Why Don’t Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Make an Immediate Impact?


The other day, Ed Bouchette of the PPG held a mailbag and took questions from Pittsburgh Steelers fans.  One question for Bouchette was why can’t Steelers rookies make an immediate impact?  For years on the defensive side of the ball it’s always been said that the Steelers defensive scheme under Dick LeBeau was too complicated for rookies to figure out right away.  Here was the actual question,

"“How hard is it to make a tackle or catch a football?  Why don’t the Steelers stop wasting valuable time with Rookies, simplify the system, and let them play?”"

Bouchette made a great point saying that for a long time any defensive rookie drafted was stuck behind other talented veterans on the roster.  For example Lawrence Timmons making only two starts during his first two NFL seasons sitting behind James Farrior and Larry Foote.  Shamarko Thomas is another good example of this.  Over his first two NFL seasons, he has only started two games because of Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark playing in front of him, although it appears this season he will finally get a chance to play on a regular basis.

He also added that players like Casey Hampton and Kendrell Bell started as rookies in 2001 and made an immediate impact.  The past two seasons the Steelers drafted Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier and both started multiple games during their rookie seasons.  Neither of them have been amazing but that could be more due to injuries instead of LeBeau’s scheme.

That seems to explain the defensive side of the ball, but how about the offense.  Over the past 10 drafts the Steelers have spent five first round picks on offensive players.  Three of those players made an impact during their rookie seasons.

Heath Miller (2005) started 15 games during his rookie season and caught 6 touchdowns.  Santonio Holmes (2006) only started four games but he caught 49 passes for 824 yards (the third most in his career).  Maurkice Pouncey (2010) started all 16 games and made the pro bowl during his first season.

As for players who did not produce immediately, Rashard Mendenhall comes to mind.  During his rookie season he only had 19 carries in the season due to playing only four games because of injury.  However in his second year he ran for 1,108 yards.  David DeCastro also failed to play right away due to injury but since his rookie year he has started 31 of 32 regular season games.

Other offensive players that produced right away in recent history are Martavis Bryant last year and Le’Veon Bell after returning from a foot injury had a good rookie season.

Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Wallace all showed signs of being good receivers during their rookie seasons but similar to some high drafted defensive players they were in a loaded wide receiving corps with Hines Ward, Holmes, and even Nate Washington.

Some players have yet to make an impact.  Dri Archer is on that list and Limas Sweed never made in the NFL.  As far as Sweed goes I think it was more of his ability to make in the NFL rather than the Steelers scheme.

I think the idea that Steelers rookies don’t often make an immediate impact is a bit of a myth.  Each player is different and the circumstance in which they get drafted alters their rookie season success.  If the Steelers choose to select a cornerback or an outside pass rusher in the early rounds of the upcoming draft, we should expect them to start and hopefully produce right away.

Next: Steelers Bell: What is the NFL Waiting For?

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