For the fifth year in a row, we’re writing out the fun (but for the record, utterly meaningless) idea of the best-and-worst case scenarios for each of the Pittsburgh Steelers seven draft picks. How I could envision their career shaping up if everything goes right or if everything goes wrong.
Of course, every player theoretically could become a Hall of Famer and all could be a bust and fall out of the league immediately. I try to make these a little more realistic, a little less cut-and-dry to make things less repetitive. Essentially, what is practical and reasonable to expect? Plus, they’re always fun to go back and check out a couple years later.
You can view the 2017 scenarios here. If anyone wants to see previous years, I can dig those up too.
Round One – Terrell Edmunds
Best Case: Fans who were critical of the selection, calling it a reach, a stretch, or downright stupid, quickly find out how wrong they are. Blessed with elite athleticism, Edmunds shows it right away in camp. On the third day of training camp, first in pads, Edmunds picks off a Ben Roethlisberger heave – the first INT he’s thrown two training camps – down the left sideline for Antonio Brown, skying over AB and tapping both feet an inch from the chalk before tumbling out of bounds. Later, he screams into the alley to lay a big stick on James Summers, who even with a solid 20 pound advantage, tumbles backwards and flubs away the football.
Although Edmunds isn’t the Day One starter, Morgan Burnett is needed for his communication and the team still has faith in Sean Davis, Edmunds is a fixture in the Steelers’ dime package right away, the sixth defensive back. For most of the year, he plays free safety and lets Burnett play near the line of scrimmage. But for the Week 15 matchup against the New England Patriots, both teams sporting identical 10-3 records, Keith Butler changes things up.
Edmunds moves from his free safety spot to blanket Rob Gronkowski over the slot. He gives up an 8 yard completion on 3rd and 6, Gronk ran an impossible-to-cover out route, but from there, he’s shut down. Edmunds high points a ball down the seam to stall Tom Brady’s two minute drive at the end of the half and on 4th and 5 with a minute left and the Patriots trailing by four, Edmunds is able to reach across Gronk’s body on a crossing route, deflecting the ball and preserving the win.
He ends his rookie year with 360 defensive snaps (he starts two games in replacing Burnett, who misses with a hamstring), picking off two passes (the first in Week 5 off a deflection), and forcing one fumble. Edmunds also brings value on special teams, dropping Jabrill Peppers at the Browns’ seven in Week One and preventing Alex Erickson from taking a kick back in Week 6, a shoestring tackle that trips him up at the Steelers 31.
It’s Edmunds taking over Burnett’s spot full-time the following year, Burnett now demoted to the sub-package role. Another year older, a year under his belt. Kevin Colbert always refers to this as the year these guys are supposed to enter the NFL and Edmunds hits the ground running.
Capable of doing everything in Butler’s defense, cover, support the run, blitz, and make an impact plays, he is the next great safety in Steelers’ history. Not quite the Hall of Famer of a Troy Polamalu but in the same vein as Carnell Lake.
In Year Three, firmly entrenched the starter, Edmunds rallies and cover the deep half, picking off a Patrick Mahomes throw in the AFC Divisional Game, a play that turns the tide around for the Steelers – trailing 17-3 into the third quarter – who ultimately rally and win on a Chris Boswell 42 yard field goal at the buzzer.
Off the field, he’s a model citizen and becomes well-known for his community work in the city and back home. Before the draft, it was his younger brother Tremaine who grabbed the headlines. But by the end of their professional careers, every fan knows Terrell Edmunds’ name.
A 13 year career, entering the league at 21 helps extend that NFL shelf life, he starts 179 games, records 993 total tackles, intercepts 28 passes and forces 11 fumbles. He’s named to the Pro Bowl five times, making one All-Pro team.
Worst Case: The Steelers’ track record of drafting the “high-upside, ultra-athlete but needs refined” continues its “meh” streak. Edmunds looks the part and has all the tools but as we’ve learned with Bud Dupree and Artie Burns, that doesn’t guarantee instant success. It’s about technique, processing, what’s above the neck. Though Edmunds is regarded as a bright player who wore multiple hats, that didn’t make Sean Davis an All-Star either.
