In the great history of Steelers drafts there is one that sticks out above the rest, and not in a good way. The 2014 draft will be forever remembered for it’s enormous potential, and the various tragedies that derailed it. There were three actual Hall of Fame worthy talents drafted by Kevin Colbert that year. All of which ended their Steelers careers falling way short of what could have bee.
In an alternate universe Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Martavis Bryant all could’ve represented what would have been Kevin Colbert’s draft opus. A master stroke of talent acquisitions that could have rivaled the great 1974 draft. Instead tragedy, injuries, and self destruction caused the demise of this draft class. Let’s go through each pick, and the sad stories behind them:
Round 1: Ryan Shazier LB, Ohio St.
Every Steelers fan is well aware of the tragic injury that ended the career of Ryan Shazier. That game in 2017 versus the Bengals was among the darkest days in team history.
Shazier was a freakishly gifted athlete for the linebacker position. He was just at the point in his career where had begun to learn to harness those gifts. Shazier had stopped being just an athlete playing linebacker, and had become a true force on the Steelers defense. There’s no question his best years in the NFL were yet to come. This injury was a tragedy on many levels, but did have a happy ending off the field. Ryan Shazier has made a tremendous recovery from what could have been full paralysis. It’s a awful story with a mostly happy ending.
Round 2: Stephon Tuitt DL, Notre Dame
When healthy, Stephon Tuitt was as good as any 3/4 defensive end in football hands down. He could rival even his teammate Cam Heyward in terms of being a disruptive force along the Steelers defensive line. Injuries were a constant worry with Stephon Tuitt however. He never once managed to play a full season with Pittsburgh.
If that weren’t enough in the bad luck category, the sudden death of his brother caused him to eventually retire from the game. He understandably took a different view of his life and career after that tragedy. This unfortunate event came after what was perhaps his best season in a Steelers uniform. Tuitt played in 15 games, and had a career high 11 sacks in 2020. There’s no question big things were ahead for him before the extremely unfortunate death of his brother. Just another career ended too early for the Steelers.
Round 3: Dri Archer RB/WR, Kent St.
The thought process was sound, but the pick was a complete bust for Kevin Colbert. The idea of drafting a shifty, uber-fast, running back/wide receiver made for a great idea in theory. Coming out of college Archer had blazing 4.26 speed, and had nearly 2,000 yards of offense in his junior season. He seemed a perfect compliment to the tough running style of Le’Veon Bell. Unfortunately Archer never made an impact in his time with the Steelers. His diminutive size (5’7”, 175lbs) was too much to overcome. This will go down as one of Kevin Colbert’s worst selections in his time as general manager.
Round 4: Martavis Bryant WR, Clemson
There was a time where the name Martavis Bryant was being associated with legendary players like Randy Moss. Bryant had all the physical gifts you could ask for as a wide receiver. He stood 6’4”, and weighed 211 pounds coming out of Clemson. Bryant ran a ridiculous 4.42/40 at the NFL combine, and had a knack for the big play. This is a player who averaged an incredible 21 yards per reception, and scored 8 touchdowns in only 10 games his rookie season. Unfortunately that’s where the good news ends. His inability to stay clean for drug tests caused Bryant to miss the entire 2016 season. He was never the same player after that suspension. He would later be traded to the Raiders, and eventually wash out of the league.
The Martavis Bryant story is a sad one on many levels. He had no one to blame but himself for his failures. Yet one can only wonder how his career could have gone had he been playing during the now much more relaxed NFL drug policy. He will always be an irrational favorite of this site. We pushed for his return on more than one occasion. Steelers off-season targets: Martavis Bryant
Round 5: Shaquille Richardson DB, Arizona
When it comes to Steelers drafts, one constant is the lack of any production from the defensive backs. Shaquille Richardson was no different in that category. Admittedly not much is expected from a fifth round pick, but Richardson never played a snap for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has however carved out a career for himself which continues to this day in the CFL as a member of the Toronto Argonauts.
Round 5b: Wesley Johnson OL, Vanderbilt
The unfortunate part of the drafting of Wesley Johnson is that the Steelers may have given up on him too soon. Johnson carved out a career as a backup for six seasons for teams like the Jets, Lions, Dolphins and 49ers. Not a huge loss, but any time you can get five years out of a fifth round pick, he’s at least worth keeping around.
Round 6: Jordan Zumwalt: LB, UCLA
There was always a little buzz about the abilities of Jordan Zumwalt. The Steelers certainly seemed interested as they kept bringing him back despite two straight season ending hip injuries. After a third attempt at the roster ended with a last round roster cut, Zumwalt retired from football. There was certainly enough talent there to be a key special teams contributor, and maybe even on defense. Once again though, bad luck was the overriding factor in this draft.
Round 6B: Dan McCullers NT, Tennessee
Dan McCullers is pretty much the embodiment of this cursed draft class. He had all the physical tools to be a dominant nose tackle in the Steelers 3/4 scheme. He was a massive man at 6’6”, and 360 pounds. When he wanted to, McCullers could be a force on run defense. The problem was, his “want to” was never on display consistently enough. The nature of his freakish size and strength kept him on the roster for six seasons despite the lack of production.
Round 7: Rob Branchflower TE, Massachusetts
It was if fate intervened to make Kevin Colbert draft a talented, yet injury prone player destined to fall short of expectations with his last pick in the 2014 draft. Branchflower’s injuries were well documented in college, but his talent made him irresistible this late in the draft. https://www.espn.com/blog/boston/high-school/post/_/id/31969/rob-blanchflower-drafted-by-pittsburgh-steelers
Of course, Rob Branchflower would never play a down for the Pittsburgh Steelers due to, what else, injuries. He makes the perfect book end to without question the most cursed draft in this franchise’s history. From tragedy, to injuries, to drug use, and most importantly overwhelming talent, this draft had it all. And all of it would end badly for the Pittsburgh Steelers.