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’ 2016 NFL Draft class, both collectively, in this article, as well as individually, in succeeding articles.
The Steelers entered the draft process this past year with seven draft picks, including their natural draft picks sans their fifth, which they gave up in a trade for Brandon Boykin, plus an extra seventh-round pick in exchange for Brad Wing.
In contrast to recent history, the Steelers received significant playing time on defense from three rookies, while also getting some minor contributions from some late-round picks to boot. In terms of rookie seasons, it was the most successful class in recent memory.
Player: Demarcus Ayers
Draft Status: 7th round (229th overall)
It seems to be a sheer force of habit for the Steelers to draft a wide receiver. Even if it comes in the compensatory portions of the seventh round—which actually no longer exists—the team has almost every year for the past decade-plus taken at least one wide receiver in the draft. on multiple occasions they have even drafted two wide receivers.
So when the seventh round came along in 2016 and the position selected came in as wide receiver, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. It was a bit of a surprise that they wide receiver had such a poor 40-yard dash time, as some of his athletic numbers seem to contradict what the Steelers typically scout for.
It was also a surprise when the special teams coach came out after the pick was made to discuss the selection, but he talked highly of that wide receiver, Demarcus Ayers, as the player he scouted as the best punt returner in the draft.
Still, he didn’t win the punt return job and thus spent most of the regular season on the practice squad. He was on the roster for the final three games of the regular season and the three postseason games, but he would have been brought up earlier had the team not dealt with a kicker injury that required having two on the roster for a couple of weeks.
Ayers saw some action in the Steelers’ pivotal victory over the Ravens that won the division, and a week later he started as they rested many key players in the finale, a performance that included the first touchdown reception of his career.
His role in the postseason was predictably reduced, but he did catch three passes for 27 yards in two games. He was inactive due to injury for the final game. Even though he finished the season on the 53-man roster, however, it’s not clear that there will be a roster spot for him in 2017 due to the depth the team may have at the position, which is a good problem to have.