The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Which Steelers rookie is going to have the most immediate impact upon the 2017 season?
The Steelers added eight draft selections to their roster last week, and they have the rest of the offseason to try to shape them into contributors. Last season, they were awfully successful in finding players who would be able to make contributions at some level, with five of the seven draft picks doing so, a sixth spending his year on injured reserve.
While Sean Davis may have had the greatest impact—and was awarded the team’s rookie of the year honor—it was Javon Hargrave who had the most immediate impact. He was the lone rookie who had an immediate role as the team’s starting nose tackle, barring Davis’ ill-fated work in the slot.
Who will it be this year? None of the Steelers draft picks are actually stepping into vacated starting roles, so the answer isn’t obvious.
The team does have a recent history of getting their high-pedigreed pass-rushers involved early, as both of their two previous first-round outside linebackers contributed early and often during their rookie season, so T.J. Watt could certainly have an impact early on.
Eli Rogers’ position as the primary slot receiver could be contested by second-round pick JuJu Smith-Schuster, who offers some skills that the undersized former undrafted rookie lacks, in particular the most obvious being size. JuJu is also capable of being a significant blocking contributor and a presence over the middle, known for making contested catches.
Third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton has going for him the fact that he is capable of playing man coverage, and the Steelers are on record as stating on numerous occasions that that is something that they want to be able to do more of this year. He could in theory open the season as the starting slot defender.
Other than these three, it would be hard to forecast an obvious immediate impact, barring injuries, unless for example James Conner were given a short-yardage and goal-line role, which is not something I would deem likely.