Immediate, kneejerk draft grades tend to come with a bit of derision and mockery, and I honestly can’t blame those who respond in that manner. Everybody has the players that they like in a draft they’re convinced are going to be great, or are going to fit like a glove with a certain team. They also know who is going to be terrible or a bad fit. And every year these people are extremely wrong.
That’s one of the reasons I tend to avoid the sort of immediate draft grades, but I certainly think it’s fair to evaluate a rookie class after their first season, at least as a sort of benchmark. Of course it’s not going to write the story of their career, but it’s something like an update on their progress.
I’m honestly surprised that we haven’t seen more, but NFL.com posted a draft grade series recently, and that included the AFC North. The Pittsburgh Steelers received a solid B grade for their draft class, which consisted of eight players, one in each round, with two in the third.
As a quick recap, not that it’s needed, the Steelers took outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round, who was an instant starter, followed by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second, who became a starter as well. Cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen were taken in the third and fifth while running back James Conner and quarterback Joshua Dobbs were sandwiched in between. Long snapper Colin Holba and outside linebacker Keion Adams in the sixth and seventh wrapped things up.
“Pittsburgh absolutely nailed it in Rounds 1 and 2 with the selections of and Smith-Schuster”, the article reads. “The two were immediate, major contributors and look to be mainstays for years to come. After that, things kind of fall off a cliff”.
I probably wouldn’t categorize the rest of the class as falling off a cliff just because they didn’t make significant contributions, which are still relatively scarce for Pittsburgh in comparison to the rest of the league, but when you get two full-time starters in the first round, the rest does pale in comparison.
“Sutton was a late-season contributor due to injury, but had a nice second-half against Cincinnati in Week 13 after replacing Coty Sensabaugh at halftime”, it was written of Sutton. “If he can develop into a reliable corner, it will address a need Pittsburgh has been trying to fill through the draft for nearly five years”.
Regarding the rest of the class, it was less optimistic. “Conner was helpful in spots, but largely an afterthought. Dobbs inspires very little confidence. Meanwhile, Allen is in the same boat as Sutton, Holba ended up on the Jaguars, and Adams spent the season on IR. Because of the two hauls at the top, Pittsburgh gets a solid grade — but it’s a top-heavy group”.
Looking ahead to the offseason, cornerback and middle linebacker were mentioned as areas of attention, while the obligatory quarterback was also a note.