Back to do this article for the fourth year in a row. A fun, hypothetical look at the future of the eight selections the Pittsburgh Steelers made in the 2017 draft. Where I think the ceiling and floor is for all these picks.
To preface, because I always get a comment or two, of course the theoretical ceiling for any player is Hall of Fame, keys to the city, Pittsburgh changes its name to honor him. And any floor is a Martin Gramatica torn ACL, career over. I look to make it a bit more realistic than any of that. So let’s dive in. If you want to see the past ones and how well they were “predicted,” I’ll link them at the bottom of the article.
Round One – T.J. Watt
Best Case: Despite just the one year of experience, Mike Tomlin’s evaluation of Watt rings true. Inexperienced, not raw. His advanced hand use makes him an immediate impact, even beyond where Bud Dupree was in 2015. Watt flies around the football in his first preseason game against the New York Giants, racking up seven tackles. But fans really take notice in Week 3, going against the starters, countering inside Colts’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo to strip sack Scott Tolzien with Ryan Shazier leaping on the football.
James Harrison is still the starting ROLB, naturally, but it’s in name only. They share a 50/50 split in snaps and Watt’s young legs makes him an asset in coverage, dropping 27% of the time. He intercepts two passes, stepping in front of a Marcus Mariota pass on Sunday Night football in mid-November.
Being a rotational piece and still being a rookie, he ends his rookie season with 5.5 sacks, the most by a Steelers’ defender since Kendrell Bell in 2001. The following offseason lets him perfect his pass rushing repertoire. His main move, dipping and ripping the edge with an inside club counter. All the traits he flashed at Wisconsin translate. The athleticism, ability to dip the edge, using his hands to shed in the run game, and his effort/tenacity.
James Harrison decides to stop bench pressing Father Time and hangs up his cleats after 2017. Watt becomes the full-time ROLB, playing 98% of the snaps, and teaming up with Dupree as one of the best edge duos in the NFL. They’re the new Harrison/LaMarr Woodley, and they roar into 2018, each piling up double-digit sacks.
Watt becomes as well-known as his brother and an icon of the league. He starts small and local with an Uncle Charley’s sausage ad spot, just like Antonio Brown (it really does taste better!). He moves to sponsor lightbulbs, the obvious “watt” tie-in, before going national with an ad campaign alongside J.J.
On the field, he becomes the defense’s biggest playmaker and has three additional double-digit sack seasons, surpassing even Harrison’s three instances. He’s named team MVP twice; once in 2019 and again in 2021. He easily earns his second contract and plays the whole thing out too, a four year deal.
He never is able to play well into his 30s, scar tissue in his knees forcing a relatively early exit, but the career itself is spectacular. Watt ends it with 83 sacks in Pittsburgh, 2.5 more in a final year with the San Francisco 49ers, setting a Steelers’ record. Kevin Colbert – at 70 years young – and Watt exit Pittsburgh together and he’s one of Colbert’s finest first round picks. And that’s saying something.
Worst Case: Like “unleash hell,” Tomlin’s idea of Watt on the raw vs inexperienced spectrum is off the mark. Turns out, starting at linebacker for one year and then immediately getting thrown into the NFL is a bad idea. He certainly gets his opportunity, splitting time with Harrison, but struggles with even that volume of snaps.
He has a quiet preseason that translates into the early stages of the regular season. He flashes as a pass rusher, registering two pressures in Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, whipping Charles Leno for a half-sack. But being a pure pass rusher doesn’t fly in the Steelers’ system. Watt struggles with his run fits, sorta like Artie Burns last year but more consequential, and playing to the field side is an additional struggle.
It’s a quiet rookie season and the team tries to cut back his snaps, turning into an 80/20 split in favor of Harrison. That puts an additional stress on Debbo, 39 is still 39, and he tears an MCL in Week 14 against the Baltimore Ravens, creating even more bad blood in the rivalry. Watt is forced to become “the guy” for the rest of the year, getting chewed up and exposed by New England the next week and barely holding on the rest of the way.
