Given what they gave up to get him, the Pittsburgh Steelers understood that the success or failure of their 2019 NFL Draft class, at least in terms of outside evaluations, would be based primarily on first-round pick Devin Bush.
In an extremely rare move—one that they haven’t done since before Mike Tomlin’s time—the team traded up in the first round, going from 20 to 10, to get the inside linebacker out of Michigan, parting with their second-round pick, as well as a 2020 third-rounder.
They did, however, get extra picks in the third and fifth from the Antonio Brown trade, which is actually one of the reasons they were open to pulling the trigger on that deal. And they did get Diontae Johnson, the wide receiver out of Toledo, with the 66th-overall selection.
They added Justin Layne later in the third round, Benny Snell in the fourth, Zach Gentry in the fifth, then Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, and Ulysees Gilbert III in the sixth, rounding out with Derwin Gray in the seventh. Of the nine players, only Smith is not currently with the team, but it wouldn’t be a shock if he ends up circling back. They did already re-sign him to the practice squad once.
Layne, playing behind four other corners already, was relegated to special teams work, but made headway. Snell flashed, as did Buggs a bit, and Gilbert was core special teamer until he was injured. All in all, topped by Bush and Johnson, it wasn’t a bad rookie crop at all.
“I think we’ve got a really good group with my class”, said the head of it, Bush, to Missi Matthews. “Diontae is turning into a superstar overnight, and Benny Snell is opposing his will on whoever steps in front of him. I think he’s taken that face of that Pittsburgh physical runner, that fall-forward type of guy who can move the chains. So we’ve got a nice rotation of young guys and I think those two guys are gonna be really, really good”.
Johnson ended up playing a bigger role than anticipated, and led the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns. Snell ended up as the lead back for several games, while Buggs contributed rotationally late in the year. As mentioned, some others were special teams contributors, but they can be poised for bigger roles in 2020, or in the near future.
“We talked about it since the day that we met”, he said of his fellow draft class mates in their belief that they can be a great class. “We knew each other coming out, out of college. Just being able to see how those guys operate, how they play, and the type of players that they can be in the NFL, it’s exciting”.
Bush and Johnson certainly are guaranteed to have starting roles. Layne could definitely work his way into the defense next season. Snell will at least rotate, and it’s not unrealistic to see a path for him to start. Gentry, Buggs, Gilbert, and perhaps even Gray could all potentially be contributors as well, depending on how things play out.