One of the most important conversations that we have every year regarding the NFL Draft is that you can’t truly know how good or bad a draft class is until it has been allowed to play out for at least a few years. That is one of the reasons that I find hindsight evaluations so important, and it should be for teams as well, so they can look back at which predictive qualities they could have seen initially.
Pro Football Focus seemingly tried to tackle this subject a bit recently, as they have gone back through the past four drafts of every team, evaluating their first- and second-round picks to see where they are at this point in their careers. As you might imagine, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ evaluations…could be better.
First up is Bud Dupree, the 2015 first-round outside linebacker. “Dupree has struggled to generate pressure consistently for the Steelers, with his 46 total pressures in 2018 a career high”, the article reads. “Coming on 468 pass-rushing snaps that’s not terrible, it’s just not the level of production you would hope from a first-round draft pick”. Of course there was nothing to say of Senquez Golson, who never dressed for a game.
After promising starts in 2016, Artie Burns and Sean Davis haven’t been the difference-makers in the secondary the Steelers were counting on. “Burns has been up and down in his time in Pittsburgh, coming away with four interceptions and 19 pass breakups but also allowing 13 touchdowns on 1,357 snaps in coverage over the past three seasons”, the article states on Burns. The news was more positive on Davis.
“Davis is coming off the best season of his career, producing career highs in PFF coverage and run-defense grades”, it says. “He’s already cleaned up his tackling, reducing his missed tackles from 18 in 2017 to 12 in 2018, but this is an area where he could still stand to improve”.
Of course there was the very, very bright spot of the 2017 NFL Draft, which landed them two Pro Bowlers in the first two rounds in outside linebacker T.J. Watt and wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“Watt hasn’t quite put it all together consistently yet, but he has shown some dominant flashes with big performances”, it reads on Watt. On the latter: “Smith-Schuster has proven to be a big-play threat and a consistent pass catcher for the Steelers, dropping just eight of the 177 catchable targets thrown his way over the past two seasons”.
That’s all well and good, but you have to consistently draft quality players at the top of the draft. The jury is still out on 2018. On first-round safety Terrell Edmunds, the article reads that he “delivered some solid performances in the second half of the season, finishing the year tied for 25th among safeties with 19 tackles resulting in a defensive stop”.
James Washington obviously did not have the rookie season that was desired, “but did show some big-play ability late in the season”, which is what he will need to continue to do in 2019. “Should the Steelers trade Antonio Brown, they’ll be looking for Washington to step up”.
Frankly I was going to offer a contrasting analysis, but I think the article did a good job of summarizing these players. Perhaps I would have been harsher on Burns, but largely I think they were on the money, so I figured to let the piece speak for itself.