The Pittsburgh Steelers top-two draft picks of 2017, outside linebacker T.J. Watt and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, certainly had strong rookie seasons. While nether will win any primary or national awards for their play during the 2017 season, both made the annual All-Rookie team that NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt recently put together.
As for Watt, who the Steelers drafted in the first round out of Wisconsin with the 30th overall selection, he registered 7 sacks during his rookie season and played 76.4% of all defensive snaps. Here’s what Brandt wrote about the Steelers outside linebacker:
Watt surprised me every step of the way. I didn’t think he’d be a first-rounder, and I didn’t expect him to make such a significant impact immediately. But he played quite well in 2017, finishing with 7.0 sacks, seven passes defensed, a pick and a forced fumble. He’ll be a regular fixture in the Pro Bowl in the years to come.
That’s pretty high praise from Brandt and there’s no question that Watt should be able to progress as a player in 2018. Double-digit sacks will certainly be expected in addition to the hope that he can play an even high percentage of snaps in his second season.
As for Smith-Schuster, the Steelers second-round draft pick in 2017, it’s not a surprise that he made Brandt’s annual rookie team. Here is what he wrote about the USC product:
Smith-Schuster was targeted 79 times and caught 58 passes for 917 yards — 15.8 yards per catch — and seven scores. He also posted six catches of 40-plus yards, more than anyone but Tyreek Hill, Brandin Cooks and Antonio Brown, and a healthy yard-after-the-catch average of 6.8, per Pro Football Focus. Smith-Schuster proved himself to be an important part of the Steelers’ offense, and his ceiling is as an All-Pro.
That’s certainly refreshing to read and Brandt didn’t even mention that Smith-Schuster also returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the team’s regular season finale.
On the surface, it appears as though Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert hit back-to-back home runs last year with his selections of Watt and Smith-Schuster and it’s even more impressive considering how late the Steelers picked in each of those two rounds. Now it will be up to Colbert to hit at least two more home runs back-to-back in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft and hopefully those scores include an inside linebacker and free safety. Will we see those two players on Brandts 2018 All-Rookie team?