From my prospective as a fan, the last couple NFL drafts have gone by without much fanfare for the Pittsburgh Steelers draft picks. While the Steelers always have turned surprise picks and "not-so-touted" rookies into viable NFL players, there just haven't been those kinds of guys that are game changers. This years draft peaked my interest, especially after the disappointment of the 2012 season. Would this be a year that the Steelers made some moves, drafted for needed positions, and started getting younger? Let's take a look at Pittsburgh's picks, their current cardboard, and my impressions of the picks.
First Round - Jarvis Jones
Ok, this is a "no brainer" if there ever was one. Most Steelers fans (present company included) would love to turn on CBS at noon (CST) September 8th and see Jarvis Jones suited up and on Heinz Field oppposite the Tennessee Titans. But knowing the general MO of the Steelers organization, that might not be a viable scenario. Pittsburgh doesn't generally put a lot of faith in rookies, especially those on the defensive side of the ball. Jones has all the talent and drive that Steelers defensive players possess and will no doubt get some playing time in his rookie season. On the field opposite LaMarr Woodley is as lethal of a pass rush combo as any group in the NFL (at least in my opinion...ON PAPER). There is still a long wait to see if he will actually become the replacement to James Harrison.
Jones has a few cards out there now and will surely have more come major release time for the bigger, licensed products. At the moment (according the the Beckett Online checklist) Mr. Jones has 61 different cards on the market, mostly from Press Pass and Leaf releases (he has 5 from Upper Deck). His high-end auto cards are being sold anywhere between $70-$100 on the market at this point with most of his mid-range auto's and low serial numbered inserts fetching $30-$50. The only one I currently own is the one shown above.
Second Round - Le'Veon Bell
Let me start off by saying first that players with hyphenated names or random apostrophe's generally don't pan out for the Steelers. I really hope Bell is an exception to that seemingly odd coincidence. He has the opportunity to be the starting running back on day one of the 2013 NFL season, despite the penchant for Steeler's management to sit rookies for a year. Since 2006 (after Jerome Bettis retired), the thought has been that each newly drafted running back would somehow bring back "Steeler Football". But that fine line of what Steeler Nation has started to become acclimated to and what fans still yearn for is slowly fading. The pass-happy offense and throw-first mentality, plus the lack of focus (or ability to focus) on the running game, have made the Steelers appear more like the rest of the NFL and less like the smash-mouth, attrition teams of old. In my opinion, it would be nice to get a more balanced approach to moving the football down the field. Bell has the potential to be that guy for years to come if things work out as planned.
Le'Veon currently has 69 cards to his name. over half of those are some type of autograph card. Of course, those that are currently on the market are distributed between Leaf, Press Pass, Sage, and Upper Deck. High end of the market has been around the $100 mark for low print run auto parallels from Leaf (Valiant & Metal). Most of his mid-range to lower-end autos can be found for $40 or less.
Third Round - Markus Wheaton
With their 3rd round pick, the Steelers chose offensive lineman...at least that's what I was expecting. Instead we got Markus Wheaton, wide receiver out of Oregon State. Definitely not the direction I thought they would go with a WR pick because they have to find a replacement for Mike Wallace. But guess what? Wheaton is not the replacement for Mike Wallace. He is a great receiver to compliment a young receiving corp and the pressure will not be there for him to crack a top four slot on the team. With Burress, Sanders, and Cotchery all feasibly heading to a city near you within the next year, Wheaton has 2012 to work on development and adjusting to NFL football. But I have no doubt that Wheaton will be a playmaker at some point. Hopefully it won't take too long.
Wheaton only has 32 cards on the market at the time I wrote this, for a total "book value" of $42. This, of course, doesn't take into consideration the very low serial numbered cards, of which there are 8 under #/25. Since we are starting to get into the later rounds with players now, the demand for their card stock generally starts to dwindle since the likelihood of making an immediate impact is slim. That's why you can find Wheaton's stuff pretty cheap for the most part. With the exception of two cards under #/10 going for $60-$80, most of his autos can be had for under $30. I have none, but I do have the Leaf card you see above.
Fourth Round - Shamarko Thomas & Landry Jones
First, Shamarko Thomas was picked with the 14th pick in the 4th round. Here's the deal with Shamarko, other than the interestingly funny and intriguing first name combined with his equally unimpressive and inane last name. He is a strong safety from Syracuse which means that there were a lot of teams that overlooked his talent. I've already mentioned that the Steelers don't generally play the younger guys so it will be hard to imagine Thomas getting much playing time in 2012 in Pittsburgh. That is, of course, unless Troy or Ryan Clark go down with injuries. If he can make an impact at camp and in fill-in opportunities, he could one day be the replacement guy (analysts compared him to Bob Sanders). Until then, he is going to have to work hard to stay on top of his game and take every chance he gets to impress the coaching staff.
