The 2018 NFL Draft is drawing near, which seems to be a fitting time to take a look back at the rookie seasons of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2017 NFL Draft. People start talking about the quality of a draft class before said class is even completed, of course, but now we have a year of data to work form.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an overview of the team’s rookies, as well as an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of Mike Hilton and Kameron Canaday because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2017 NFL Draft with eight selections, including one in each round at their natural selections, as well as an additional pick in the third round as compensation for the net losses that they were dealt in free agency from the 2016 offseason.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected by them in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors as well.
Player: Brian Allen
Draft Status: 5th round (173rd overall)
Brian Allen was in my opinion the most interesting selection that the Steelers made in the 2017 NFL Draft. Part of that is because they had already drafted a cornerback two rounds earlier in Cameron Sutton, and it has to be assumed that the higher-pedigreed player would be the frontrunner to succeed.
But Allen is not the ordinary fifth-round draft pick by talent. A physically gifted player, his issue stems from literal inexperience. Up until the last couple of years of his college career, he had never spent time playing on defense, not even at lower levels of football.
But it’s hard to ignore a defensive back who is 6’3”, 215 pounds with a 40-time below 4.5 seconds and a 3-cone time of 6.64 seconds. It should go without saying that he is an intriguing prospect purely based on his projected position and his physical gifts.
The Steelers basically gave him the opportunity to redshirt his first season in spite of the fact that they had a deep depth chart at cornerback this past year. He was behind Artie Burns, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, William Gay, Coty Sensabaugh, and then Sutton when he came off injured reserve. That’s right, following Sutton’s activation, the team carried seven cornerbacks through to the end of the season, while retaining Dashaun Phillips on the practice squad as well.
But Allen was not a weekly inactive by any means. While he never saw the field on defense, he still dressed for 10 games and regularly had a helmet by the end of the season because he learned to make himself useful to special teams coordinator Danny Smith.
The rookie saw about 80 snaps on special teams, most of which came late in the season, and he served primarily as a gunner and a jammer on special teams. Jammer is typically a thankless task, but he showed real potential there, and as a jammer as well.
Next season, of course, he hopes to make headway on defense. His redshirt season is over and it’s time for him to showcase his ability to contribute at the position for which he was drafted at cornerback—or at safety, if the team chooses to convert him there, which is a possibility.