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ESPN Ranks Steelers’ Rookie Class 18th

While Pro Football Focus is going back and examining the 2015 NFL Draft class, others are content to look back at the most recent rookie class—even while, for some, their rookie season isn’t even over yet, with one game left to play this weekend.

This past week, ESPN took a crack at judging the 2019 NFL Draft class, ranking them by team, and they placed the Steelers 18th. Consisting of Devin Bush at the top of the draft, for whom they traded up, giving away their second-rounder, the rookies did have their impact this year, though it ultimately amounted to no better than a record of 8-8.

Following Bush was wide receiver Diontae Johnson in the third round, and later cornerback Justin Layne. Johnson led the team with 59 receptions and five touchdowns, and also had 680 receiving yards, plus a punt return touchdown. He did earn second-team All-Pro honors as a returner.

Between the fourth and fifth rounds, they drafted running back Benny Snell, who went on to play a significant role, and tight end Zach Gentry, who spent the vast majority of the season inactive. With injuries at running back, Snell had to step up several games, and was able to shoulder the load with promise of better in the future.

The class was rounded out by a series of late-round additions. Sutton Smith is no longer here, while Derwin Gray was on the practice squad. Ulysees Gilbert III was a prominent special teamer before he was injured, but Isaiah Buggs, was a sparingly-used contributor along the defensive line after Stephon Tuitt was injured. Yet it was the undrafted Devlin Hodges that helped boost their rookie class.

In the ‘why they’re ranked here’ section of the article, it reads: “The Devlin Hodges experiment was fun while it lasted, but in the end, he looked like an undrafted quarterback out of the FCS”. He goes on, “Linebacker Devin Bush and wide receiver Diontae Johnson both look to have star potential, but they each have areas of their game to clean up in 2020”.

At the very least, both project as starters next season. One can only hope that they make the sort of second-year jump that we saw out of the Steelers’ 2017 class, when T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner all made the Pro Bowl.

On Bush, it’s written that his biggest strength “was his ability to get sideline to sideline and cover. That shone through in man coverage”, but added that “he struggled adjusting to complex NFL zone schemes”, noting significant discrepancies in his performance in either area.

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