With the other fourth round pick, the Steelers did what I didn't expect at all. In fact, I wouldn't have expected this pick in this years draft, next years, or the year after. The Steelers actually spent a fourth round pick on a quarterback. Landry Jones, out of Oklahoma, who was spoken very highly of by most football analysts and scouts, ended up on the Steelers radar and they couldn't pass up the opportunity to give him his NFL shot. Big Ben takes hits...a lot of hits. I get it. The issue with the backups (or lack thereof) came to a head last season. I get that too. But Landry Jones? That guy is probably starting quarterback material in the NFL and could compete for a gig on probably half the squads out there. On Pittsburgh, he will probably become the best clipboard carrier in the league. I'm not sure if they went this direction to groom a replacement for Ben or find a capable backup to replace Batch and supplant Gradkowski.
As for their cardboard presence, Shamarko Thomas has three (3) cards total. That's right! Three cards. They are all from the Upper Deck set. Other than his auto which has sold for around the $35-$40 mark, his other two cards can be found for $2-$5. Now that he is a Steeler, demand will increase and you will most likely see him included in upcoming sets.
Landry Jones on the other hand, has 115 cards to his name. Of those, about 75 of them are autographs, which is insane for a guy in the fourth round. But since he is a quarterback, I guess it could be much worse. His 1/1 Leaf Metal Superfractor auto sold recently on Ebay for over $300 (not to me). Not bad for a guy that has yet to throw an NFL pass, and likely won't in the near future.
Fifth Round - Terry Hawthorne
With Keenan Lewis gone, Cortez Allen's play suspect and on the shaky side, and both Ike Taylor and William Gay not getting any younger, it was only fitting that the Steelers draft another secondary guy. That choice was Terry Hawthorne out of Illinois. Hawthorne finished his fantastic college career with 162 tackles and 6 interceptions as a linebacker. He is not a large imposing guy but he does possess top end speed for a defender and could be a capable shut down guy in the future. There were initial questions about his heath as he was banged up against Wisconsin last season and missed some playing time with a concussion but obviously not enough to keep Pittsburgh from grabbing him up with the 150th pick
Terry has three cards (3). They are all Upper Deck. I don't have any of them in my possession at this time but may soon. His auto card from the Upper Deck set has been selling between $10-14. Not too bad, and certainly worth a look.
Sixth Round - Justin Brown & Vince Williams
Finally! I say that because with the first of two sixth round picks, the Steelers took their big receiver. I'm not going to get too excited about his possibility of playing or even making the team for that matter. But I will say this, Antonio Brown was a sixth rounder too. Justin used to play for Penn State but when all those sanctions came down on PSU, he transferred to Oklahoma for his senior year. His performance as their #2 receiver must have caught the eye of the Steelers and they decided to (sort of) reunite him with his quarterback Landry Jones.
With their second sixth round pick, the Steelers chose the 6' 1" linebacker out of Florida State, Vince Williams. The only reason Williams was probably still on the board is that he was only used as a two-down back. He was replaced on third and fourth down situations. But that's ok. Larry Foote used to be used the same way and look at the success he has had with the team. Bottom line, the LBs are in need of some help and Williams can be that guy. According to Kevin Butler, the Steelers linebackers coach, he has the two skills that a coach can't teach, speed and the willingness to hit someone.
Justin Brown has 0 cards so far so I have nothing to show for him nor a good gauge of what market would pull. Based on other higher picks, I would say an auto is going to fetch somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 but without a market to compare to, that's only a guess. Vince Williams has 3 cards unless you count the Senior Bowl release from this year. Then he has 4. Hits of his are at $20 on the high end, with individual singles going for a couple bucks a piece.
Seventh Round - Nick Williams
I've already heard the comparisons being made between Nick Williams and Brett Keisel. Let's get the record straight (and no we aren't talking about the old Bengal FB Nick Williams)...there is no comparison other than the coincidence that they were both drafted as seventh rounders. As such, there isn't much by way of expectations for you as a seventh round pick, otherwise you would have come off the board sooner.
Of course, I'm not trying to diminish Nick's ability at all. At 6' 5", 309lbs., he is one of the most athletically talented defensive lineman in the draft. He was bigger and faster than most of his opponents last year and that made him unstoppable for the Samford Bulldogs. But, as mentioned quite often before, younger d-men sit a lot on the Steelers. If we are, in fact, going to make that Keisel comparison...it took 5 years to get Brett a starting spot. If Nick can impress at camp, maybe one day he will be able to contribute.
There are no cards of Nick at the moment but may very well be in later releases, especially if he has a good showing at rookie camp and gets a shot at a roster spot. I know we can sure use some depth at the end positions.