There are some drafts that look fantastic on paper right after it’s over that end up being awful. Then there are drafts that look underwhelming and rise to a level higher than anticipated. For many, the 2017 draft that produced T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner in the first three rounds may be an example of the latter. For others, the 2015 draft is an example of the former.
Even with Bud Dupree being on the top of the list with the 22nd-overall pick that year, the reality is that it took him five years to post on full strong season from start to finish. Regardless of the mitigating factors involved in that delay—namely injuries—that’s what you look at when looking back at a draft. And…well, he’s the only one still on the team from that class, or at least effectively.
Recently, Pro Football Focus looked back at this five-year old draft class and ranked each team based on the results gained from their crop of rookies in the time being. They utilized WAR (Wins Over Replacement) data as the metric from which to judge, and Pittsburgh’s class came in 26th.
Bud Dupree was mostly a disappointment for the Steelers after being selected in the first round but was an integral part of their defense becoming one of the league’s best in 2019. Dupree produced 51 pressures and had his hand in 13 sacks on the year.
The biggest disappointment was second-round cornerback Senquez Golson. Though undersized, he was seen as somebody who could come in and start right away and make plays. He never even got the chance, however, because he was constantly injured. He never dressed for a single game before being released after a couple of years.
Third-round wide receiver Sammie Coates was a flash in the pan. After an uneventful rookie year, he had a strong five-game stretch to open the 2016 season, but after injuring his fingers, never regained his form. He would ultimately be traded for a seventh-round pick before the start of the 2017 season.
Doran Grant, their fourth-round corner, never contributed. Seventh-round pick Gerod Holliman didn’t make the practice squad. The others in between, however, at least contributed, and technically speaking, L.T. Walton is still with the team. On Injured reserve. He was re-signed after Stephon Tuitt was injured but was a healthy scratch.
Walton had some good reps, particularly in year two, but he was put in over his head when asked to play nose tackle, and lost his spot in year four to Daniel McCullers. The other sixth-rounder, Anthony Chickillo, has done alright for himself, all things considered.
Outside of Dupree, the most significant player from the class proved to be fifth-round tight end Jesse James, who caught 120 passes for 1189 yards and nine touchdowns in four seasons with the Steelers before signing with the Detroit Lions in free agency. His blocking also developed over time, but the Lions gave him way more than the Steelers would.