Edmunds, after a tough preseason, is thrown into that dime safety role, the Steelers determined to get him on the field. Butler wants to play him in the slot, to smother slot receivers and matchup on bigger tight ends the Steelers haven’t been solved since…uh, ever.
On paper, it looks good. But just like in college, Edmunds is raw trying to cover all that space. Much tougher in the NFL, he looks lost. Slot receivers burn him with head fakes and nuanced route running and tight ends still give him troubles like they have Davis.
The Chiefs exploit that in Week 2, motioning Tyreek Hill to the slot on 3rd and 7 and getting him on Edmunds. One head fake and a stem upfield is all it takes for Hill to break free downfield, splitting the safeties and running away from Edmunds, 77 yards to the house. It’s a sign of things to come.
Even in a more traditional free safety spot, all isn’t perfect. Edmunds is a tremendous athlete but that only gets him so far. Only 21, he gets picked on by complex route combinations and savvy QBs, the odd-man-out in an otherwise experienced secondary. Communication is the biggest sticking point of 2018 after the disaster 2017 was and with Edmunds making too many mistakes to justify the occasional nice play, he has a seat on the bench. Burnett flips back to safety and Cam Sutton resumes his dime role.
It’s a rookie year chalked up to well, being a rookie. Over 180 snaps, Edmunds records 21 tackles and fails to force a turnover, though the athleticism is an asset on the coverage units.
Burnett and Davis are still sticking around for 2019, meaning there is no full-time role for Edmunds. He slides into the free safety role in dime, Burnett is ushered back down into the box, and things are predictably better in Year Two. But they aren’t great either. Edmunds doesn’t make many impact plays, limited to playing the deep half on 3rd and long where QBs rarely throw the ball and frankly, just not the type of guy Pittsburgh envisioned when they drafted him. The draft analysts are right – he was more a of a mid-round pick, his athleticism shining but everything else lagging behind.
With more reps and experience, Edmunds’ play does improve, and he starts the 2021 season after the team lets go of Burnett. But by that point, they’re ready to move on and try again. His option is declined and despite a one-year offer from the Steelers, Edmunds decides Pittsburgh isn’t the right fit. He signs with the Carolina Panthers and spot starts there the next three seasons.
Four years as a Steeler, Edmunds makes 17 starts, recording three interceptions, and leaving fans to wonder what could have been. Rashaan Evans becomes an eight-time Pro Bowler, making this pick – and the Steelers decision not to trade up – all the worse.
Round Two – James Washington
Best Case: Martavis Who? That’s the sign a section of fans hold up in Week 10, Washington in the middle of an excellent rookie season and certainly as advertised when he was drafted. No, he doesn’t have that kind of speed but similar to JuJu Smith-Schuster, a crafty player wise beyond his years.
That’s evident from the get-go. There is no time for Washington to sit, serving as the Steelers’ Z receiver whenever they go three wide. Denzel Ward vs AB is the matchup in Week One but it’s Washington who catches a slant in front of Ward’s face and races him 45 yards downfield before Damarious Randall drags him down.
He doesn’t dominate the targets his rookie year, something every fan should expect but he’s the team’s bona fide deep target. On Thursday Night Football, Week 10 versus the Panthers, Washington lays out to haul in a bomb from Roethlisberger on 3rd and 2, one of the classic long balls when the defense least expects it. It’s a 55 yard pitch and catch.
There’s toughness in his game and a work ethic that took Bryant years to develop. He’s able to work over the middle of the field, running pretty much the entire route tree right out of the box, and he takes pride as a run blocker, mushing Ravens’ corner Tavon Young into the ground to spring Le’Veon Bell for a 37 yard run in Week 4.
His rookie year isn’t quite as successful as Smith-Schuster, in part to not seeing as many third down targets, but it’s still a successful one. 41 catches, 701 yards, and three scores. And though he didn’t have any college experience doing it, he becomes the teams starting kick returner with a long return of 63 yards, flashing that home run speed there too.
Coming off a promising season, Washington becomes the #2 receiver, staying out there in two receiver sets most of the time, though at this point, Pittsburgh as evolved to an even more 11 personnel base team, doing so 85% of the time in 2019.
It’s more of the same for him, just in an expanded role. He has the technique to stack corners and get on top of them vertically, using his strength and length to finish plays. Pittsburgh looks brilliant for replacing Bryant with Washington, getting the same type of player, fewer headaches, and under contract for much longer.
