Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: End Of Year Rookie Review

Justin Layne

Top 3 Rookie Draft Picks

It’s a Sunday with no Pittsburgh Steelers football today. Appropriate time to update the review of the Steelers top three picks from the 2019 draft. The midseason review gauged the progress of Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, and Justin Layne against their counterparts in the draft.

Here is the link to the midseason rookie tale of the tape if you want to compare the statistical change from the season’s midpoint.

Here is how the Steelers first three 2019 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after one regular season of play:



Name G Snaps Snap% INTs PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH
Devin Bush 16 892 82 2 4 1 4 1 109 9/2
Devin White 13 826 73 1 3 3 4 2.5 91 4/5
Josh Allen 16 634 60 0 0 2 0 10.5 44 11/22
Rashan Gary 16 244 24 0 0 0 1 2 21 3/3
Jahlani Tavai 15 597 52 1 2 1 0 2 57 5/3
Ben Banogu 16 271 26 0 1 1 0 2.5 11 3/5
Mack Wilson 16 944 88 1 7 1 0 1 81 4/2

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference


Synopsis of each player through preseason:

Devin Bush (1st/10th overall) Devin Bush put together a fine rookie campaign. His six takeaways led this linebacker group. However, all six were in the first half of the season. He did lead this group in tackles with 109. If Bush had continued the pace he set in the first half, he would be a shoo-in for defensive rookie of the year. Regardless, his strong season bodes well for next season.

Devin White (1st/5th overall) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker came on extraordinarily strong after missing three games due to a knee injury. He scored two defensive touchdowns and recorded 91 tackles second to Bush. White is disruptive as evinced by his interception, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Josh Allen (1st/7th overall) The Jacksonville Jaguars have a legitimate contender for rookie of the year. Josh Allen sacked quarterbacks 10.5 times. His 44 total tackles included 11 for a loss. He also hit the quarterback 22 times. His 10.5 sacks and 22 quarterback hits are way ahead of the other LB’s in this group. Allen compares favorably to San Francisco 49ers rookie of the year candidate Nick Bosa. One significant difference is Bosa is playing in the playoffs while Allen will be watching from home.

Rashan Gary (1st/12th overall) The Green Bay Packer played in all 16 of their games but only 24% of their defensive snaps. However, he has an opportunity to showcase his talent in the playoffs. He wore a brace all season to protect his labrum that he tore during his senior year at Michigan. For a top 12 pick, I expect the Packers are looking for more production.

Jahlani Tavai (2nd/43rd overall) Tavai played half of the Detroit Lions defensive snaps in 15 games. He recorded a sack in his first game and intercepted a pass in week 15. He finished the season with 57 tackles including five for a loss and three quarterback hits. However, he hurt his shoulder and missed the last game of the season.

Ben Banogu (2nd/49th overall) The Indianapolis Colts linebacker played in all 16 games but limited to 26% of the Colts defensive snaps. He played as a defensive end or edge defender and the Colts like his ability to rush the passer.

Mack Wilson (5th/155th overall) Steelers Depot respondent Beeze requested Wilson’s inclusion. The Cleveland Browns started Wilson in every game starting in week 3. His 944 snaps and seven passes defensed led this group of linebackers. He ranks third in the group with 81 tackles and intercepted a pass.  If Wilson continues to progress and remains a regular starter, the Browns have found themselves a bargain.

Linebacker Summary

Few linebackers were selected in the first two rounds, so Devin Bush may be compared to some rookies playing on the edge. Bush remains at the top of his class. Devin White played extraordinarily strong in the second half of the season. It will be fun to see how they two stack up with one another over the next few seasons. Josh Allen is playing as a defensive lineman. He had a strong season with his 10.5 sacks and should be a candidate for rookie of the year. Mack Wilson is the bargain of this group. A productive starter selected in the fifth round.


Name G Snaps Snap% RECs Yds Y/C Y/G Catch % TDs
Diontae Johnson 16 654 66 59 680 11.5 42.5 64.1 6
Deebo Samuel 15 709 67 57 802 14.1 53.5 70.4 6
A.J. Brown 16 678 68 52 1051 20.2 65.7 61.9 9
Mecole Hardman 16 471 45 26 538 20.7 33.6 63.4 6
JJ Arcega-Whiteside 16 486 42 10 169 16.9 10.6 45.5 1
Parris Campbell 7 196 18 18 127 7.1 18.1 75.0 1
Andy Isabella 15 157 15 9 189 21.0 12.6 69.2 1
D.K. Metcalf 16 927 84 58 900 15.5 56.3 58.0 7
Jalen Hurd 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terry McLaurin 14 767 82 58 919 15.8 65.6 62.4 7
Marquise Brown 14 563 51 46 584 12.7 41.7 64.8 7

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

Synopsis of each player through preseason:

Diontae Johnson (3rd/66th overall) Diontae led this group in receptions with 59. However, his yards per reception is one of the lowest. He scored five touchdowns in the air and added a punt return score. Johnson became a regular punt returner in addition to his receiving duties in the second half of the season. He led the NFL with 12.4 yards per punt return.

