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: Stephon Tuitt
Draft Status: 2nd round (46th overall)
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a proactive approach in maintaining their lineage along the defensive line when they used first-round draft picks in 2009 and 2011 on defensive ends to fall in line as the eventual replacements to the veterans playing ahead of them.
One of those picks worked out, while the other didn’t, and that is partly why the Steelers ended up selecting Stephon Tuitt in the second round in 2014, a junior who played with injuries in his final year but who showed first-round talent the year before.
Of course, as defensive rookies go for the Steelers, it was inevitable that it would take time for him to see the field. Despite the fact that they lost two defensive ends in free agency, and the one free agent they brought back was no longer a starter, Tuitt was sat behind free agent signing Cam Thomas early on while seeing only a handful of snaps at a time.
Tuitt played in every game, but before he entered the starting lineup, he rarely played more than 15 snaps, seeing single-digits in four of those games. Admittedly, he had his share of rookie mistakes, but he also showed more potential the more he played.
There were times when he was washed out in the running game or couldn’t figure out how to get off a block and generate push as a rusher, things that he will work on and learn during this offseason. As the game continues to slow down, most of these issues should correct themselves.
Tuitt entered the starting lineup in the final quarter of the regular season, all four games of which the Steelers won. He did make some plays to stand out, recording his first sack, as well as his first forced fumble.
Most interesting perhaps is just how infrequently he came off the field, however, once he was put in the starting lineup, which is certainly a good indication that he nor the team plan for him to be going anywhere any time soon. Unlike most Steelers rookies, Tuitt got a lot of valuable in-game experience in his first season that will prepare him for a more successful season as a starter in year two.