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Injuries have cut into the time the Steelers' last five first-round picks have played together

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The Steelers have, by and large, selected starters with their first-round picks from 2010-2014. The amount of time those five players - Maurkice Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier - have played together may explain the team's slow growth since 2012.

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier was rolled into awkwardly during the Steelers' 43-23 win over the Baltimore Ravens in Week 9. It would be the second time in 2014 the team's top draft pick - taken 15th overall out of Ohio State - would leave the field gingerly after an injury.

It would also be far from the first time the Steelers would see a recent first-round pick miss time because he was hurt.

The Steelers have had 13 opportunities this year in which all five of their first-round draft picks since 2010 could have played. But all five of them - center Maurkice Pouncey, defensive end Cameron Heyward, right guard David DeCastro, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and inside linebacker Ryan Shazier - have played together just four times.

And the fourth time, last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Shazier dressed but didn't play a snap.

In 2013, Pouncey was lost on the eighth play of the first game, bumping the total playing time of the Steelers' offensive line with both Pouncey and DeCastro to three games and eight snaps. Both have played in every game so far this year, but the issue has shifted over to the defense, where rebuilding efforts spearheaded by the selections of Jones and Shazier have resulted in their own limited streak - they were both hurt in the Steelers' Week 3 win over the Carolina Panthers. Jones was out through Week 13, getting on the field against the Bengals in Week 14 after a nine-game absence. Shazier would return from the knee injury he suffered in that Week 3 game to see action in Weeks 8 and 9, but then he'd miss another three games with an ankle injury.

The constant through all of this has been Heyward, who played the least amount of snaps per game of the entire group during his rookie season. He hasn't missed a game in his four-year pro career. Without him, the Steelers look at a very small percentage of their other four first-round picks being on the field at the same time either this season or in 2013. Pouncey has missed 18 games since 2011 and DeCastro has missed 13 since 2012. Jones has played in 18 of the 29 games for which he's been eligible, and Shazier has been in seven of 13 - including the one in which he didn't play at all.

Preseason breakdown of Steelers DE Cameron Heyward

Is this an amazing streak of bad luck? Do other teams suffer the same kind of game-to-game gaps in appearances from their youngest and, presumably, best, players? Looking at the AFC North, the Bengals have a similar issue. Between Jermaine Gresham (2010), A.J. Green (2011), Kevin Zeitler (2012), Dre Kirkpatrick (2012), Tyler Eifert (2013) and Darqueze Dennard (2014), they've had a mix of injuries and inability to get onto the field. Kirkpatrick mirrors DeCastro, with 32 games played to this point in his career, making just three starts - all last year. Dennard is following the same path as his fellow first-round cornerback, having seen just 56 snaps his rookie year. Eifert, like Pouncey in 2013, was lost on the eighth play of the 2014 season, and he may not return this year. Green and Gresham have been the constants, like Heyward for the Steelers, while Zeitler has missed eight of the team's last 29 games for Cincinnati.

Every team in the NFL has played 13 games this year (with the exception of St. Louis and Arizona, who played Thursday night), thus having 13 games in which all of their first-round picks since 2010 could have played. The amount of time the Steelers have seen at least one of those picks not on the field is just as much an issue with the growth of this team as anything else.

These are, by most accounts, at least NFL-level starters, too. It's still probably too early to properly evaluate Jones and Shazier, but both of them were rookie-year starters (on average defenses). Heyward and Pouncey appear to be the best and DeCastro is right there with them.

The Steelers have already made investments beyond the draft pick with Pouncey (five-year extension this off-season) and Heyward (his 2015 option was picked up and he appears to be next in line for an extension). DeCastro isn't going anywhere, as his 2016 option will be picked up this coming off-season. Getting them onto the field will be critical for this team in the future, as will bringing Jones and Shazier along both in terms of on-field skill, play-recognition and health.

It means little now, but it's worth mentioning the Steelers are 3-1 when all five of them are dressed for a game. They're 5-4 when at least one of them is out.