Anybody who has followed the Pittsburgh Steelers long enough understands that they have a well-founded reputation for being an organization that believes first and foremost in building their team around the draft.
It’s the simplest and most direct way to do it, after all, though not the easiest. You have draft picks, your time to pick a player comes up, you take a player and move on. You pick the guys who believe will fit in with your team, all factors considered. You don’t have to worry about breaking habits that they learned on other teams if you sign them in free agency.
So it’s not much of a surprise that the Steelers saw the fourth-highest total snaps played for them in 2017 by players that they drafted, trailing only the Cincinnati Bengals, the Green Bay Packers, and the Dallas Cowboys. The Bengals and Packers are also known for being draft-centric teams in particular.
According to a graphic posted by Pro Football Focus recently, the Steelers saw a combined total of 16,557 snaps played in 2017 by players that they drafted. That was pretty close to Green Bay and Dallas, but Cincinnati was way out in front, with just over 2000 snaps more than the Steelers.
A look at which teams had the most home grown snaps in 2017 pic.twitter.com/FLgs29LNua
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) February 26, 2018
So let’s look at where those snaps came from. The Steelers’ oldest draft pick, Ben Roethlisberger, played 15 games last season, but his backup, Landry Jones, was another draft pick, and he started the season finale, so all snaps from the quarterback position came from draft picks.
With a healthy season from Le’Veon Bell, the vast bulk of snaps from the running back position also came from homegrown draft picks, with James Conner adding a bit as well. The top three wide receivers, Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant, were also all Steelers draft picks.
Three of the five starting offensive linemen—Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert, were draft picks, as was tight end Jesse James, who for the second straight season continued to see the bulk of the snaps at the position.
But the offensive side of the ball did see major contributions from other sources as well. Vance McDonald, for example, was a trade acquisition. Ramon Foster, Alejandro Villanueva, and Chris Hubbard were all undrafted free agents, though in the cases of Foster and Hubbard, the Steelers are the only team they’ve played for. Fullback Roosevelt Nix was also undrafted. Justin Hunter was a free agent signing and Eli Rogers and Xavier Grimble were undrafted, Rogers originally by Pittsburgh.
The linebackers in particular on defense were draft-pick heavy, until Ryan Shazier’s injury, as T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and Vince Williams made up the other starters. Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, as well as Javon Hargrave, saw the bulk of the defensive line work, but free agent Tyson Alualu played a lot as well.
The defensive backfield includes just two homegrown players among the starters in Sean Davis and Artie Burns. Both Joe Haden and Mike Mitchell were acquired via free agency, while Mike Hilton was an undrafted free agent. But Cameron Sutton also saw some time, as did William Gay. Anthony Chickillo and L.T. Walton round out the drafted defensive contributors.