The deeper we get into the 2017 season, I believe, the better the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 draft class looks. With T.J. Watt authoring a game-closing strip sack the week prior and JuJu Smith-Schuster being something of a sensation himself, the team has already demonstrated that they have found a pair of starter-worthy players, which is already a pretty good draft, especially for a late-drafting team.
While James Conner’s season may have just prematurely come to an end, he flashed his potential throughout the season when he was given the opportunity to carry the ball, as evidenced by the fact that he averaged 4.5 yards per rush on 32 carries.
While Colin Holba didn’t exactly work out—for Pittsburgh, anyway—and Joshua Dobbs is just warming the bench, Brian Allen has developed into a strong special-teams player. And now third-round pick Cameron Sutton is beginning to display returns on investment.
The Tennessee product, who spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, has gotten the opportunity to play for the past three weeks. In the first game, he replaced Coty Sensabaugh in the second half. He rotated with Sensabaugh a week later. But in this past game, he started, and played pretty much the distance, outside of packages that did not require his position.
And the important thing is that he handled himself pretty well, especially considering the stage and the amount of time he has missed. While he did give up a four-yard touchdown to Brandin Cooks, it was on a well-thrown pass that he contested, attempting to play the pocket.
I did not see him give up much else over the course of the game, but, as we all know, the vast majority of the damage came directly from Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots’ All-Pro tight end, who is exceptionally good, and exceptionally foolish—and deserved greater punishment for his behavior two games ago.
Of course, the chances are good that his stint in the starting lineup will have been a short one. Sutton started the game because Coty Sensabaugh was struggling, and then was injured. And Sensabaugh before him was only starting because Joe Haden was injured.
The Steelers believe that Haden will be back in the starting lineup for them in their next game, which would seem to be fairly obvious, given that he was a game-time decision to play against the Patriots anyway.
Needless to say, that will bump Sutton down a tier or two. Or three. Clearly, the team is not going to take Mike Hilton out of his starting job in the slot. And he is not going to take Artie Burns’ job. Might he inherit the dime role from William Gay? Not impossible, but far from obvious.
But I believe that I saw enough from him during his rookie season now to be invested in his future. There is something there to work with, and hopefully his future inability to get on the field is simply a comment on the skill of their starting cornerbacks.