We talk a lot about how the Pittsburgh Steelers first two selections have to find the field right away. That’s why best player available is an oversimplification. It’s not true. It’s a mixture. Where value and need intersect the best and that’s why the Steelers selected a safety in the first round last year, not a defensive end.
But we’ve always spoken about it abstractly. Never put it to the test. So let’s change that. Going back since 2013, I compiled the snap percentage totals, thanks to Football Outsiders for the data, of the Steelers’ 1st through 3rd round picks to see how much they really played in year one.
1st Round – Jarvis Jones: 59%
2nd Round – Le’Veon Bell: 64.4%
3rd Round – Markus Wheaton: 15.1%
1st Round – Ryan Shazier: 26.1%
2nd Round – Stephon Tuitt: 40.2%
3rd Round – Dri Archer: 4.5%
1st Round – Bud Dupree: 50.8%
2nd Round – Senquez Golson: 0% (INJ)
3rd Round – Sammie Coates: 3.2%
1st Round – Artie Burns: 77.4%
2nd Round – Sean Davis: 70.7%
3rd Round – Javon Hargrave: 47%
1st Round – T.J. Watt: 76.4%
2nd Round – JuJu Smith-Schuster: 63.8%
3rd Round – Cam Sutton: 11.5%
3rd Round – James Conner: 6.1%
1st Round – Terrell Edmunds: 92.5%
2nd Round – James Washington: 47.1%
3rd Round – Mason Rudolph: 0%
3rd Round – Chukwuma Okorafor: 13.9%
Here’s the final data.
1st Round Rookie Snap Percentage: 63.7%
2nd Round Rookie Snap Percentage: 57.3%
3rd Round Rookie Snap Percentage: 12.7%
That first round even includes Ryan Shazier’s injury-shortened season, playing just nine games. Remove him and that number jumps to 71.2%. To be clear, I did remove Senquez Golson’s completely missed rookie season from the list but even if you kept him in, it’s still 47.7%.
The drop off from rounds one and two to three couldn’t be any clearer. First and second round picks are expected to play – a lot – while the third rounders don’t carry that demand. They can be used as backups, insurance policies, and developmental prospects with a higher expectation to play in year two. That’s proven in the Year Two snap count of the 3rd round picks. Obviously excluding Mason Rudolph and Chukwuma Okorafor here, though we know Rudolph will have a real shot to be the #2 while Okorafor battles for the starting RT gig.
3rd Round Rookie Snap Percentage (Year Two): 38.3%
So that year two percentage jumps more than 20 points, even including Dri Archer’s pitiful three sophomore snaps.
You might say by the third round, the Steelers drafted positions that weren’t expected to play a lot. Look no further than Rudolph and James Conner, but that’s kinda the point here. It’s why we look at the rounds in the scope that we do. Once you hit the third round, you’re looking for development, not immediate starters. And that’s a good thing because there usually aren’t many available.