It’s easy to get excited about the most recent draft class. After all, they are the new faces that represent the untapped potential of the future. But the reality is that, more often than not, it is the draft class from the year before that will make the biggest contribution and show the most significant growth in bettering the team from the previous season.
We saw that in a major way for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 as they sent three of their top four picks from the 2017 NFL Draft to the Pro Bowl, those being first-round outside linebacker T.J. Watt, second-round wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and third-round running back James Conner.
The 2018 draft class will also need to come up big for the Steelers in 2019, starting with first-round safety Terrell Edmunds, who has already started 15 games in his career. But Head Coach Mike Tomlin is also excited to see where their other second-year safety, fifth-round pick Marcus Allen, can go this season.
“I feel really good about the men that we selected. I’m still not opposed to exploring guys that are currently on our roster in the expansion of roles and the development of people in that area”, he said during the team’s post-draft press conference when asked how he felt the team addressed sub-package football.
“I know that we’ve spent a lot of time grooming and talking about the development of Marcus Allen”, he continued as he singled out the Penn State product. “He’s a guy that’s going into his second year that should be able to compete for a sub-package linebacker position. So it’s not only these men, but it’s the development of the guys that are within our program that makes us feel good about the direction of that overall subject”.
That sub-package dime role was one that was in flux last season. Edmunds should have played that spot in 2018 but ended up starting with Morgan Burnett’s injuries, so Burnett was moved there, which he wasn’t happy about.
As he continued to deal with injuries, Nat Berhe was the first to replace him, but after he went on injured reserve, the coaches used cornerback Cameron Sutton to play some of that dime look as a fourth cornerback. Late in the year when both Burnett and Sutton were missing, however, Allen did play that role against the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I’m not going to paint with a broad brush at this juncture”, Tomlin said as one reporters tried to get more specific in the nuances of Allen’s potential role in 2019. “We’re gonna provide opportunities for those guys to show their position flexibility and increase their chances of impacting us”.
Allen was inactive for 14 games during his rookie year in spite of the fact that he was healthy throughout the regular season, though he did have a lot of injuries in the offseason going all the way back to rookie minicamp and through training camp as well.
The Steelers had him much higher on their board in 2018 than where they drafted him in the fifth round, which is why they took him doubling down on safety along with Edmunds. That’s part of the reason they didn’t feel the need to press in adding a safety in this draft, despite retaining only four from last season and adding none in free agency.