The ensuing offseason provides a breather for him and a chance to get back on track. Harrison retires and Watt is better in 2018, but still underwhelming. He polishes off his second season with 4.5 sacks, above the Jarvis Jones line but still far from good enough.
Playing the majority of the snaps, he starts to feel the affects of two major knee surgeries and undergoes a clean out procedure in the spring of 2019. He enters camp with optimism but his knees deal him a major blow – literally – tearing his ACL on the first day in pads, the third day at Latrobe overall. Watt admitted right after he was drafted the knee history can be attributed to the “way I was born, it’s just how my knees are,” which is scarier than any words this side of “Commissioner’s Exempt List.”
He winds up missing the entire season and the Steelers take a dip back into the draft, burning a second round pick in the 2020 draft to select Georgia’s Walter Grant. Returning, Watt simply isn’t the same guy and his athleticism and first step is sapped by that history of knee injuries.
Almost literally, he limps to the end of his rookie deal. The Steelers decline his 5th year option because of the injury risk – that 5th year is guaranteed for injury – but pick him back up on a one-year, prove it deal. Watt fails to do so, pressing under being in his brother’s shadow – and in his final year, has just three sacks as Grant becomes the star ROLB.
In total, Watt plays five seasons with the Steelers, ending things with only 12.5 sacks in 32 starts.
Round Two – JuJu Smith-Schuster
Best Case: Despite a larger frame than your usual slot receiver, it’s that unconventional look that makes him an attractive player there. At 6’1, he towers over nickel corners and wins most contested passes. That’s evident early in training camp, besting Cam Sutton in several Latrobe practices and essentially ending Senquez Golson’s career, running a slot fade and wrestling the ball away from him in the left corner of the end zone.
He begins the season as the Steelers’ starting slot receiver, dispatching Eli Rogers. There are natural growing pains, he runs the wrong way on an option route against Minnesota in Week Two, earning one of those incredulous grins from Ben Roethlisberger, but it’s a relative easy transition for such a young guy.
Smith-Schuster wins with his physicality, toughness, and better-than-expected football IQ. He’s an asset on third downs with the dynamic ability to make something happen after the catch. He best shows that against the Detroit Lions in Week 8, bouncing off a Darius Slay tackle in the open field and racing another 40 yards to the end zone. He breaks Troy Edwards’ franchise rookie record for receptions, ending 2016 with 65, and with Ladarius Green missing time because of an…ankle injury (fooled ya), he becomes a bigger weapon in the end zone, catching seven touchdowns in total.
It’s a similar tune the following season. Though he isn’t the big play receiver like Martavis Bryant or Antonio Brown, he’s almost just as valuable. He consistently moves the chains, makes the tough catch in traffic, and is a great teammate on and off the field, never making himself a burden or headache in the locker room. That sound you hear is the breath of relief exhaled by Mike Tomlin.
Also a fan favorite, Smith-Schuster’s presence reminds the older generation of how they were celebrated in the 70s. Gerela’s Gorillas. Franco’s Italian Army. JuJu has a similar cult following, with a name someone more creative than me can try to come up with. He really is the new version of Hines Ward; the guy who takes a big pop from a safety over the middle and gets up to smile in his face.
A slot receiver for most of his career, he does dabble as a Z receiver in 2019 when Bryant is not retained. He lacks the dynamic ability vertically to be a great fit there but certainly isn’t an awful option. Smith-Schuster kicks back inside in 2020 when the Steelers draft Ahmmon Richards in the first round.
He serves as that level-headed, ever-steady slot receiver for the remainder of his 12 year career with the Steelers. That’s one of the things that drew him to embrace the city of Pittsburgh even as a West Coast kid, maximizing his ability to enjoy a long career in the Steel City.
That’s exactly what happens, ending his career with 801 receptions, 10,092 yards, and 72 hard-earned touchdowns. They all rank third in team history behind Ward and Brown, the latter who is inducted into the Hall of Fame just months after Smith-Schuster’s time in Pittsburgh concluded.
Worst Case: Smith-Schuster is not your typical slot receiver but there’s a reason why most guys who play inside look like an Oompa Loompa extra. That’s the best type of guy to win in the slot. So at 6’1 215, he’s clearly a different kind of animal. He has the toughness and hands but struggles to do what all receivers must: separate. Every throw to him is contested and difficult, making it tough for him to beat out Eli Rogers in camp and for Ben Roethlisberger to trust him on those crucial third downs.
