The 2017 NFL Draft is in the books, and a lot of Pittsburgh Steelers fans are not happy. A lot of Steelers fans are also happy. And a lot more don’t even know what to think yet. That middle group is probably closest to the mark, but really none of them are right or wrong right now.
Still, I get paid to provide my thoughts and analysis about the Steelers and the NFL, and at least some people seem to respect my opinion on occasion, so with the picks all in, I thought I would give my initial thoughts on what Pittsburgh did using its eight draft picks over the course of the weekend.
Globally speaking, I think they did a good job of addressing important areas of the roster at important spots in the draft. They used their most premium selection on their most premium need at outside linebacker and they got a guy in T.J. Watt who offers a ton of potential. My opinion of this selection has only improved over the past two days.
A lot of people weren’t happy with Pittsburgh’s decision to address the wide receiver position in the second round, but I was okay with it as a possibility all along, and once the late-second round broke the way it did with the secondary bone at the second tier being picked clean, I was on board.
The initial pick of JuJu Smith-Schuster was obviously a surprise, and I admit I didn’t know a lot about him initially, but the more I looked the more it made sense to me. While he can play outside, I think in this offense the way it’s currently formulate he projects to offer a big presence in the slot.
That accomplishes a number of things, not the least of which being the physicality that will be a boon to both the running game and the screen game with his capacity and willingness to block. That’s not why they drafted him—he also finds to holes in the zone ably—but it’s a plus. I think he will upgrade the YAC game there over Eli Rogers, which is something that I wrote about heading into the draft.
Personally, I think the board broke really poorly for the Steelers this year in order to take advantage of the cornerback depth with quality value. That makes the Cameron Sutton pick look worse, but really, in a typical draft, he would go higher. I also like his experience and intelligence, which should allow him to contribute early, and they will be motivated to do so in order to take advantage of his man coverage abilities. I don’t think he would have been there for them in round four.
Would James Conner have been there for them in round four? Most seemed to think so. It’s fair to call it a reach, but reaching for a player you coveted isn’t necessarily such a bad thing. I like the player, and I would have liked the pick in the fourth round, while loving it in the fifth. Ultimately what matter is what he will do on and off the field, and I think he’ll do well.
I do not like the decision at all to waste a valuable draft resource on a quarterback to compete for a backup position where they are already comfortable, although Joshua Dobbs is a viable candidate in that regard. His intelligence and his ability to use his legs make him an interesting option as a spot-starter down the line.
I do like the decision to double back and get another cornerback, and while I confess that I have my concerns about Brian Allen, he is intriguing—though so were Shamarko Thomas and Terry Hawthorne, two other day-three defensive backs that Carnell Lake would have been drafted higher “if only” they had only one different quality, trait, or biographical data point. His size, athleticism, and wide receiver background remind of C.J. Goodwin, who was an even longer shot.
I don’t like, but understand the selection of Colin Holba in the sixth round. I dislike it more because it tells me I should be concerned about Greg Warren than because it is a draft pick on a long snapper. Warren was Mr. Reliable. They seem to think Holba, who many regard as one of the best long snapper prosects in years, will be their next Mr. Reliable. If that’s the case, and they felt another team would take him before they could in the seventh round, then I can make my peace with it if I have to.
I confess that I am learning more about Keion Adams, but his natural pass-rush ability will be difficult to keep off the roster, provided that he also ingratiates himself to Danny Smith on special teams.
I was very disappointed that they passed up two of my favorite mid-round players in George Kittle and Corn Elder in order to take Dobbs. I would have liked to see Elijah Lee added where they took the long snapper.
Overall, this draft includes a mixture of polish and potential, which means it’s going to take some time to ultimately sort things out. Players like Conner and Sutton are more or less already what they are going to be, but when you consider the inexperience at their positions of players like Watt and Allen, while the risk factor is there, so is the upside.
Ultimately, I think one predisposed to like or dislike the draft can find their reasons to support their position. Some of the picks might not pass muster in terms of ‘draft value’, but that often goes out the window to me when I sense that a team is really targeting a player they have their eye on and don’t think they’ll get later on.
I think the worst decision they made was to pass on the tight end position in the fourth round, regardless of what they ultimately used that spot on. The biggest regret for me is that the draft broke poorly for them to capitalize on the value of depth from the secondary in this class.