Deebo Samuel (2nd/36th overall) The San Francisco 49ers used Deebo in a variety of roles. He scored three touchdowns in the air and three on the ground. He caught over 70% of passes targeted to him which is second among the group. While not tops in any one area, Samuel is near the top in snaps played, receptions, receiving yards, scoring, and receiving yards per game. Let’s see how he performs in the playoffs.

A.J. Brown (2nd/51st overall) The rookie Tennessee Titan led this receiver group with 1051 receiving yards and averaged 65.7 receiving yards per game. He scored nine touchdowns including one on the ground. His 20.2 yards a reception ranked second in the NFL. He had the third longest touchdown reception in the league at 91 yards. While Brown only caught one pass for four yards in the wild card game, the Titans are moving to the next round.

Mecole Hardman (2nd/56th overall) Hardman caught 26 passes averaging 20.7 yards per catch. He scored six receiving touchdowns which would be a score every 4.3 receptions. The Kansas City Chiefs also use him as a kick returner. He averaged 26.1 yards a return adding a seventh touchdown on a kick return. Hardman beat out Diontae Johnson as the AFC Pro Bowl return specialist. He will be in the playing in the playoffs.

JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2nd/57th overall) Arcega-Whiteside had only 22 passes targeted to him despite playing in all 16 games. He does have a foot injury but continues to be active. The Philadelphia Eagles are in the playoffs and we will see if he plays a significant role.

Parris Campbell (2nd/59th overall) Campbell appeared in seven games and caught 18 passes for 127 yards and one touchdown. However, the Colts placed him on injured reserve near the end of the season. He suffered a series of injuries including a hamstring injury in the preseason, and a hernia, broken hand, and foot in three separates games during the regular season. He caught 75% of passes targeted to him which led this receiver’s group.

Andy Isabella (2nd/62nd overall) Isabella appeared in 15 games but played just 15% of the Arizona Cardinals offensive snaps. He caught nine of 13 passes targeted to him. He did score an 88-yard touchdown in week 9 that helped bulk up his 15.6 yards after catch per reception stat. The Cardinals sixth round pick had 21 receptions.  It is too early to say the Cardinals missed on this pick. Let’s see what he does in 2020.

DK Metcalf (2nd/64th overall) Seattle Seahawks Metcalf leads the group in snaps. Also, he’s second in receptions with 58 and third in receiving yards. His seven touchdowns are among the group’s leaders.  He does have a 7.0% drop rate per target. We will see how he performs in the playoffs.

Jalen Hurd (3rd/67th overall) The 49ers Jalen Hurd is on injured reserve due to a back injury and did not play this season.

Terry McLaurin (3rd/76th overall) The Washington Redskins have found a wide receiver. McLaurin recorded three 100-yard games out of 14 played. He scored seven touchdowns. Within this group of receivers, he ranked second in receptions, receiving yards, and receiving yards per game. He did drop 4.3% of passes targeted to him.

Wide Receiver Summary

I am comparing Diontae Johnson to wide receivers selected in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. So, I do not include Marquise Brown though I did add a stat line for him. In my view, A.J. Brown ends up at the top of this heap. D.K. Metcalf and Deebo Samuel are not far behind. McLaurin who led at the midpoint faded as the season wore on but still had a strong rookie performance. Diontae Johnson is right up with the leaders but has room to improve. Perhaps a year with one quarterback will help as it will McLaurin.


Name G Snaps Snap% INTs PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH
Justin Layne 10 0 0.00 0 0 0 0 0 0 0/0
Deandre Baker 16 971 87 0 8 0 0 0 61 2/0
Byron Murphy 16 1105 98 1 10 0 0 0 78 3/0
Rock Ya-Sin 15 852 82 1 5 0 1 0 61 2/0
Sean Murphy-Bunting 16 686 61 3 8 1 0 1 43 1/0
Trayvon Mullen 16 678 65 1 10 0 0 0 48 0/0
Joejuan Williams 9 80 8 0 1 0 0 0 4 0/0
Greedy Williams 12 686 64 0 2 0 0 0 47 2/0
Lonnie Johnson 14 530 49 0 7 0 0 0 38 0/0
David Long 14 67 6 0 1 1 0 0 12 2/0
Jamel Dean 13 370 33 2 17 0 0 0 21 1/0

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

Synopsis of each player through preseason:

Justin Layne (3rd/83rd overall) The Steelers did not play Layne in a single defensive snap. He did play 91 special team snaps in his ten appearances. Artie Burns was the back-up cornerback that received defensive snaps when injury or other circumstances necessitated the move. However, Mike Tomlin activated Layne was over Burns in the latter half of the season. We will have to wait the next season or two to see if Layne measures up to his contemporaries all of whom got a head start on him.

