The Pittsburgh Steelers have a phenomenal group of second year players who experienced a tremendous amount of playing time as rookies in 2014. Will the majority fall into the sophomore slump category? Or will we see some second year breakouts from a few of the members of the 2014 draft class?
Although the Steelers had 9 total draftees in 2014, taking a guess as to who might have the best season among the group can be a difficult task. You take into account the amount of playing time, the position they play as well as the chances of making noticeable plays when it matters most.
When analyzing the draft class, many will look no further than the Steelers' 1st round draft pick Ryan Shazier. Shazier started from Day 1 in Spring workouts last season, but was often injured and kept out of the lineup when healthy due to the success of Sean Spence and Vince Williams at the inside linebacker position. Fans can expect Shazier to start in 2015, but can he stay healthy enough to wreak havoc on opponents in the NFL as he did for the Buckeyes of Ohio State?
After Shazier, Martavis Bryant is the next choice of players who could have a breakout 2015 campaign. After all, the young man only played in 10 games in 2014 and caught 8 touchdown passes. Bryant is the proud recipient of playing along side the best wide receiver in the NFL in Antonio Brown, who will take attention away from him, but Bryant has a skill set where he can not only out-jump opponents, but has the speed to run past them. Bryant's up-side is hard to ignore when you watch him blow by defenders on the outside.
While most might stop after Shazier and Bryant, don't look past the defensive line as a spot where a tandem could see a significant bump in production in 2015. Stephon Tuitt was gradually introduced to the starting position along side Cameron Heyward as the defensive tackles in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, but when Brett Keisel injured his triceps, it was Tuitt which held down his side of the defensive line. Tuitt seemed to be over powered by the larger offensive linemen deployed by NFL teams, but as the season progressed, he got better and more comfortable in his role. Tuitt plays with a heart and intensity which exemplifies what the Steelers stand for, and certainly could have great success in 2015 as he enters the season as a starter.
The other defensive lineman who could be a big factor in 2015 is Daniel McCullers. McCullers, like Tuitt, saw time sparingly, but when Steve McLendon suffered a shoulder injury keeping him out of the lineup, McCullers got the nod. Although McCullers didn't make many notable plays, the experience he received is invaluable. McCullers could be an important part of the Steelers' plans heading into next season as he could play the defensive line in sub packages and help clog the interior from the nose tackle position if needed.
I hesitate to even include him, but Dri Archer certainly could have himself a much larger role on the Steelers' team in 2015. Although not spectacular in the return game, Archer should be more acclimated in his second year to the speed of the NFL than he was as a rookie. I would expect Archer to be returning kickoffs in 2015, as well as being more active in the standard offense, most likely as a wide receiver.
The Steelers were able to go 11-5, win an AFC North championship and make the playoffs with several rookie contributors in 2014. The experience should do nothing but better the team, but which player will make the biggest splash next season? I'm putting my money on Ryan Shazier and/or Martavis Bryant as both have the potential to be outstanding at their positions.
Who do you think will have the best second year season in 2015? Vote below!