In almost every single one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft classes going back to at least the start of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach, there has consistently been at least one draft pick from whom the team has moved on immediately, never even signing him to the practice squad.
The latest, or so it appears, is Sutton Smith, the first of three sixth-round picks and the one people were most excited about after the draft. The rookie outside linebacker missed half of the preseason, and in his stead emerged undrafted free agent rookie Tuzar Skipper. So while they ‘missed’ on a sixth-round pick, they found a player at the same position as an undrafted free agent whom they liked more. And there often isn’t a big difference between a sixth-round pick and an undrafted player.
With Smith clearing waivers and currently on the open market, having not been re-signed to the practice squad, he becomes the third late-round pick to be released outright without being brought back in any capacity. And it has happened almost every other year, as well.
In 2018, it was Joshua Frazier, the seventh-round defensive tackle out of Alabama, who was instructed by Karl Dunbar, the Steelers’ new defensive line coach. It was assumed he would be a shoe-in to unseat Daniel McCullers, but not only did McCullers step up, Frazier looked entirely unremarkable. In the end, he barely got on the field even in the AAF, and has retired.
The 2017 NFL Draft saw the team take long snapper Colin Holba in the sixth round with the knowledge that Greg Warren would be retiring. He lost out to Kameron Canaday in the preseason, but he did eventually find a home and is currently with the San Francisco 49ers.
2016 was a rare exception, with Travis Feeney at least spending time on the practice squad. The only other year it happened that every draft pick remained with the team in some capacity beyond the preseason was in 2014, with Shaquille Richardson, Jordan Zumwalt, and Rob Blanchflower all at least seeing some time on the injured list or the practice squad.
But in 2015, there was Gerod Holliman, the college ballhawking safety in the seventh round who couldn’t tackle. In 2015, it was cornerback Terry Hawthorne, a fifth-round pick. 2012 seventh-round cornerback Terrence Frederick has actually had among the most successful career of all these names, sticking in the league a few years, and has been in the CFL going on four seasons now.
Then there was a whole period littered with offensive linemen they parted with. It was Keith Williams in 2011, Chris Scott in 2010, and A.Q. Shipley in 2009. Scott and Shipley both went on to have success in the league. Joining Scott in 2010 was defensive lineman Doug Worthington, who did spend some time in the league up to 2015, registering three tackles.
And lest we forget, there were Mike Humpal and Cameron Stephenson in Tomlin’s first two seasons. Technically, Humpal reverted to the Steelers’ injured reserve list when he was waived injured, but Stephenson was cut outright. He would kick around practice squads for a few years before moving on to the UFL and then the Arena League.