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 as the net result of a series of free agent losses and gains during the 2014 offseason.
With their first-round draft pick, they not only turned to the defensive side of the ball for the third consecutive season, they drafted a linebacker for the third time in a row—and the second outside linebacker in three years.
This time, it was outside linebacker Bud Dupree, a true physical specimen with an explosive first step who nonetheless was still regarded as a bit of a project. And while that proved to be true, the Steelers believed that he was far enough along to deserve playing time, splitting the left outside linebacker position with Arthur Moats, and starting the final five games in the rotation.
Much to the glee of the fan base, the Steelers stuck with the defensive side of the ball in the second round, and specifically came away with a cornerback. That cornerback, however, was 5’9” Senquez Golson, and the junior prospect suffered a shoulder injury during the offseason that landed him on injured reserve before ever participating in a training camp practice.
Acting in large part in reaction to a likely pending suspension for wide receiver Martavis Bryant and its potential future ramifications, the Steelers turned to the mid rounds for the third year in a row to nab a wide receiver, this year targeting another size and speed prospect in Sammie Coates, but the rookie received very little playing time until flashing a bit in the Divisional round of the playoffs.
Pittsburgh double-dipped at cornerback with Doran Grant in the fourth round, but after trading for Brandon Boykin and signing Ross Cockrell, the rookie found himself sixth on the depth chart. He made the initial 53-man roster but was released a day later, ultimately spending half the season on the practice squad before making it back to serve as an inactive or see sparse special teams snaps.
Following Grant was tight end Jesse James in round five, whose advances in the second half of the season are far more important now in light of Heath Miller’s retirement. Also a true junior, James is still 21 and has time to grow into his 6’7” frame.
A pair of sixth-round picks served to add depth along the defensive front seven with outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo and defensive end L.T. Walton. Both received minimal playing time—Chickillo spent the first three weeks on the practice squad—but could be important depth players in time.
Rounding out the draft was the hail mary shot of safety Gerod Holliman, a player who intercepted 14 passes in his final collegiate season but probably missed twice that many tackles. He is the only draft pick that failed to make the roster or the practice squad, and the only one no longer with the organization.