Mason Rudolph takes over in 2021 and despite not always practicing together in the NFL, their connection is still strong. and Rudolph hits Washington for a 67 yard touchdown in Week One versus the Cincinnati Bengals.
He’s never viewed as an elite, clear-cut receiver. With Antonio Brown playing at a high level until age 36, there’s no need for him to be. But he’s an excellent #2, deep threat, a sort of poor-man’s Larry Fitzgerald-type in his style of play.
Washington enjoys a long, 11 year career with Pittsburgh, nearly all his time here, though he winds up finishing things out with the Minnesota Vikings. In black and gold, he ends things with 695 receptions, 9591 yards and 40 trips to the end zone. Really good numbers, especially today, though understand future eras will make this look a little less impressive.
Worst Case: Washington may have been a deep threat in college but numbers matter. Playing in the NFL either magnifies or exposes speed. For Washington, it’s the latter, and he doesn’t have the benefit of playing in a more open scheme to get him tasty matchups.
The other new element? Press coverage, which he didn’t see much of in college, trip him up in the league. Joe Haden gives him his “welcome to the NFL” moment, shoving Washington out of bounds and into the grass in a one-on-one drill at St. Vincent.
While Washington may be a crafty route runner, speed still rules the day. He isn’t fast or explosive enough to blow by a guy or separate vertically. Every vertical attempt, the few Roethlisberger dares to throw, are contested, routinely broken up and offering no chance for YAC when they do connect. He’s as successful downfield as Sammie Coates’ final year which for the record, isn’t a compliment.
He offers some usefulness coming across the middle and making some gritty, PFTCommenter inspired plays, but the offense already has that – a better version – in JuJu. Washington’s presence is redundant and not what Pittsburgh needs.
Failing to have that deep threat, the offense is stunted. Teams roll every coverage to Antonio Brown without a second thought. The offense stalls in 2018, tumbling from 8th per game in 2017 to 14th. The Steelers quietly are bounced in the Wild Card game to Tennessee, 21-11.
Frustrated by it all and age/injuries taking their role, 2019 is Roethlisberger’s final season. That inserts Mason Rudolph into the lineup and though that’s initially seen as a positive for Washington, his old college teammate, Rudolph isn’t the next Ben. Or anything close. He struggles, his deep passes floating, a lack of mobility that leads to too many sacks, and even worse this time, the offense suffers. Washington, slowed by an ankle injury, is limited to 11 games, catching 34 balls and just one touchdown.
Washington makes it through his rookie contract though there really isn’t even a debate if he should return. Pittsburgh lets him go after four years. He finds more success in Detroit, getting the opportunity to work out of the slot, though is his career arc is similar to Adam Humphries, far worse than what anyone in Pittsburgh hoped for. Or expected.
Round Three – Mason Rudolph
Best Case: Rudolph shows why the Steelers used a “luxury” pick on him, enjoying an excellent camp. A wrist injury to Landry Jones shelves him for most of the preseason, letting Rudolph dominate the reps. He throws just one pick in Latrobe, and that clanged off the hands of Trey Griffey Jr, and looks impressive with his accuracy, touch, and reads, but just as importantly, his command of the huddle. This is a guy with the demeanor of a starter.
With that in mind, the team makes Rudolph the #2 out of the shoot, but they decide to keep Jones for one season – the #3 – to take on that mentor role.
Roethlisberger, though not good for the team but for Rudolph’s development, tears the meniscus in his left knee after being bent down by the Atlanta Falcons’ defensive end Vic Beasley in Week 5. He misses two weeks, putting Rudolph into the spotlight. Week 6 at Cincinnati, he plays anything but like a rookie. In a 24-9 win, he fires two touchdowns, hitting Brown perfectly on a post downfield for the first score and then finds Jesse James off playaction for a three yard TD on the other.
Ben returns after the bye but the message is clear – Rudolph isn’t going to be a backup forever. Granted, no one is pushing Roethlisberger out the door. But his 3-5 year prediction doesn’t hold true. A concussion suffered Week 13 of 2019 puts a new perspective on #7’s future and he walks away from the game after the season (Rudolph again fills in well in relief).
