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Steelers turn to offense, fill holes at RB and WR

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The Steelers flipped the script on day two of the 2013 NFL Draft, focusing on the offense and filling two major needs on that side of the ball. Pittsburgh grabbed a big running back in Le’Veon Bell in the second round, and speedster receiver Markus Wheaton in the third.

One day after sitting tight and getting the linebacker they coveted in Jarvis Jones, the team sat tight again and picked up Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell – the top running back on their draft board – with the 48th overall pick in the second round.

Bell, who is listed at 6’1” and 244 lbs, was one of the biggest backs to be had in the draft, and certainly was the biggest back projected to go within the first three rounds. His weight is not set in stone, however – he weighed 230 lbs. at the combine – as the team plans on establishing exactly what his playing weight should be going forward.

However, the now-former-Spartan isn’t just a big, bruising back according to his own assessment.

“I’m a balanced runner,” said Bell when asked to describe his style of play. “…A lot of people look at me like ‘he’s just a short-yardage back,’ but I don’t look at myself like that. I can get to the outside and beat you with speed. I can catch the ball out of the backfield. I can pass protect. I can play special teams.”

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley compared his new running back to former-Oiler/Titan Eddie George, another taller-than-average back who ended up carving out a long and productive career in Tennessee. Haley also agreed with Bell’s own assessment of his versatility.

“This is a big guy who can play like a big back,” Haley explained. “And yet also can get outside some and catch the ball. So as far as we were concerned, three-down, every-down type back that is young and has a lot in front of him.

Bell’s arrival in Pittsburgh fills perhaps the biggest hole on the roster with the offseason departure of Rashard Mendenhall and no current player on the roster capable of stepping in as a full-time starter at running back. Bell should get every possible opportunity to take over the job and could be the rare Steeler to buck tradition and make a major impact as a rookie.

“I think running back is a position, probably more so than most, that you have a chance to come in and make an impact,” Haley said. “Obviously there is a lot of work ahead of him. He’s a young guy, but he’s coming from a pro-style offense. A lot of the runs will be very similar to the runs that he was running, so I expect him to get into the mix and be a factor.”

Pittsburgh turned around and filled another offensive need in the third round with the selection of Wheaton, a 5’11”, 182 lb. receiver out of Oregon State who hauled in a school-record 227 passes in 49 appearances as a Beaver.

Wheaton jumps into an uncertain receiving group that needed the addition of another young prospect. Mike Wallace signed the biggest deal in free agency this offseason to catch passes in Miami, and while the Steelers did end up keeping Emmanuel Sanders despite an offer sheet from the New England Patriots, the receiver is an unrestricted free agent in 2014 and desires his own big-money contract.

The rookie does have flexibility at the position, having lined up both inside and outside at receiver. That will allow the Steelers to shuffle him around as needed as they revamp their receiving corps. Wheaton is willing to do whatever it takes to be on the field.

“To be honest, I envision myself anywhere,” said Wheaton. “I played a lot of outside in college. Obviously, it’s not the same as the NFL but I feel I can produce outside. If I do need to play inside I feel I can do both.”

Like Jarvis Jones in the first round, Wheaton’s draft stock might have weakened slightly with a lower-than-expected 40-yard dash. His loss, however, was PSR Steelersonce again the Steelers gain as he slid just enough to fall into their laps in the third round.

“When you have guys that you like, you aren’t rooting for them to run fast and get a lot of attention,” said Haley of Wheaton’s combine performance. “I know it probably hurt his feelings and made him feel bad, but we were happy because when you put on the tape, he plays fast.”

There are still four rounds remaining in the 2013 draft; all will get underway Saturday. Pittsburgh has filled its two major offensive needs, but might still be interested in a tight end. On the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers badly need a safety and could look to draft a defensive lineman, inside linebacker, or cornerback as well.


Neil Walker’s contract expires after the 2016 season. The Pirates second baseman is due for a big raise in arbitration this offseason—likely to $10 million—and signing him to a long-term extension will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $12-$15 million annually.
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