Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie, Free Agent Midseason Progress Report

Curt PopejoyContributor IOctober 31, 2013

Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie, Free Agent Midseason Progress Report

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    The foundation of great NFL teams is the NFL draft. It's where a team builds the basis for the future. However, along with great drafts, strategic use of the salary cap in acquiring free agents can add the pieces needed to make a good team great.

    As we hit midseason, it's time to take a look at the Pittsburgh Steelers and the moves they made this year. This draft class was lauded by most pundits, but how has it held up? And have the limited free-agent moves the Steelers made reaped the dividends that were expected?

    Let's get to the progress reports for the free agents and rookies.

    All stats from ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

Jarvis Jones, Linebacker

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    When linebacker Jarvis Jones was selected in the first round, many viewed him as the savior of an anemic pass rush.

    In college, Jones was one of the most disruptive players in the country, but so far this season, Jones has been something of a disappointment.

    Jones is far from a lost cause. He has shown flashes of potential. But there are parts of Jones' game he needs to refine before he can become a full-time starter on this defense.

Le'Veon Bell, Running Back

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    After starting the year dealing with a foot injury, running back Le'Veon Bell was finally able to find his way to the field in Week 4. In his limited reps, Bell has lived up to the billing of selecting him in the second round.

    Is Bell where many expected him to be at this point in the season? Probably not, but such is the pressure on rookies to produce.

    Bell is doing his very best with a patchwork offensive line and limited opportunities.

Markus Wheaton, Wide Receiver

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    Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

    Up to this point, wide receiver Markus Wheaton has not lived up to his billing.

    With wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery potentially both leaving at the end of the season, Wheaton is going to need to get more reps to help decide if he can be a No. 2 WR in this offense.

    Going forward, assuming Wheaton can get healthy and stay healthy, he should find his way into more three-wide sets, where his speed can be utilized better.

Shamarko Thomas, Safety

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    Rookie strong safety Shamarko Thomas likely wasn't a known commodity to most Steelers fans after the draft, but they all have a much better understanding of who he is now.

    Thomas has been asked to fill in at nickelback on many occasions, which is nearly unheard-of for a college strong safety. But his athleticism and speed are evident.

    The starting safeties are entrenched for the season, but going forward fans should feel good about the future of the position.

Landry Jones, Quarterback

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    This was a puzzling pick to begin with, and nothing since has cleared things up at all.

    Quarterback Landry Jones has yet to be active for a single game, and short of an injury to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, he will remain inactive.

    I've been an open critic of Jones since before the 2013 draft, and I will continue to question the logic behind his selection.

Felix Jones, Running Back

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    The Steelers' rushing attack has been anything but intimidating this season.

    Running back Felix Jones was brought in to be part of a committee of backs, adding an element of speed and quickness to the backfield.

    Jones has been hampered by substandard offensive line play, but even considering that, Jones has not taken advantage of his opportunities when they have presented themselves.

    On the upside, Jones hasn't gotten injured yet, which has to be a record.

Fernando Velasco, Center

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    When starting center Maurkice Pouncey was lost to injury on the opening weekend of the season, the Steelers had to scramble to find his replacement.

    They found center Fernando Velasco, a former starter for the Tennessee Titans back in 2012. It was odd that Velasco was sitting out there, out of work at the start of the season, but it was good fortune he was.

    Velasco has played very well for the Steelers. They should consider re-signing him at the end of the season.

Guy Whimper, Offensive Tackle

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    There was never any doubt that the Steelers' offensive tackle situation was tenuous to start the season. Quality free-agent tackles were snatched up left and right by teams.

    Unfortunately, the Steelers have been firmly in salary cap hell, meaning the best they could do was offensive tackle Guy Whimper.

    Whimper has only seen action in three games this season as a reserve, and for the most part he has been quite mediocre. With a player like Whimper, the best thing that can happen is that he isn't needed.

William Gay, Cornerback

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    Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

    After the Steelers let free-agent cornerback Keenan Lewis leave, it was assumed they would seek out a free-agent cornerback to bolster depth.

    They got former Steeler William Gay, who has come in and played well beyond what I expected.

    Gay has shown a unique propensity for coming up and playing the run with aggression. In fact, Gay, who was brought in as a backup, has earned five starts in seven games and should continue to start the remainder of the season.

Zoltan Mesko, Punter

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    After punters Brian Moorman and Drew Butler battled all preseason for the starting punter job, the Steelers chose to cut both loose in favor of Zoltan Mesko. What could possibly go wrong?

    Fast-forward to this week, and Mesko's poor play has sent him packing. He never played up to his billing and probably kept his job a few weeks longer than he should have.