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.
It was clear heading in that outside linebacker was being viewed as a top priority, even while many pulled for a cornerback, and I include myself in the latter. The Steelers ended up coming away with outside linebacker T.J. Watt in the first round, who was a wall-to-wall starter and a bright light on the team.
Pittsburgh continued its drafting success with JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round, the highest-drafted wide receiver by the team since they selected Santonio Holmes in the first round in the 2006 NFL Draft over a decade ago. He turned in one of the best rookie seasons for a wide receiver in team history with over 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, plus another on a kick return.
With their two third-round picks, the Steelers dipped into the secondary for the first time with cornerback Cameron Sutton and found a running back in Pittsburgh’s own James Conner. Sutton spent most of the year on injured reserve, but ended up starting a game due to injuries and a benching ahead of him. Conner showed some burst in limited carries, but is currently rehabbing a torn MCL.
The fourth-round pick of quarterback Joshua Dobbs was a source of frustration for many, including myself. The 2017 season was redshirt year, active only for the season finale in which Ben Roethlisberger rested.
They went back to the cornerback position in round five with Brian Allen, a raw but physically gifted athlete with upside. He redshirted as well on defense but earned his keep on special teams. Colin Holba, the long snapper taken in the sixth round, lost out to Canaday, but he did resurface with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Holba is the only rookie that did not remain with the team, but seventh-round pick Keion Adams spent his year on injured reserve, suffering a shoulder injury in training camp. He will compete to add depth at the outside linebacker position in 2018.