017 as the Jets center. Johnson signed with the Detroit Lions in the 2018 offseason but failed to make the team. Signing with the Miami Dolphins several weeks into the season, Johnson appeared in 10 games mainly on special teams. In 2019, Johnson signed with the San Francisco 49ers but ultimately did not make the team and has not played in the NFL since.
When it comes to a late round draft pick, injuries can completely derail a career. For linebacker Jordan Zumwalt, landing on injured reserve during training camp each of his first two seasons all but destroyed his chances of making it in the NFL. Although Zumwalt returned to the Steelers for a third year in 2016, he failed to make the team or the practice squad after finally completing a preseason. Zumwalt was not signed to any other NFL teams following his release from the Steelers.
Defensive tackle, Tennessee
McCullers was a player who found a way to stick around with a Pittsburgh Steelers for six seasons. Appearing in 73 regular season games, McCullers had 2.5 sacks and two passes defensed with 41 tackles and nine quarterback hits over his six-year career with the Steelers. Failing to make the team in 2020, McCullers was signed to the Steelers practice squad with the expanded rules due to the COVID-19. Poached by the Chicago bears a few weeks into the season, McCullers was on the active roster until the middle of October before being released and signed to the Bears’ practice squad. Elevated to the active roster once, McCullers ended up back on the 53-man roster in mid November. McCullers only appeared in three games for the Bears where he played 86 defensive snaps and had eight tackles. McCullers is currently a free agent.
Tight end, UMass
Failing to make the Steelers 53-man roster his rookie season, Blanchflower spent all of 2014 on the Steelers’ practice squad. Signed to Reserve/Future contract in the offseason, Blanchflower was waived/injured during training camp. After clearing waivers, Blanchflower landed on injured reserve for the remainder of the season. He was released in the 2016 offseason and never signed with another NFL team.