Goodbye Fast Willie and say hello to the Diesel, who might be the Steelers' best bargain in the NFL draft.
The Steelers were good for two trades the past week, and in essence they concluded another when they drafted Georgia Tech running back Jonathan Dwyer after letting Willie Parker go as a free agent.
Their running styles could not be more diverse, from one end of the scale to another. Parker was the home-run threat, the quick-twitch fiber of a back. Dwyer weighs 225 pounds and runs like his nickname, Diesel, ramming through lines and churning out yardage like plows through snowdrifts.
That the Steelers were able to get him with a sixth-round draft pick not only surprised Dwyer, but it also surprised some in the NFL. He ran for 1,395 yards as a true sophomore in 2008 as the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He followed with another 1,395 yards last season and opted for the draft after an NFL committee informed him he should be drafted in the first or second round.
NFLdraftscout.com had him projected for the second or third round as the sixth-best back in the draft. He was the 12th back taken and that could be to the Steelers' advantage.
Rashard Mendenhall is the top dog in the Steelers' backfield and he also may continue his role as their third-down back. As such, he will need relief. The only other back on the roster with real experience is Mewelde Moore. Frank Summers, whose rookie season ended with minor back surgery, and two players who spent much of last season on their practice squad, Isaac Redman and Justin Vincent, join them.
Dwyer will compete for the No. 2 job and also as a short-yardage back.
"This kid's had 1,300 yards in each of the last two years," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations. "He's a big kid, with deceptive speed and productivity. And again as a junior you still think he hasn't reached his full potential yet."
Dwyer's draft status fell once the interminable postseason analysis took over. A toe injury in the Orange Bowl set his training back before the combine, where he ran a 4.64 in the 40. He knocked that down to a 4.52 at his workout for scouts at Georgia Tech. There was confusion over a "failed" drug test at the combine, even though the NFL was made aware he was on medication for attention deficit disorder. Then there was Georgia Tech's triple-option, in which Dwyer lined up close to scrimmage with his hand on the ground. In the NFL, he will more often line up farther back and standing up. In his college system, he did not have to block nor catch much.
Either way, all those yards the past two seasons and the 6.2-yard average per carry meant something. And for those who looked deeper, Dwyer was Georgia Tech's second-leading rusher as a freshman, averaging 5.3 yards per carry under former coach Chan Gailey's pro style offense.
"He's a workhorse-type of running back, and he should excel at the next level as a runner," said Kirby Wilson, who coaches the Steelers' backs. "He's got some other things he's going to need to work on, but he does have some natural running ability. Again, when you are 230 pounds, that is a plus and that can't be taught."
The Steelers added a huge fullback and two safeties to their roster when they signed eight rookies who were not chosen in the draft. Demetrius Taylor of Virginia Tech becomes the team's only pure fullback, nearly the size of an offensive lineman at 6 feet, 273 pounds.
The other free agent rookies are guard Dorian Brooks (6-2, 306) of James Madison, safeties Justin Thornton (6-1, 213) of Kansas and Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (6-2, 210) of UTEP, offensive tackle Kyle Jolly (6-6, 300) of North Carolina, defensive tackle Cordarrow Thompson (6-2, 301) of Virginia Tech, center/guard A.J. Trump (6-3, 300) of Miami and defensive end Lindsey Witten (6-4 1/2, 249) of Connecticut.
Added to their 10 draft choices, it leaves the Steelers with 90 players on their roster.