Steel City Underground

Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jordan Zumwalt
steelers.com

Steel City Underground is doing a series where we will break down each instance of double-dipping in the NFL draft during the Mike Tomlin area. By double-dipping we mean drafting two players of the same position. This has happened much more than most may think, which is detailed in the original article. We will be taking a look at the rosters prior to those players being drafted along with whatever happened with these players. 

The Players

The Steelers drafted two linebackers in the 2014 NFL Draft: Ryan Shazier and Jordan Zumwalt.

Shazier was a very highly regarded linebacker coming into the 2014 NFL draft, but most draftniks had him going in the lower half. His NFL.com Draft Profile provided a glimpse into who he could become:

Shazier flies around the field and his unique athletic ability stands out. Offers a tremendous combination of speed, tackling and coverage skills to become a playmaker as a run-and-hit 4-3 Will or perhaps a 3-4 weakside ‘backer if protected by a block-occupying nose tackle. Value is increased by the fact that he will not have to come off the field.

That combination of speed and athleticism were too much for the Steelers to pass on. Even though most had Shazier going lower in the first round, the Steelers had him graded higher.

This is what Mike Tomlin had to say after the Steelers snagged Shazier at 15:

The young man has no holes.  He’s a defensive playmaker. Bigger than positional needs, what we needed was a defensive playmaker.

Jordan Zumwalt, who the Steelers tagged in the sixth round had less obvious talent than Shazier, but had the kind of motor and drive that tends to turn draft picks into fan “camp favorites”.  His NFL.com Draft Profile describes him this way:

High-energy overachiever with a special-teams temperament. Stands out most for his competitiveness, effort, versatility and swagger.

It’s hard to say whether the Steelers truly saw Zumwalt as more than a future special teams contributor, but it is likely they hoped he could turn into a potential backup down the road.  His fire and motor had analysts describing him as a “Steelers” type player, so it was no surprise that he was on their radar late in the draft.

The Need

While some didn’t see ILB as a huge need after the 2013 season, Larry Foote was showing his age, and that left just Vince Williams, Kion Wilson and Terrence Garvin as uninjured players on the roster. The Steelers still didn’t know what they had in Sean Spence because of injury, or if he would ever recover to be the player they hoped. So even though there was depth there, the potential for an upgrade was considerable.

Larry Foote was released March 5th, well before the 2014 draft, and that should have signaled everyone that ILB was going to be on their radar.

The Outcome

The funny thing is that this draft could have gone a completely different direction. The Steelers were (as always seems to be the case) thinking CB, and had their eye on Justin Gilbert (who the Browns took at 8) and Odell Beckham, Jr. (who went to the Giants at 12) and that made things easy, as the viewed Shazier as the top pick on the board.

The Steelers ended up with what most would consider a solid draft – Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Martavis Bryant all coming in the top four rounds. Wesley Johnson, their second fifth-round pick is the “heir apparent” at center for the New York Jets, and Daniel McCullers (their second sixth-rounder) is still on the team and making contributions.

It’s safe to say that the Shazier pick has turned out better than we could have hoped. He had a rough start, being injured in his first two seasons, but was a Pro-Bowl player last year, and is considered the quarterback of the defense. Shazier is being widely recognized as the type of player the Steelers hoped he would turn into, and perhaps even more.

Zumwalt, on the other hand, was essentially a non-starter with the Steelers. He was placed on injured reserve in both the 2014 and 2015 seasons and finally released prior to the 2016 season.

Zumwalt was not picked up by any other clubs and remains out of football.

Even though the Steelers did in fact double-dip at the ILB position, it’s hard to say the Steelers had high expectations for their sixth round pick. Their needs were filled well by the Shazier pickup, and while it would have been a bonus to find a serviceable backup in the later rounds, having Zumwalt fail to materialize didn’t really hurt the team in the long run.





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