Do any of you remember the last time an entire Pittsburgh Steelers draft class made the Week 1 53-man roster? I know I can’t and while odds are probably against it happening this year, one can make a pretty good pre-training camp argument that the unthinkable might just might happen in 2017.
For starters, and barring any injuries, it’s easy to project that the Steelers first five 2017 draft picks, outside linebacker T.J. Watt, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, cornerback Cameron Sutton, running back James Conner and quarterback Joshua Dobbs will all be on the team’s initial 53-man roster come Week 1 of the regular season. If that winds up being the case, we’re left with the team’s final three 2017 selections, cornerback Brian Allen, long snapper Colin Holba and outside linebacker Keion Adams all needing to prove their mettle from now until the preseason ends. Each, by the way, have very navigable paths.
Let’s start with Holba as his path to a Week 1 roster spot is a very easy one to map out. The Louisville product and this year’s sixth-round selection has one man to beat and that’s longtime veteran long snapper Greg Warren, who is now 35 years of age. Over the course of the last several years, Warren has easily disposed of his competition and often times well before training camp has gotten underway. This year, however, one can easily speculate that Holba will be given every opportunity to unseat Warren and especially being as the Steelers used a sixth-round draft pick on him. In short, Holba has a fighter’s chance, one would think.
Now on to Allen, the Steelers fifth-round selection. Allen, perhaps, might have the toughest road to the initial 53-man roster of the final three draft picks due to his position group that now includes a draft pick in Sutton, a newcomer in offseason free agent addition Coty Sensabaugh as well as veteran William Gay and Senquez Golson, a former second-round draft pick who is looking to finally prove that he can stay healthy and live up to his selection status.
Allen, a wide receiver turned defensive back out of Utah with very exciting height, weight and speed measurables, presumably needs quite a bit of refinement and thus is likely to buried on the Steelers cornerback depth chart for the remainder of the offfseason. In short, Allen’s path to the Steelers initial 53-man roster will likely include him needing to make himself invaluable to special team’s coordinator Danny Smith over the course of the summer and on into the preseason. If he can somehow show the ability to cover punts and kickoffs, in addition to making a few plays during practice and the preseason in the Steelers secondary, it’s not unthinkable that he might ultimately be kept as perhaps the team’s sixth cornerback.
With the potential paths to the Week 1 53-man roster now laid out for Holba and Allen, that only leaves us with Adams to discuss. While Adam’s path might just be a little easier than Allen’s, it will be challenging nonetheless and it will also include him needing to become a favorite of Smith’s. If there’s one thing in Adams’ favor right now as we sit here in mid-May it’s the fact that veteran outside linebacker Arthur Moats is probably vulnerable to having his potential spot on the Week 1 53-man roster stolen out from underneath him.
As things stand right now, Adams is probably sixth on the Steelers outside linebacker depth chart behind James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo, Watt and Moats. If indeed that’s true, Adams could potentially prove to be a better special teams option than Moats is right now at this stage of his career over the course of the remainder of offseason. Additionally, while Moats’ 2017 scheduled base salary of $2.25 million isn’t astronomical by any measure considering the team’s current salary cap situation, there’s a little bit of savings to be had nonetheless if he’s eventually cut. In short, it should come down to which player turns out to be the biggest special teams asset as far as 2017 is concerned.
Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler recently put it best concerning Adams during an interview with Missi Matthews of steelers.com.
“We want him to come in and help us on special teams and then see if he can develop a pass rush and develop as a football player,” Butler said.
You can go ahead and rubber-stamp that quote and apply to Allen as well with the only change being him needing to develop his coverage skills.
As usual, overall health could wind up playing a big factor in whether or not all eight of the Steelers 2017 draft picks ultimately make the Week 1 53-man roster and especially when it comes to players such as Allen, Holba and Adams. Availability is always a great ability when it comes to late-round draft picks and their roster chances and in the case of those three players, specifically, special teams ability will also be a big factor as well.