The Pittsburgh Steelers only had six rookies play this season and all had different impacts throughout the course of the season. Head coach Mike Tomlin recently said that the rookie class as a whole has contributed positively to the football team’s success. Here are my rookie grades for the 2017 regular season:
Wide Receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster – A
Smith-Schuster was a key piece to the Steelers’ success this season. He pulled in 58 receptions for 917 yards in 14 games played. He was more than just a receiver, though. Smith-Schuster brought back the fierce wide receiver blocking that we loved from Hines Ward. The No. 2 receiver was originally supposed to be Martavis Bryant, but Smith-Schuster brought a competitive edge. He worked hard from day one. He emerged as the No. 1 receiver in Antonio Brown‘s absence. JuJu also brought another weapon onto Ben Roethlisberger‘s arsenal. The sky is the limit for this kid. His rookie season has been incredibly fun to watch; we should expect more brilliance from him in the playoffs and beyond. And did I mention those touchdown celebrations? A+ for those.
Linebacker, T.J. Watt – A-
T.J. Watt has been a force from day one. He has not played like a rookie whatsoever. He carries himself extremely well. Watt dominated in division play. He had 35 total tackles, 5 sacks and an interception in the 6 games. He has the making to terrorize the AFC North for years. Watt doesn’t get an A or A+ for two reasons. He only had 13 total tackles and 1 sack against the five playoff teams that the Steelers played against. He needs to be more of a playmaker come January 14th. He also looked lost against the run at times. He occasionally had trouble recognizing the run and attacking the ball carrier.
Running Back, James Conner – B-
Le’Veon Bell does it all for the Steelers. Conner’s opportunities were minimal. He only played 68 offensive snaps. When he got an opportunity, he showed patience and an ability to get to the outside. He averaged 4.5 yards per rush which is a big positive. Although he only had 32 carries, I thought that he looked comfortable and was consistent in the running game. Conner also wasn’t called for a penalty on offense or special teams all year. His season-ending injury and obvious trouble blocking in pass protection leads to his grade being in the middle of the pack.
Cornerback, Cameron Sutton – C+
We did not get much of a sample size of Sutton because of his hamstring injury. He has seen time in the latter half of the season on the outside while starting cornerback Joe Haden was out injured and in dime packages. Sutton played well enough against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots to leave a positive mark. His potential, more than anything, is why we need to be patient with him. Sutton should continue to grow and make a positive impact on the defensive side of the ball the next couple of years.
Quarterback, Joshua Dobbs – C
This was a tough one for me. Dobbs was only active for one game all season long, the regular season finale. He did, however, play decent in the preseason, especially in the finale against the Carolina Panthers. One can assume that he has been taking in all he can from Roethlisberger and even Landry Jones. It’s unfortunate that he did not make a good enough impression to challenge Jones for the backup role, but don’t give up on Dobbs yet. Most young quarterbacks take time to mold and teach.
Cornerback, Brian Allen – C
Allen saw action in 10 games, but 81 of his 82 snaps came on special teams. He is very much on the outside looking in through no fault of his own as the depth chart at his position is very full. He needs to make some changes during the offseason order to get more opportunities on defense next season. It is hard to give him a positive or negative grade because of the small sample size we got from him. Allen didn’t play terribly on special teams, but was called for two penalties on the season.