Enter Rudolph who like those spot-starts, capably takes over the reigns. Sure, there are a couple young-guy flubs, but the offense doesn’t miss much of a beat. Pittsburgh goes 11-5 in 2020 before falling short in the AFC Championship game. He is the next franchise quarterback, there is no lull between Ben and Rudolph the way there was between Bradshaw and Ben (and thank God for that).
Everything comes together in 2022. A 13-3 run in the regular season, earning home field advantage for the playoffs. Rudolph is excellent and throws three touchdowns without an interception or sack in a 31-14 rout of the Jacksonville Jaguars to send them to the Super Bowl, Super Bowl 56 in Los Angeles.
There, Rudolph isn’t an MVP-level player but handles himself really well, hitting Smith-Schuster for a 19 yard touchdown on the final play of the first quarter. Rudolph and the Steelers hoist their first Lombardi in well over a decade,
A 10 year starter, Rudolph becomes the unquestioned 3rd greatest QB in franchise history behind Bradshaw and Ben. And the front offices ability to identify that type of player proves again why they’re one of the best franchises in the NFL, spoiling the Detroit Lions’ return to the big game, a 27-17 victory.
Over that career, Rudolph throws for 292 touchdowns and completes 64.5% of his passes. His best year comes in 2024, tossing 36 touchdowns and making the Pro Bowl.
Worst Case: For Rudolph, the worst case for him personally is the best case for Steelers’ Nation. Roethlisberger is healthy, upright behind an excellent offensive line, and an almost-vendetta to the front office, wanting to prove he meant what he said about playing up to five more years.
Rudolph begins his career as the #3 behind Landry Jones (I lose a $20 bet to David Todd in the process) and while elevated to the backup role in 2019, Ben isn’t going anywhere. Through 2021, Roethlisberger is still going strong, even if all parties recognize the end is near. Rudolph’s contract expires – six career starts with middling results – and though he could re-up and wait Roethlisberger out another season, he decides to go elsewhere for an immediate opportunity, tired of sitting on the bench. That takes him to New Orleans.
His career though, is middle-of-the-road, completing barely more than 60% of his passes with 31 total touchdowns and 17 interceptions in his NFL career. I’m not sure if that makes Steelers’ fans feel better or worse about the pick.
Best Case: Consider Mike Munchak the Santa Claus for offensive linemen. There’s no better place for Okorafor to land than Pittsburgh and his coaches have said as much. Blessed with the physical tools, the length, size, athleticism, Munchak molds everything else. He has a similar camp to Jerald Hawkins did his rookie year, in that it’s surprisingly solid and after Hawkins fails to make any tangible strides (another shoulder injury doesn’t help him either), the team cuts ties with him. Okorafor becomes the backup swing tackle, seeing work early in the year when Alejandro Villanueva rolls and ankle and in Week 17 when Marcus Gilbert is given the week off, holding his own in both cases.
There still isn’t much in the way of a starting spot in 2019 either but he’s entrenched as the swing tackle, a better version of Chris Hubbard because of his size, power, and length.
Gilbert hits free agency after 2019 and Okorafor steps into the right tackle spot, the offense not missing a beat and keeping Big Ben upright. He becomes a stud tackle, realizing his full potential, in part thanks to Munchak but in part to his own work ethic and desire to improve. After his rookie deal, the Steelers waste no time inking him to a four-year, $29.3 million deal.
Without having the name value and late start into the starting lineup, he only makes one Pro Bowl but like Gilbert has been, Steelers’ Nation knows how valuable he’s been to the offense’s success.
In total, he starts eight years in a Steelers uniform and spends another two years in the NFL, making several starts for the New York Giants.
Worst Case: Sure, Okorafor looks the part. But looks aren’t everything. Okorafor has been able to get by on his size and length throughout college but in the NFL, pass rushers are able to match those tools and whip him on technique. Training camp is a rude awakening, even having trouble with guys like Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats (brought back a week before camp), nuanced pass rushers capable of winning in multiple ways.
It sends him to the bench, inactive for his entire rookie season.
Worse yet, Munchak finally leaves to become the head coach of the New York Jets. Assistant Shaun Sarrett gets promoted to OL coach, and he’s a good coach, but he ain’t Munch.
