There are not a lot of meaningful conclusions that you can reach about a player after the end of his first season, but that certainly doesn’t stop people from talking about it. You can find just about any variety of analysis that you would care to read if you just look for it, complete with bold letter grades.
I’m not going to do that. But I am going to talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers’s 2015 NFL Draft class, both collectively, in this article, as was as individually, in succeeding articles.
While the tides have slowly turned in Pittsburgh regarding rookie players being held back in terms of playing time in recent years, the 2015 class outside of their first-round pick did not get a lot of burn during the year, but that shouldn’t be terribly surprising in hindsight.
The Steelers entered the draft process this year with eight draft picks, including the seven natural draft picks in each round, in addition to a compensatory draft pick in the sixth round, in addition to some notable undrafted free agent acquisitions.
Player: L.T. Walton
Draft Status: 6th round (199th overall)
Even though they sort of needed somebody to contribute right away, L.T. Walton was not drafted in the sixth round with that in mind. In fact, he wasn’t even guaranteed to make the roster by any means. There were several other candidates that should have reasonably claimed the sixth defensive line spot.
But Walton ultimately won that position for himself—at least in small part due to Clifton Geathers ending up on injured reserve, though we never even got to see him play.
Of course, we didn’t get to see Walton play much, either, and understandably so. He was only active for six games of the season, though he spent the full 17 weeks on the 53-man roster. He was inactive for the first two games of the season, but started getting a helmet due to injury starting in Week Three and remained with a helmet for six straight weeks.
Throughout that entire time, however, he only managed to log a couple dozen defensive snaps, as the Steelers were not eager by any means to take their starting defensive ends off the field. And interestingly, only seven of his 29 snaps came in the two games missed by Stephon Tuitt, though he logged nine snaps in the game in which Tuitt was injured, so more than half of his playing time can be attributed to Tuitt’s injury.
All six of his games active correspond directly to defensive line injuries because Daniel McCullers also missed four games, with Tuitt missing the two games following McCullers’ return to the field. Walton served as the fifth lineman in all six of these games, but the team never dressed him as a sixth lineman.
As far as actually grading his performance goes, there’s obviously not a lot to go by, what with 29 snaps being spread out over six games. He did not manage to register any statistics, officially, but that is not out of the ordinary for someone at his position in that little playing time.
What little he did show was a solid first step, as well as a consistent motor that kept trying to win through the whistle, and that alone is enough to work with. The fact that he didn’t receive playing time with everyone healthy suggests the team didn’t think he was ready to contribute yet, but he should be in the running in 2016 if he takes the next step expected of second-year players.