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Expectations placed on Shaquille Richardson gives him a sink-or-swim opportunity

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Faced with past fifth-round flame-outs drafted by the Steelers as well as future depth concerns at the position, more eyes are on one of this year's fifth round picks than his contemporaries.

Joe Sargent

Top draft picks get the hat and a grip-n-grin shot with the Commissioner on the stage. The second round picks get something similar, just usually with a slightly hungover crowd watching on Day 2 of the NFL Draft.

Only the die-hards know much about the guys drafted on Day 3. Unless, of course, they play a position most fans feel the team should have drafted much earlier. It's certainly not the fault of Arizona cornerback Shaquille Richardson the Steelers didn't address the position most thought they would on either Day 1 or Day 2. Instead, he embodies the misplaced expectations of a high draft pick.

If Richardson put up comparative statistics as, say, a tight end, fans would not likely have batted an eyelash. Fellow fifth-round pick, Vanderbilt offensive tackle Wesley Johnson, is seen as a guy with upside and will battle for a roster spot.

Richardson carries with him the notion of being a future starter, an impact player, the reason the Steelers didn't address what appeared to be their most shallow position and, with a connection to Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake (who recruited Richardson in high school), someone on whom fans must settle to assuage their fears of future defensive back depth.

At least he's doing the youth camp thing. It's always good to see players taking the responsibility of working with kids.

Fifth round picks haven't fared well in Pittsburgh recently. Terry Hawthorne, cut. Chris Rainey, cut. Chris Carter, possibly on his way out and not exactly in line for an extension. Stevenson Sylvester has been cut possibly more often than any player in franchise history. Chris Scott never panned out and neither did Crezdon Butler (but both ended up in Buffalo).

Mental toughness is a requisite for a cornerback. One with so many trending negatives working against him will need even more of it. Expectations are closer to written vomit than anything tangible. Richardson will likely answer these kinds of questions, and they're more of an annoyance than anything else.

Still, the fans create the storyline they want. His only defense will be to spout off the standard cliches and work hard.

That isn't to say those who went before him didn't do the same things, and that's exactly why fans will pounce on the fifth round pick with unfair expectations. It really doesn't have anything to do with him at all. He's stuck between those hype-fueled expectations and past shortcomings of others.

He can step up and be the hero, earn a dime back position and excel on special teams. He can continue to work to turn that high level of athleticism into a supreme technically-inclined cornerback. He can wilt under the mirage of fan expectations and turn into the next project scooped up by Buffalo.

The tough spot he was placed in on draft day is his to manipulate. He still has a great opportunity with a team that, regardless of the amazingly high amount of improvement Brice McCain and Antwon Blake have made over the offseason, doesn't have much experienced depth at the position in the future.

It's up to him now.