The Steelers saw the careers of right guard David DeCastro and defensive end Cameron Heyward start off slowly.
It wasn't a question of ability for either one of them, it was a question of time. DeCastro was inserted as the team's starting right guard from the second he was taken in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. He was injured in the team's third preseason game, and was effectively lost for the season - although he did start the team's final three games.
Heyward took a bit to get comfortable with the speed of the game and his role in the defense. Without a whole lot of playing time his first two seasons, he broke out in 2013, and is now arguably the team's defensive MVP.
The impact of both of these players in the Steelers' Week 15 win over the Atlanta Falcons certainly is evidence to support the claim the team has hit big on these two first-round picks. DeCastro scored a 4.0 from Pro Football Focus, an NFL plays-evaluation web site, in the team's win over the Falcons, and Heyward scored a 4.3 overall, the top grades given for either team in the game.
In a game in which rushing yards were tough to come by, DeCastro handled his assignments well overall. Heyward wrecked the Falcons' offensive line on more than on occasion, coming up with multiple big stops when the Steelers' improving defense needed them.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scored a 3.2, marking another excellent game for him. Running back Le'Veon Bell had a 2.1 and Kelvin Beachum had a 1.7 to lead the offense. Backup wide receiver Lance Moore (-1.2) was the only Steelers offensive player to score lower than -1.0.
William Gay notched a 2.5 on the defensive side of the ball, while Lawrence Timmons (-2.1) and Stephon Tuitt (-2.7) were the lowest scorers.
Both Heyward and DeCastro are improving players and neither has yet hit his ceiling. That's the good news for the Steelers. While some will argue they're both great and the team just needs a few more of them, they are examples of a rebuilding Steelers' scouting system that hit a slide at the end of the 2000s and are now restocking their inventory with each passing year.
Heyward's fifth-year option has already been picked up by the Steelers, and it's highly likely he's in line for an extension in the near future. DeCastro's option will be picked up as well, and he too is likely to receive an extension, making both of them core players for the foreseeable future.
Week 15 showed what each of them are capable of as players and what the team can be with both of them playing well.