With the 2019 NFL Draft now approaching—and having completed our exit meeting series—it’s time to take the next week or two to place our focus specifically on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class of 2018, including some notable college free agents, and how they fared during their rookie season, as well as expectations for their future.
The Steelers were coming off a strong draft from the year before, which netted them Pro Bowlers in each of the first three rounds in outside linebacker T.J. Watt, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and running back James Conner. I don’t think we should get our hopes up for a similar breakout among the 2018 class, but it’s not every year you draft three starters to begin with.
The Steelers had eight selections in the draft heading into day one, including some wheeling and dealing, involving trades of players that involved swapping mid- and late-round picks. They ended up trading an extra sixth-round pick in order to move up in the third round, so they finished making seven draft selections.
The first of those was used on safety Terrell Edmunds with the 28th-overall pick in the first round. The selection was pretty heavily panned at the beginning, regarded as a reach—some claiming that he was a third-round value at best.
When all is said and done, however, what he does will be much more important than where he was drafted. As a rookie, he started 15 games and logged as many snaps as anyone other than Sean Davis. He was slow to read and react earlier in the season but improved as the year wore on, registering an interception and a sack along the way.
Their second-round pick was prompted by their decision to trade Martavis Bryant for a third-round pick, using their second selection on wide receiver James Washington. He contributed little early on despite the fact that he was given a good amount of playing time. Part of that was a bad connection with Ben Roethlisberger. But he made a few plays late in the season as he heads into a year in which he’s expected to have a bigger role—potentially much bigger.
The trade came with the first of their two third-round picks, moving up a few spots to take Washington’s college quarterback, Mason Rudolph. They graded him as a first-round talent and see him as a potential candidate to succeed Roethlisberger, so that’s why they chose to make the move there.
Their second of two third-round picks was arguably their second-most-criticized, drafting a tackle most had never heard of in Chukwuma Okorafor. But he could be the starting right tackle in 2019 and do a good job.
Having no picks in the fourth round because they swapped their fourth for the San Francisco 49ers’ fifth in the Vance McDonald trade, Pittsburgh drafted two players in the fifth round, first safety Marcus Allen and then running back Jaylen Samuels.
Allen spent most of the year inactive but did play against the Chargers as the dimebacker, having mixed results. With Morgan Burnett set to depart, he could have a bigger role as the third safety this year. As for Samuels, he started three games late in the season due to injury and flashed potential, so he’ll be the backup in 2019 as more of a passing-game option.
Their final pick, after trading out of the sixth round, was Joshua Frazier, the defensive tackle, in the seventh. He’s the only pick who didn’t make the roster and is no longer with the team. He is, in fact, on the Birmingham Iron, along with Casey Sayles and Jamar Summers, among others. He was beat out by veteran Daniel McCullers, who was re-signed to a two-year contract this spring.