Rogers begins 2017 as the starter and has massive success, completely focused after the team gave him a wake-up call with drafting Schuster. Martavis Bryant lands hard on his right shoulder against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7 and with Sammie Coates continuing to drop passes, the JuJu gets a chance at the Z. But he isn’t a great fit for the position and isn’t the type the team normally drafts. They want speed, vertical ability, and elite playmakers vertically and he simply isn’t that guy. He still moves the sticks on third down but proves himself as only a marginally better version of Cobi Hamilton.
Being 20 years old in the NFL is simply a tall task in itself and the mistakes that happen prove costly. He runs the wrong route against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 14, bending his route into a curl when he should’ve run vertically, and Eric Weddle has a can-of-corn down the sideline to pick off, the pivotal play that gives Baltimore the victory. He gets benched the following week and Bryant returns for the home stretch. Smith-Schuster ends the year with a disappointing 29 passes for 377 yards and a lone touchdown.
Bryant is back for 2018, keeping his nose clean, and Rogers is playing too well for the team to even think about benching. It leaves slim pickings for JuJu’s snap count and it’s a similar story in Year Two, seeing limited action on offense and making his mark on special teams, where to be fair, he has a lot of success. He forces a fumble on the opening kickoff of the season and pushes Darrius Heyward-Bey off the roster.
Knowing what they saw in him during his rookie year, the team is hesitant to make him the Z receiver even after letting Bryant two-step his way out of the city. Coates gets his act together too and the team drafts a receiver in the third round, again constraining a landing spot for him. Injuries come and go to let him onto the field but the success is average at best again, because of his inability to get open. Still just 23 years old, a young guy by any measure, he gets frustrated, the first wall he’s hit in his football career. That cheery attitude he brought to the city dissipates and though he’s never a problem, he loses some enthusiasm.
He plays out his rookie contract and decides Pittsburgh isn’t the right fit. The scheme, the receivers they look for, playing in hand-warmer weather, it’s all too much for him. Smith-Schuster goes back home, signing with the Los Angeles Rams and having a more successful career there.
As a Steeler, he finishes things up with 146 receptions, 1635 yards, and five touchdowns in four years. The Ziggy Hood/Jarvis Jones of round two selections.
Round Three – Cam Sutton
Best Case: Playing in the slot is a tough task for any rookie but with 45 starts in the SEC, he makes the transition. On the very first day of camp, even though they’re still just in shells, he picks off two passes. Once, he jumps a Roethlisberger out route for Rogers and on the other, makes a one-handed pick off a deflection intended for Ladarius Green.
It’s a clear sign to the coaching staff: this guy can play.
That translates to the football field and Sutton’s ability to play man coverage in the slot is something of a godsend. Tomlin and Keith Butler are able to play 2 Man and some Cover 1 while defending empty sets without spot dropping. It gives him a leg up on the declining William Gay and Coty Sensabaugh and by Week One, Tomlin rolls the dice and names Sutton the starter.
“He’s a well-conditioned athlete who proved his worth every step of the way. Obviously, that’s the player we were hoping to get when we drafted him. We don’t live in our fears,” Tomlin says at his Week One presser.
Though he’s never a serious ballhawk, Sutton has a knack for playing the ball, contesting throws at catch points and breaking up two Cody Kessler passes in the opener. His run defense and overall tackling ability is a tick improved at the NFL level after really buying into its importance and learning from Gay, his mentor during that first year.
Sutton is also an apt blitzer with experience from Tennessee and it shows in the Burgh. He strip sacks Tom Brady against the New England Patriots – a 31-20 victory over the mighty Belichick, in part due to Sutton – ensuring the rookie never has to buy a drink. Even Primanti Bros. gets in on the action, coining the Sutton Slider.
All in all, it’s a strong rookie showing. He ends the year with 41 tackles, 13 breakups, 3.5 sacks, and two interceptions.
