There wasn’t a ton of love for the 2017 NFL Draft class of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the immediate aftermath. The doubters and skeptics of that group may be changing their tune fewer than two years removed from that group’s entry into the league, however, and its resume expanded even further yesterday.
The Steelers drafted four players during the first two days of the draft. Three of them will be representing the team in the 2019 edition of the Pro Bowl a couple of weeks from now. I’m not absolutely certain, but I’m willing to guess that they are the only team with three second-year draft picks in the Pro Bowl this year.
Of the three, only running back James Conner was voted in outright, and he was the least likely, at the beginning of the year, to earn that distinction. The third-round compensatory selection was supposed to be Le’Veon Bell’s backup, but the latter’s no-show thrust him into the starting lineup.
While he had his ups and downs, it was an impressive season in the end. He finished the year averaging 4.5 yards per rush, recording 973 yards on 215 attempts. His 12 rushing touchdowns was the most in the AFC, tied with Derrick Henry, and he had 13 touchdowns in total, despite missing three games due to a high ankle sprain. He also contributed another 497 receiving yards on 55 receptions.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was the first of two Steelers (so far) this year to earn a Pro Bowl invitation as an alternate. Fellow Steelers receiver Antonio Brown backed out, allowing Smith-Schuster (as presumably the first alternate) to share the honor.
Smith-Schuster finished his second season in the NFL—at the age of 22—with 111 receptions for 1426 yards and seven touchdowns. Unfortunately the most high-profile moment of his season was a huge fumble at the end of the New Orleans Saints game, but that will certainly not define him.
Finally, first-rounder T.J. Watt, the outside linebacker, joined his fellow draft classmates as members of the 2019 AFC Pro Bowl roster, invited as an injury replacement for Jadeveon Clowney of the Houston Texans.
Watt led the Steelers with 13 sacks and six forced fumbles, the highest tallies in those categories for the team in a decade. As I wrote earlier, I believe the absences of these two players from the initial Pro Bowl ballot were in error, and their being able to receive the honor in this way rights a wrong.
As for the rest of that draft class, third-round pick Cameron Sutton may be competing for a starting job at cornerback in 2019. Fourth-rounder Joshua Dobbs is currently their backup, though the intention is for him to be replaced by Mason Rudolph.
Fifth-round Brian Allen spent most of the year on the 53-man roster, though often as an inactive. Seventh-round Keion Adams served the year on the practice squad. It’s not clear what the future holds for them. the only draft pick no longer with the team in any capacity is sixth-round long snapper Colin Holba.