Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin has been asked on numerous occasions over the course of the offseason about how he views the potential impact of the 2017 NFL Draft class in light of the contributions and success of the team’s draft class from last season, which ended up producing three starters during the first three rounds.
Without fail, Tomlin denied holding the incoming class to any sort of standard of contributions, repeatedly uttering sentiments in the vein of allowing the work of the three young men they brought in last year to stand on its own. He said that he is not going to set expectations for this year based on what happened a year ago.
There was, after all, a different scenario in terms of the roster makeup a year ago. In terms of the cornerback position, they lost a starter while another cornerback had injuries, which made it easy for first-round pick Artie Burns to find a position, and he was starting after the midpoint of the regular season.
The Steelers also lost a stopgap starter at the safety position, which was then taken over by yet another stopgap starter. Needless to say, there was an obvious opportunity for Sean Davis, taken in the second round, to ascend the depth chart in an accelerated fashion.
Once again, the team lost their starting nose tackle. Enter Javon Hargrave in the first round, who faced little competition in the ‘battle’ for the starting position, though it’s not really a ‘starting’ position anymore. But he plays beyond the 3-4 front anyway.
As you can see, then, there were opportunities for qualified and motivated rookies to come in and make significant contributions until they were promoted to the starting lineup. That’s not always the case every year.
But I would argue that the opportunities are there again this year.
The Steelers did lose a starter, after all, in Lawrence Timmons, so if they happen to take, for example, Jarrad Davis with their first pick, there’s a more than reasonable chance that he could be starting by the end of the year.
The tight end position is not exactly all it’s cracked up to be right now, either. Even a mid-round pick, I think, would have the potential to play a significant role, perhaps even a starting role, if he comes in and proves that he is the better option.
There is an opportunity for a defensive back at either cornerback or safety to assume the slot position, which is essentially a starting role at this point. Even by their own tracking, the Steelers believe they played in ‘sub-packages’, which are no longer sub- but base, 73 percent of the time.
The roster, quite frankly, isn’t as deep as it used to be in the mid- to late-2000s. That means that in recent years there has been a greater than average opportunity for rookies to play relatively early. That doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, but I believe the 2017 season has the potential to see very prominent contributions from a rookie or two.