Shoe-in as a starter in 2017, the team dumps Gay and Sutton dominates again. Not just in box score but tape on the field and he’s a big step in the Steelers’ transforming their defense. He does the same over the rest of his rookie year and the second contract he undoubtedly deserves after that, a four year contract.
His best season comes in 2019, picking off four passes. The Steelers go to the Super Bowl and in Roethlisberger’s final game of his career, Sutton picks off Dak Prescott in the 4th quarter to set up the Steelers’ crucial game-winning drive. Roethlisberger is appropriately named MVP but fans know the important role Sutton played.
In his ten year career, Sutton picks off only 17 passes, but breaks up dozens of others and the number of throws he doesn’t let happen because of his sticky man-match ability is difficult to quantify but incredibly value. Not to mention refreshing.
Worst Case: There’s a lot of expectations on Sutton to contribute right away but as we’ve pointed out time and time again, and what Sean Davis found out in 2016, the slot might be the toughest place for a rookie to play not named quarterback.
Competing against a couple veterans already, things take an even worse turn for him when Golson finally stays healthy and plays like the second round pick he was meant to. Golson makes up for lost time, picking off two passes in the first preseason game and suddenly, plays his way back onto the roster.
By week one, it’s Golson – not Sutton – starting in the slot. With Sutton seeing most of his camp reps there, he isn’t able to put enough on tape to even take a swing at Ross Cockrell’s left corner spot. Instead, he spends his rookie season toiling on special teams. Not as a return man, you know Tomlin’s fear of rookies and defensive players, but on the coverage unit. It’s a logical fit but Sutton isn’t great there either without elite speed and only average tackling ability and physicality.
He misses a key tackle running down a kick on Tyreek Hill in Week 6, who houses it in a 27-10 Chiefs’ revenge victory. Sutton’s season ends with a whimper, not a bang.
Golson’s strong season continues throughout 2017, making him the odds-on favorite to keep playing in the slot the following season. The Steelers change Sutton’s course and try to play him on the outside to challenge Cockrell. But Sutton’s lack of length and even smaller size than Cockrell doesn’t make him an ideal, or at least, any better, of a fit on the outside and Cockrell holds onto the job in 2018.
Back to special teams where Sutton does ok but doesn’t dominate. Brian Allen continues to grow and it’s he who eats in Cockrell’s playtime, not Sutton. There is no longer a role for him on defense with Burns and Golson flourishing, Allen improving, and Cockrell now the steady veteran.
Never being a hard-core special teamer, his football IQ isn’t enough to hold him onto the roster and the Steelers allow him to hit free agency after his rookie contract expires. He has more success his second time around, latching on with the New York Jets, and starting three above average years there. The evaluation of Sutton wasn’t really poor on the Steelers’ end. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out.
Round Three – James Conner
Best Case: Easily the second most talented back on the roster, he quickly assumes his role during training camp. Most rookies have a “welcome to the league moment” dished out from someone else but Conner has a “I belong” snap at Latrobe, trucking and dragging Vince Williams through the B gap on the first day of pads. Williams takes to Twitter to let the world know Conner is legit.
And legit he is. Conner backs up Le’Veon Bell throughout his rookie season while playing a key, and surprising to the untrained eye, role on special teams. He’s a 233 pound bowling ball who uses his defensive end/pass rush background to be an asset on the coverage unit. He knows how to use his hands to work off blocks and finishes his rookie year with seven special teams tackles. He and Rosie Nix line up together on kick coverage and opposite wings on punts, becoming the Steelers’ version of the Bash Brothers.
Bell tweaks his left ankle in Week 7 and with the bye looming, the team holds him out, allowing Conner to make his first career start against the Detroit Lions. He takes full advantage of the moment, rushing for 112 yards on 22 carries and one touchdown, a 13 yard score where he stiff arms Jarrad Davis over the goal line.
He returns as the backup for the remainder of the season but has immediately earned the coaching staff’s trust. His rookie season, mostly as the guy who spells Bell, ends with promise. 97 carries, 446 yards (4.6 YPC) and four touchdowns on the ground, catching one more.
