The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Will the 2019 draft class have a bigger impact on the upcoming season than the 2018 class?
While it’s far from hard to find, the Steelers and Head Coach Mike Tomlin in particular really like to beat home the idea that the largest jump a player is most likely to ever make in his career comes from between his first season and his second. Whenever the draft rolls around and he starts getting questions about immediate impact, he instead talks about the second-year players.
That’s not always the case, of course. The 2017 draft class wielded two rookie starters, the 2016 class three. 2018 saw two as well, sort of, though James Washington wasn’t very productive. This year, there are no guarantees that anybody will start, but we could potentially see at least two.
The first is obviously first-round pick Devin Bush, who will challenge free agent signing Mark Barron to start at the Mack linebacker position. Last year’s first-round pick, Terrell Edmunds, started 15 games and played in 16, but didn’t often rise above the level of merely competent.
It’s reasonable to believe that Bush can have a bigger impact on the 2019 season than Edmunds will. But will third-round pick DIontae Johnson have a bigger role than Washington? Will Isaiah Buggs get more opportunities than Marcus Allen? Can Benny Snell earn more snaps than Jaylen Samuels? And don’t forget that Chukwuma Okorafor could land a starting job.
Special teams is a big part of the equation as well, and in that aspect the 2019 class may well have the edge with players like Bush, Johnson, Justin Layne, Sutton Smith, and Ulysees Gilbert III.
Either way, both of those draft classes should put their imprint on the 2019 season, and will hopefully contribute to them being a deeper, more well-balanced team than they have been in the recent past.