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: Wesley Johnson
Draft Status: 5th round (173rd overall)
Wesley Johnson was the second of two fifth-round draft picks for the Steelers in the 2014 draft, neither of whom are with the organization any longer. But in Johnson’s case, however, it wasn’t exactly because the team wasn’t interested.
In fact, Johnson played extensively during the preseason and made the 53-man roster out of training camp as one of nine offensive linemen, including second-year undrafted free agent Chris Hubbard, both of whom typically served as game day inactives.
Because he spent his time on the inactive list, of course, that meant he was on the very bottom of the totem pole should the Steelers have needed to make a transaction, which came in early October when they had to call up Ross Ventrone from the practice squad for special teams purposes.
The Steelers waived Johnson, and presumably hoped to sign him to the practice squad, where a couple of other rookie draft picks were then residing, but the New York Jets signed him off waivers before they had the opportunity to do so, and that was that.
Primarily a left tackle in college, Johnson played every position, and it was his versatility that attracted the Steelers to him, who primarily viewed him as an interior player. All of his snaps during the preseason, in fact, came at center.
Johnson is a player that I happened to watch quite a bit during the preseason, and I recall liking a lot of what I saw out of him in the earlier preseason games. But he started the preseason finale, going up against stronger competition, and looked completely outmatched.
That’s not to say that he couldn’t have developed, of course. Just look at how far Kelvin Beachum has come since his first preseason. It goes without saying that it would have been preferable if the Steelers were able to hang on to Johnson rather than losing him to waivers. But chances are, in the long run, it won’t prove to be a significant, franchise-defining move.