Prior to this year, the last two times that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the seventh round was in 2012 when Toney Clemons was drafted out of Colorado and 2007 when Dallas Baker was selected 227th overall out of Florida. Houston product Demarcus Ayers was the player to break the streak in 2016 and he now has a chance to one-up not only Clemons and Baker by making the final 53-man roster out of training camp, but several other players who the team has drafted in the seventh round over the years.
The last time a Steelers seventh-round selection made the final 53 out of camp was in 2012 when tackle Kelvin Beachum and tight end David Paulson both made the roster. Prior to that year, you have to go back to 2009 when tight end David Johnson made the final roster after he was selected 241st overall. In short, it’s a tough chore that Ayers faces and on Wednesday it may have gotten even tougher due to an injury.
“Demarcus Ayers had an ankle of some description,” said head coach Mike Tomlin at the conclusion of Wednesday’s practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. “We’ll see, hopefully he’ll be back out tomorrow, or soon thereafter.”
Soon thereafter could turn into much too late for Ayers if his ankle injury is serious enough to cause him to miss a few days of practice. Entering Wednesday’s session Ayers had been running behind Eli Rogers in the wide receiver rotations and judging by the recent comments made by position coach Richard Mann, Rogers has been impressive through the team’s first five practices.
The Steelers drafted Ayers in the seventh round because he was the best punt returner in this year’s draft class, in their opinion. It just so happens his ankle injury was suffered Wednesday while he was participating in a return drill. Quite honestly, Ayers best shot at making the final 53 this year will be as a punt returner and if he’s unable to show off that skill set of his early in the preseason due to an injury, he can then probably start turning his attention to working on making the team’s practice squad.
Here’s to hoping that soon thereafter for Ayers winds up meaning today, because if it isn’t, a few tomorrows might wind up being too late when it comes to his chances of making the final 53 out of training camp.