But the biggest problem with Okorafor is a lack of nasty and fire in his game. He doesn’t have that demeanor to go whoop a dude’s butt the way some of the best in the game do, even at tackle (like Trent Williams, Joe Staley, and David Bakhtiari are relevant examples). He’s sort of like the Daniel McCullers of the offensive line. No one, not even Munchak, can create that fire. That’s all up to him.
Okorafor, aside from a few snaps as the extra offensive linemen/tight end, he doesn’t see much time in Pittsburgh. Jerald Hawkins develops into the swing tackle and the team remains high on Matt Feiler. After 2019, with the Steelers drafting another tackle in the 4th round, Okorafor loses out and is cut before the 2020 season. He plays 36 career snaps with Pittsburgh, bouncing around the NFL the rest of the way (including a year stay with the Munchak-led Jets, where he starts three games).
Round Five – Marcus Allen
Best Case: Allen is as-advertised. Not a playmaker in coverage but as hard a hitter as they come. That’s evident from the get-go, laying the boom on a crossing route by Eagles WR Shelton Gibson in Week One of the preseason. One of those this kid can bring it moments.
Though there’s no starting role in 2018, Allen becomes a core special teamer. He runs down kicks, takes Robert Golden’s spot on the return team, and replaces Sean Davis as the right wing on punt coverage, teaming up with Nat Berhe to become the bash brothers on special teams.
Playing time on defense is hard to come by but when you stick around on special teams enough, the opportunity opens up. Sean Davis gets benched in 2019 because of his inconsistent play, and Allen gets work in sub-packages. Keith Butler loves to use him as a blitzer and despite playing only 114 snaps that year, he records 2.5 sacks and strips Baker Mayfield in the 3rd quarter of a tight game, T.J. Watt scooping it for six.
The Steelers go back into the safety well in 2020, drafting Illinois’ Bennett Williams in the 1st round, and that always holds Allen back. But he’s quality depth, able to play the dime linebacker role and strong safety whenever called upon. A better version of Golden across the board.
Like he did at Penn State, one of his biggest plays comes in 2020, blocking a Justin Tucker game-tying field goal on Monday Night Football. A local product with no intentions to leave the city, he readily signs a thee year deal when his rookie contract expires. Allen starts seven games in 2022 after injuries strike and performs at an above average level. He plays through his contract before finally moving on, years of killing his body with hard hits take their toll, and he spends two more years in the NFL, one with Tampa Bay, the other with Dallas.
For Pittsburgh, he makes 18 starts scattered across seven seasons and forces more fumbles (6) than interceptions (4). And he’s always a fan-favorite.
Worse Case: There isn’t a terrible floor with him. But he is what he is, essentially maxed out before taking an NFL snap. Great special teamer, capable to play defense in the short-term in a very defined role (closer to the line of scrimmage, the better). He earns that core special teamer spot as a rookie and performs well. But as noted above, trying to find that path to playing time in a revamped secondary is tough. He’s missed the window and Sean Davis finally busts out in 2018, a borderline Pro Bowler. When the team needs an extra safety who can lay the lumber, they turn to Berhe, not the rookie Allen.
Despite a durable college career, come 2019 and knowing he needs to make a move, Allen tries to hit everything in the preseason. He suffers a torn labrum tackling Cameron Artis-Payne in the final preseason game that year, winding up on IR.
DBs coach Tom Bradley gets fired after the season, it just wasn’t a good fit, and Allen loses one of the guys in his corner. The Steelers try to convert him to a full-time inside linebacker role but that doesn’t work out, unable to add the 20 pounds required.
He plays out the rest of his rookie contract, plus an additional season, being that special teams ace but not much more than that. A better version of Jordan Dangerfield. That’s not bad but it isn’t great either. Obviously.
Allen plays in 59 career games but only starts two and logs just 219 defensive snaps over five seasons, never recording an interception, one fewer than he did in college.
Best Case: It’s an easy decision to keep Samuels on the 53 man roster. The versatility he brings is unique in every phase of the game; as a runner, receiver, and special teamer. Samuels opens eyes almost immediately in training camp. First day in pads, backs on backers, he stonewalls Vince Williams. Twice. Mike Tomlin gives him some rare rookie praise after practice.