Beloved by the city, that rookie year essentially plays out for the rest of his first contract. There isn’t a lot of additional wiggle room or playtime to work with because hey, it’s still Le’Veon Bell, and he isn’t coming off the field unless Todd Haley grabs him by the ear. But Conner gives the team complete confidence in the depth at the position. There will never be another “start Ben Tate” decision as long as he’s in town. Let’s all raise a glass to that.
Of those next three years, Bell only plays 16 games in one of them, giving Conner spot-start opportunities to do some damage. His best game comes in 2021, rushing for 163 yards and two touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills. He continues to be a standout special teamer and is brought back on his second contract.
Bell always gets in the way, Conner playing second fiddle. After Bell’s time in Pittsburgh is done at 31 years old, the team decides to go for youth at the position, drafting Jase McClellan. He and Conner split time that first year before McClellan, younger and more explosive, takes the lead role. Conner becomes the short-yard, Jerome Bettis type back.
Essentially, Conner’s life is one of an excellent backup and capable spot-starter. Perhaps had he gone to another team, one that didn’t already have a franchise back in its holster, it would’ve been significantly better. But to stay in Pittsburgh, be loved by the city, and still have an objectively successful career? That’s living the dream.
His nine year Steelers’ career ends with this rushing stat line: 1072 carries, 5038 yards (4.7 YPC), and 33 touchdowns.
Worst Case: Conner’s story is unfortunately better than him as a prospect. The Steelers try to take him on a similar path as Bell. But rarely does lightning strike twice and Bell’s skillset is unique to him. No one else. Pittsburgh has Conner drop weight, just as they asked Bell, in an effort to make him quicker and more explosive.
It helps but to a much lesser degree. He doesn’t have the vision or lateral ability of Bell and who can blame him? Dropping weight causes him to lose some of his power and as tall as he is, that 6’1 frame is always giving him pad level problems.
With issues as a blocker and not a major asset out of the backfield, two issues many rookies have, he and Knile Davis flip-flop back and forth to serve as Bell’s backup on a weekly basis. Conner has a couple positive moments his rookie year, including a goal line touchdown against the Colts in November but it’s a disappointing rookie season, especially from the weight of the expectations and storylines that surround him each week.
He ends 2017 averaging just 3.3 yards per carry on 58 totes, finding the end zone twice.
An entire offseason to get his rookie legs under him helps him round out the edges. Be a better pass protector, work on being an asset out of the backfield, and his ability on special teams continues. But on a baseline level, he still deals with the same issues.
He’s a big back, so the speed isn’t relatively good, and his power is hindered by his weight and dropping that college weight. He comfortably becomes Bell’s #2 the following two years but with Bell’s talent and Conner not showing anything special, there’s little reason to play him.
When he logs time, often after a Bell ding, the results are average at best. His play style resembles Shonn Greene; not great, not terrible, just ok. As Conner enters the final year of his rookie deal, the Steelers draft a running back in the third round, and Conner spends 2012 as the clear #3, doing a good job on special teams.
With strong depth, Conner re-ups on a two year deal after his rookie contract but mostly serves as the third fiddle, never getting the opportunity to see the field with a measure of consistency. He gets cut at the end of camp at the beginning of that second year for a hotshot UDFA speedster and scat back.
He signs with the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year deal and sees moderate success as a short-yardage specialist.
In Pittsburgh, his career spans five seasons, averaging 3.7 yards per carry and 11 total touchdowns.
Round Four – Josh Dobbs
Best Case: Dobbs’ path to playtime is difficult to find, at least initially, but the coaches plainly see the potential. He’s a leader in the huddle at camp, capable of rallying and elevating the play of his teammates and liked by everyone in the organization. The coaches, the offensive line, the equipment guys, all treated fairly and with respect by Dobbs.
He sees a Landry Jones amount of legendary time in the preseason with the team limiting Roethlsberger and seeing all they need to see on Jones. Dobbs sees a half of action in the first two games and gets first team reps in the all-important third one when Jones sits it out due to minor knee sprain. Dobbs leads the two minute offense versus the Colts, ending in a touchdown throw to Smith-Schuster. Rookie to rookie. Beautiful music.
