It doesn’t stop many people from grading drafts in the minutes after they are completed even though the majority of participants are well aware of the futility of such endeavors. Doing so a year into their careers is not necessarily all that much better, although it certainly gives a good deal more to work with.
Plus, it’s something to fill the time and generate traffic during the offseason, which is not exactly a secret. It creates discussion at the very least, and sometimes even intense debate, but the engagement is valuable all the same.
The league’s own website recently went through every team’s draft class and graded out their rookie season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers received the highest grade out of the four teams within their division, receiving a B grade. Closest were the Ravens, who were given a B-minus. The Browns earned themselves a C for their efforts, while the Bengals were given a C-minus.
Author Connor Orr writes that “each of Pittsburgh’s first three picks played moderate to significant snaps in 2016 and performed at a level above rookie expectations”. It’s pretty much a given that the strength of the Steelers’ draft class this year resided in their top three picks, all of whom positioned themselves for starting roles—all on defense.
“Cornerback Artie Burns was tied for the team lead in picks (three), was second in passes defensed (13), and fifth in tackles”, he went on, running down each of the three’s accolades. Sean Davis added a sack and a half, broke up five passes, and intercepted another, while Javon Hargrave recorded two sacks and recovered a fumble in the end zone.
“There are teams that go an entire draft and don’t get this level of production out of one player”, Orr wrote, “so it was encouraging to see Pittsburgh bolster its recovering defense so quickly”. Given the effectiveness of their top three picks, though, it sounds as though a solid B grade might be a bit on the low end of the spectrum, no?
The Steelers even got some contributions out of a pair of seventh-round picks, wide receiver Demarcus Ayers, who scored a touchdown, and inside linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who racked up the tackles in about the dozen or so snaps he played and became a fixture on special teams to boot.
While the team did end up losing out on sixth-round outside linebacker Travis Feeney eventually when he was signed off of their practice squad during the middle of the regular season, they do still have fourth-round tackle Jerald Hawkins returning from injured reserve. Though he only got to play in one preseason game, he looked like a promising player, though there is little chance he can crack the starting lineup.
I probably would grade the Steelers’ rookie draft class in their inaugural season as a B-plus, personally, given that they had three players starting and making meaningful contributions. But grades of this nature are largely subjective and somewhat arbitrary in the first place.