Need Samuels to replace Le’Veon Bell? Or James Washington? Or heck, even Jesse James? He does it all, taking away a couple snaps from each player a game. With his size, he carves out a role in short-yardage situations too, converting a 3rd and 1 and 2nd and goal – the latter nets him his first touchdown – in a Week 14 victory against the Oakland Raiders.
He plays alongside fellow rookie James Washington on the kick return team, normally serving as the upback/blocker, but averages 22.3 yards on six returns, trusted by the coaching staff to take care of the football.
His rookie season looks like this: 41 carries for 140 yards (the short-yardage role doesn’t help the average), two touchdowns, and 23 catches for another 254 yards and one score.
Bell leaves after 2018 and Samuels leaps James Conner to become the #2 but Pittsburgh, not viewing Samuels as the heir – draft Kentucky’s Benny Snell 61st overall in the 2019 draft. Snell gets inserted as the starter with Samuels playing second fiddle, a heavy emphasis on 3rd down but always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
It’s a good career and the coaches recognize the value in him. But he’s never a great player, not known league-wide, and forever overshadowed. He sticks around for a long time, starting when there’s injury, but not much beyond that.
In his six year career with Pittsburgh, he averages 4.2 yards per carry with 13 touchdowns with another 211 receptions (a little more than 30 per year, including a career-high 50 in 2021), before leaving town and looking for work elsewhere. He finds it in Las Vegas (where Oakland is now playing) where he spends another four years before hanging up his cleats.
Worst Case: Samuels has an ok preseason but doesn’t do anything to stand out. Jack of all trades, master of none. He loses out to Fitzgerald Toussaint, forever a Steelers’ favorite, and lands on the practice squad before getting the call-up at mid-season when the team finally bails on Fitz for good.
Samuels returns a couple kicks, logs some third down work, but after not doing much in the way of pass protection since early in his NC State career, he struggles. He allows a sack/fumble on Big Ben in Week 16 against the New Orleans Saints and coaches shy away from using him the rest of the way, just as they did Conner in 2017.
Finding a fit for him in this offense proves to be difficult. Who is he taking snaps away from? Not Bell, not Brown, not JuJu, or Vance McDonald. Having him on the field feels like leaving something on the table and he isn’t offering enough on special teams to make him a standout there, either. The power is just ok, so is the speed, and nothing about Samuels’ game stands out.
He hangs around as a drifter on the roster for 2019 but falls out of favor in the summer of 2020, demoted to 4th on the depth chart and outright released at final cutdowns. No snaps in the last preseason game seals his fate.
An interesting project but one the coaching staff never figured out how to best use, similar to the issues they encountered with Dri Archer and Chris Rainey. He ends his Steelers’ career with 31 carries and 18 receptions, finding the end zone just once – the end of a blowout loss to Baltimore in 2019.
Round Seven – Joshua Frazier
Best Case: It’s not hard for Frazier to beat out Daniel McCullers, working over him for most of training camp and making his way onto the roster as the Steelers 6th defensive linemen. That’s a spot usually reserved for the inactive list, though injuries allow him to dress for seven games and play 59 run-stuffing snaps.
And that’s all he really is. A quality run stuffer the team can count on when Javon Hargrave goes down or in their goal-line packages that requires every DL on the roster. He lasts three seasons before the team keeps adding more talent on the line and Frazier, with that capped value, becomes the odd man out. In a different era, he would’ve had a better career but for a 7th round pick, the team could have (and have done) a lot worse. He logs 111 snaps with one career sack, walking back Bengals’ center Billy Price in a Week 8 game in 2019.
Worst Case: Although Frazier can stop the run generally well, the lack of pass rush really hurts him when it comes down to final decision-making. It’s practically a requirement. Without that, and UDFA Greg Gilmore recording 2.5 sacks in the preseason, he makes the team over Frazier and McCullers. Frazier spends the year on the practice squad, working with Karl Dunbar, but his skillset and overall value isn’t ever going to be increased. Plus, L.T. Walton is still viewed as the backup nose tackle after logging more time there in camp.
Frazier returns in 2019 but without much of a path of value beyond clogging the run, gets his marching orders at final cutdowns. Becoming a journey man, he plays for five teams in the next four seasons, before a two-year stay in the Seattle Seahawks system, a 4-3 where he sees more stable playing time.