While it has been true for many years in recent times that the Pittsburgh Steelers have gotten little productivity on offense or defense out of their rookie players, that has been less of a truism in recent years, particularly, perhaps, over the last two seasons.
While the Steelers have gotten some starts out of rookie offensive linemen over the years, they have gotten greater productivity from skill position players and defensive players in more complicated roles recently, which has been a change of pace—and frankly makes reviewing a draft class after its first season a more enjoyable task.
The Steelers selected nine players in the draft, though only six made the initial 53-man roster. Seven of them remain with the organization. While one undrafted free agent did spend some time on the roster, there are also a few who have spent time on the practice squad that are worth consideration as well.
Player: Ethan Hemer
Draft Status: Undrafted
Following a mass exodus via free agency along the defensive line, the Steelers turned their eyes toward the incoming college class to replenish their depth, drafting Stephon Tuitt in the second round and plucking up a small handful of undrafted free agents, hoping that at least one would pan out.
The two headliners of the group were Josh Mauro and Ethan Hemer, both of whom had decent showings with the Steelers during the preseason. Mauro, however, had had the greater impact, and thus was awarded one of the two defensive line spots on the practice squad, with the other going to Nick Williams, a second-year defensive end.
But Hemer remained on the Steelers’ radar, particularly for what appeared to be his improved play as the preseason wore on. He notched a sack in the third preseason game, and a pair of tackles in each of the last two.
Thus, when Mauro was scooped up off the practice squad, the Steelers called upon Hemer to come in and fill the void on the 10-man unit, putting him in the pipeline for immediate practice purposes and potential future development.
But practice squad players are practice squad players, more often than not, for a good reason. They are good enough to help a team practice during the week, but not enough to contribute positively. That is why it’s so rare to see a practice squad player later go on to have a successful NFL career.
One need only be reminded of Brian Arnfelt and how many hoped that he would make it to the 53-man roster a year ago. He was even praised for the work that he put in during the offseason by Cameron Heyward. Yet he was immediately passed over on the depth chart and showed poorly in the preseason in year two.
Whether or not Hemer, Williams, Mauro, and so many other players ever amount to anything is often a crapshoot, and one year’s body of work is never enough to go on. But the fact that Hemer was their third choice for a developmental defensive end doesn’t speak so highly about his chances, at least in the Steelers’ eyes.