Deandre Baker (1st/30th overall) Baker started 15 of 16 games and played in 87% of the New York Giants defensive snaps. He has had an uneven season getting beat on several passes that have gone for touchdowns. Baker did defense eight passes while quarterbacks targeted him 87 times. He allowed 54 completions for a 62.1 completion percentage. Quarterbacks received a 116.5 quarterback rating when throwing in his direction.

Byron Murphy (2nd/33rd overall) Byron Murphy was a starter out of the gate and ended up starting all 16 Arizona Cardinals games playing 98% of their defensive snaps. His ten passes defensed ties for second among the rookie cornerbacks. Murphy has 78 tackles with nine misses for a 10.3 missed tackle percentage. Opponents tested his coverage skills. Quarterbacks targeted him 112 times and he allowed 78 completions for a 69.6 completion percentage. Quarterbacks enjoyed a 110.5 quarterback rating when targeting him.

Rock Ya-Sin (2nd/34rd overall) The Colts started Rock in 13 of the 15 games he played. He played more defensive snaps than any other Colt defender this season. He made 61 tackles with just four misses for a low 6.2 missed tackle percentage. Opposing quarterbacks targeted him 66 times and he allowed 46 completions for a 69.7% completion percentage. Opposing quarterbacks averaged a 109.2 rating when targeting him so coverage is an area to work on.

Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd/39th overall) The Tampa Bay Buccaneers used Murphy-Bunting sparingly in the first half of the season. They he started the last nine games of the season. He led this group with three interceptions including a 70-yard pick-six. Passers targeted him 60 times allowing 39 completions for a 65% completion average. However, quarterbacks only earned an 86.6 quarterback rating when they threw passes his way. His missed ten tackles while recording 43 for an extremely high 18.9% missed tackle percentage. Tampa Bay must be pleased to score two defensive backs in the draft.

Trayvon Mullen (2nd/40th overall) The Oakland Raiders played Mullen in 65% of their defensive snaps. He was targeted 68 times but gave up just 38 completions for a 55.9 average. Mullen defensed ten passes and had an interception. He started the Raiders last ten games and will be a key piece of their secondary in Las Vegas.

Joejuan Williams (2nd/45th overall) The New England Patriots began using Joejuan more as their secondary became depleted. But, he only played 80 defensive and 84 special team snaps during the regular season. He may figure more into the Patriots plans in 2020.

Greedy Williams (2nd/46th overall) The Cleveland Browns got Greedy to play 12 games this season. One area he requires improvement is tackling. He had eight misses for a 14.5% missed tackle average. Greedy has a lot of talent on defense and he could be a contributor if he stays healthy.

Lonnie Johnson (3rd/54th overall) The Houston Texans rookie played about half of the defensive snaps. He started seven games, but the Texans acquired two former first round draft picks. Their reinforced secondary allows Johnson to fill in as a reserve as he learns the ropes. Johnson missed eight tackles for a high 17.4 missed tackles percentage. He defensed seven passes and made 38 tackles in 530 snaps.

David Long (3rd/79th overall) The Los Angeles Rams did not play Long much in 2019. The rookie played just 67 defensive snaps in eight games played. He did allow quarterbacks a 117.5 rating on passes targeting his receiver. Not much to report until he gets more playing time.

Jamel Dean (3rd/94th overall) Injuries hampered Dean’s progress with the Buccaneers limiting him to three defensive snaps in the first half of the season. However, he finished strong starting five of the last six games. He led all the rookies with 17 passes defensed plus two interceptions while playing one third of Tampa Bay’s defensive snaps.

Cornerback Summary

The long NFL season is a test for any rookie especially defensive backs. Sean Murphy-Bunting gets the nod as the top rookie cornerback. This is mostly due to the low quarterback rating he enforced plus three interceptions. The Cardinal’s Byron Murphy, New York Giant Deandre Baker and the Colts Rock Ya-Sin round out the top. However, Jamel Dean came on extraordinarily strong with his 17 passes defensed. Justin Layne has a long way to go to catch up with a strong group of cornerbacks.


The Steelers got significant contributions from two of their three top 2019 draft picks. A good start. Good enough for Pro Football Focus (PFF) to rank the Steelers 2019 NFL draft class as the fifth best in the league. Matt Marczi covered this Sunday morning. Still, it will take a few seasons to find out if these players continue on an upward trajectory. Here we go!

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