The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2017 season ended not only prematurely, but also bitterly, suffering an early postseason exit after falling to the Jacksonville Jaguars at home in the Divisional Round by a score of 45-42. The wounds are still fresh, but it’s time to relive the 2017 season that was, starting from the beginning.
Chapter III – The New Blood
Since about the 1970s, the Steelers’ primary method of building their roster has been to acquire talent via the draft. The vast majority of the players that they obtain are players who have only played for the Steelers because they evaluated, selected, and developed them on their own.
The exceptions are rare, though that may be changing more in recent years. Mike Mitchell was brought in several years ago via free agency as a starter, as was Joe Haden this past offseason. Vance McDonald, acquired via trade, may also start in 2018. Other than undrafted free agency, most of the rest of the roster his homegrown.
That is why it’s so important that the Steelers have an excellent track record in the draft. And at least for the 2017 draft, the early results are looking good. They were able to hit some positions of need, and they got fitting talent along with it.
Their first-round pick met arguably their biggest need at outside linebacker in T.J. Watt. A relatively inexperienced player, he proved to be an easy study and was immediately put into the starting lineup, where he played, and produced, all year, including seven sacks, an interception, a force fumble, and a handle of passes defensed, along with a fitting number of tackles.
Though many questioned the need for a high-round wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster proved to be just what the Steelers needed in hindsight, and it wasn’t before long that the 20-year-old came in and took over a starting job, ending up setting the team’s rookie receiving yardage record. He has a bright future ahead of him.
That was not it for the draft, though, their third pick, cornerback Cameron Sutton, spent most of the year on injured reserve, but when he finally was activated, he did contribute. He even started a game, and generally held his own, which breeds optimism for a role in the future.
Perhaps the other cornerback, Brian Allen, will have a future as well. He was raw, and so saw given a redshirt year as he carved out a role on special teams. James Conner, the running back, showed flashes as a ball carrier as well before a knee injury.
Many are still sour about drafting Joshua Dobbs, the quarterback, in the fourth round, but his story is still yet to be written. Colin Holba—well, that didn’t work out, but Kameron Canaday did. And Keion Adams? The seventh-round outside linebacker? I’m looking forward to seeing what he can bring this spring and summer, potentially earning a spot for himself.