The 2019 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 2018 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 Matt McCrane and Trey Griffey because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft with eight selections, including two in the third round, but ended up trading out of the sixth round to move up in the third. They had two fifth-round selections and none in the fourth round, and flipped a number of picks due to multiple trades
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.
Player: Jaylen Samuels
Draft Status: 5th round (165th overall)
Jaylen Samuels was a man without a clear, defined position when the Steelers selected him with their second pick in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft. But they had a clear vision for him in mind when they brought him in, and that was to serve as a running back.
They were so impressed with his maturity, preparedness, and adjustment to learning the running back position on a full-time basis that they hired his college position coach, Eddie Faulkner, to be their new running backs coach this offseason.
Samuels wasn’t a lock to even make the 53-man roster, but he continued to impress the coaching staff with his ability to make tough catches since the spring and all the way through the preseason. Head Coach Mike Tomlin even talked about giving him some playing time with the starters in the third preseason game, though they never materialized.
Around midseason was when he started to work his way past Stevan Ridley as the number two running back on the team, and when James Conner suffered a high ankle sprain that kept him out three weeks, it was the rookie who started those games.
The highlight of his season of course was the 19-carry, 142-yard game against the New England Patriots, but he also scored three receiving touchdowns on 26 receptions for 199 yards. In all, he averaged 5.5 yards per touch on 82 touches and did surprisingly well making tacklers miss.
Samuels has consistently displayed a certain maturity, as well as confidence, in his public comments off the field, and he also seems to understand what he must do to further his career, talking about dropping some weight to pick up quickness this offseason and working on pass protection. He has the potential to solidify himself as a strong number two who actually gets playing time, particularly in the passing game, in 2019.