The regular season predictably doesn’t offer much excitement. He runs the scout team the entire season and never plays a snap in 2017. Just one game active, serving as Jones’ backup when Roethlisberger is lost for the tilt against Chicago.
Far from a “best case” for the team as a whole, just for Dobbs, Roethlisberger hangs up his cleats in the offseason. With the team picking in the mid-20s again, and a QB class that isn’t as good as it was hyped, the Steelers wait until the third round to draft a QB. It’s a messy situation, a hodge podge of average-ish quarterbacks, but is the best situation for Dobbs. There’s no clear cut guy. Jones isn’t viewed as a long-term starter and the rookie is, well, a rookie.
History is cyclical and the Steelers have another Hanratty-Bradshaw-Gilliam situation on their hands. It’s an open competition for 2018 and Dobbs is able to win the job with his leadership, mobility, and having a year under his belt.
But Dobbs’ play is inconsistent as a first-year starter. His accuracy is erratic and the normally steady Steelers have an itchy trigger finger at the position. After a 1-3 start, Dobbs is benched for Jones. Sitting at 5-8 with three weeks left, the Steelers out of playoff contention and on pace to have their worst season since 2003, the rookie gets thrown into the mix to build some sort of evaluation on him for the final stretch.
Frustrated and picking in the top 15 for the first time since they selected Big Ben, the Steelers make a heavy push to draft a QB in 2019, selecting Penn State’s Trace McSorley. By Week 5, McSorley is the starter and the Steelers begin the process of hoping they’ve found their true franchise QB.
It plugs Dobbs into a backup role, scattering six starts over 2019 and 2020 combined. He plays decently enough but it’s nothing spectacular. A 61% completion rate, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions over that span. By the time his rookie contract is up, he bails to look for a better opportunity elsewhere, and the Steelers re-sign their third round rookie from 2018 to be McSorley’s backup.
Lotta logistics in that one. Drafting QBs is a messy business.
Worst Case: Reps for a third string rookie quarterback behind a franchise guy and comfortable backup aren’t easy to come by. He sees tons of reps in the preseason and shows off reasonably well but by the time the regular season kicks up, he’s running the scout team and holding a clipboard on Sundays.
Roethlisberger decides to play for an additional two more seasons and after 2018 ends, gives Tomlin and Colbert the heads up 2019 is his final rodeo. They go ahead and draft a quarterback in the second round, knowing he’s the heir to Big Ben’s throne. With Dobbs barely seeing any NFL snaps in his first two years, just 14 attempts over that time, the team goes ahead to re-sign Landry Jones. Known vs unknown.
It’s another mess at the position with Big Ben, Jones, the rookie, and Dobbs coming into the 2019 training camp.
Dobbs becomes the odd man out and is released at final cutdowns. He bounces around the league over the next four seasons as backup quarterbacks with light resumes tend to do. There’s one career start mixed in there but his career doesn’t even hit Jones’ levels. More Dennis Dixon.
Round Five – Brian Allen
Best Case: There’s no doubt Allen is raw. No home for him on defense in year one. But he has the can-do attitude to be a valuable asset on special teams. A big, long corner who can run and is physical, even if he’s not a completely technically-sound tackler.
He serves as the starting left gunner and records nine tackles on special teams and two forced fumbles. Ross Cockrell’s play doesn’t take a huge leap forward and looking over the idea of having two big, long corners, Allen receives his first start and plays half the total snaps against the Green Bay Packers on SNF. His play is unsteady, getting burned for a long touchdown by Davante Adams, but he learns from his mistakes and evens out throughout the year.
Allen’s progress is promising and he’s named the starting left corner in 2018 as Cockrell decides to sign elsewhere, seeing the writing on the wall and a desire to choose his next team. He, Burns, and Sutton end up as the young bunch of new Steelers’ corners, press-man types who no longer play far off the line of scrimmage. A whole new world.
He uses his length well and breaks up two passes in the ’18 opener. Carnell Lake builds him up and Allen’s technique is refined. The combination of a ballhawk and physicality, he picks off five passes on the season and another six in 2019, earning his first Pro Bowl bid. The Steelers’ pass defense finishes in the top five and they go on to win the Super Bowl, in part thanks to their defensive transformation.
