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: Howard Jones
Draft Status: Undrafted
Out of all of the undrafted free agents that the Steelers signed last May, perhaps none was talked about as much as was Howard Jones, a 6’4” small school edge rusher. Undrafted outside linebackers hold a particular awe within Pittsburgh in large part due to the overwhelming success of James Harrison, which is something that could hardly be avoided.
Of course, not many of them ever turn into a James Harrison. Adrian Robinson didn’t. Neither did Alan Baxter. And Jones will never be Harrison as well, or at least I feel fairly certain of it.
Despite the negativity, however, it is worth pointing out that Jones lasted the entire season on the practice squad, and was immediately signed to a futures contract after the conclusion of the Steelers’ football activities.
Of course, it’s also worth pointing out that the Steelers initially carried only three outside linebackers on the 53-man roster and that, for most of the season, they only had three of them healthy at any given time. They plain and simply needed another body for practice purposes.
What got him noticed during the preseason, of course, was a pair of fumble recoveries, the first of which he returned for a touchdown in the opener. The first came off a muffed punt, while the latter came off a sack by a teammate. He scooped up the ball and scored the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Jones did the same thing again a week later, displaying great hustle to get to the ball after it came loose following a sack. Finding loose balls is always a valuable commodity, and it certainly helped draw attention for himself.
If he is ever to become more than a practice body, however, he is going to have to develop a more complete game. He did not particularly stand out one way or the other either as a pass rusher or as a run defender in his healthy amount of preseason snaps, although he did show well on special teams, which could buy him further time to progress.