The Steelers re-sign him before he goes into the final year of his rookie deal to a massive five year, $73 million extension (remember, cap has gone up, so have the contracts) and he – not even Artie Burns – is the team’s #1, lockdown corner. He misses only three games over the next four years and enjoys a high level of success.
It’s a stellar career and one of Colbert’s gems, a tier below but not too far off from Antonio Brown. Allen makes 107 career starts, picking off 33 passes and making a trio of Pro Bowls. The interceptions rank 7th in franchise history, edging out Troy Polamalu (mainly because of Allen’s ability to stay healthy).
Worst Case: Allen is way too raw, still learning how to play corner, much less adjusting to the NFL. His raw talent is enough to get him onto the roster in year one, though he bounces on and off the active/inactive list.
Burns flourishes in year two and Golson plays his way onto the roster too – Sensabaugh is a surprise cut – but Lake’s reputation, though a bit unfairly attached to him, of struggling to develop late rounder corners continue. In this case, Lake keeping his job is actually a bad thing for Allen.
Allen has the physical tools but struggles with the mental side of things, gambling too often in coverage and not staying in-phase with receivers downfield. He struggles in the 2018 preseason, not showing much progression. With so much turnover at the back end of the cornerback depth chart and the Steelers cut their losses by the end of camp, releasing Allen and moving on. Wax on. Wax off. That’s how these picks seem to always turn out.
Round Six – Colin Holba
Best Case: This is the easiest and quickest best/worst case for me to write. Holba’s roster spot is all about bumping off Greg Warren and – shocker! – he does that in the best case writeup. Not a single snap is off target in the preseason and he clicks with Jordan Berry/Chris Boswell immediately.
Holba spends the next 11 years as the team’s long snapper. There is only one major gaffe throughout his tenure; Year Three, a snap on a punt on a rainy November day, one that sloshes through the ground and limps its way to Berry.
Having a young, better athlete is welcoming and Holba makes three solo tackles in 2018. In his career, he has eight of those and 12 more assisted. It’s not quite on the level of Zak DeOssie but it’s close and certainly calms the masses of people – like me – who shook their heads when the pick was initially made.
Worse Case: This one doesn’t take many brain cells to figure out. Holba loses out to Warren in camp, a botched snap in the third preseason game and a field goal that is too high and throws off the timing in the fourth more than enough ammunition to knock him off.
He is picked up by the Seattle Seahawks mid-way through the season and starts two years for them before getting cut and though he’s in camp with the Miami Dolphins the following year, he never sees NFL action again.
Round Seven – Keion Adams
Best Case: As was expected of him, Adams comes in as a hot shot special teamer, even if he’s pretty non-existent as a pass rusher. He beats out Arthur Moats for the final OLB spot, pulling a Nix and forcing a fumble in the final preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
He is the left guard on the punt coverage unit at first and becomes a core special teamer, a good athlete who knows how to use his hands and shed blocks. Adams finishes his rookie campaign with seven special teams tackles.
Harrison retires in the offseason, opening a crack at ROLB and the Steelers give him a shot to see some rotational snaps. His motor runs hot and he makes the occasional splash play, picking up his first career sack by beating the Ravens’ Ronnie Stanley, but T.J. Watt has the spot on lockdown and leaves little meat left on the bone for Adams.
But special teamers aren’t to be discarded and Adams sits on the roster for his entire rookie deal before the Steelers turn the page. Still, it’s tremendous value for Pittsburgh. He ends his Steelers’ career with 31 tackles, 2 sacks, and four forced fumbles.
Worst Case: Although the team wants Adams to be the #5 outside linebacker, Moats has been around the block and doesn’t go away into the night. Adams is, of course, a rookie, and makes rookie mistakes. Danny Smith gets to give the roses out for the final spots and he chooses Moats. Adams lands on the practice squad but similar to Travis Feeney, gets poached by the Arizona Cardinals – those evil people at Steelers’ West – in Week 14. Pittsburgh simply had no options with 5 OLBs on the 53.