The Pittsburgh Steelers have been fortunate to get some solid production out of their rookie classes in recent years. Even back to 2015, Bud Dupree proved to be a quality rotational player, though they didn’t get much else out of that group. In 2016, they had three rookies emerge as starters on defense with Artie Burns, Sean Davis, and Javon Hargrave. T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster happened in 2017.
As for the 2018 season, Terrell Edmunds wasn’t splashy, but he started 15 games and generally didn’t mess too many things up. That’s always a plus. James Washington underwhelmed, of course, and Mason Rudolph was redshirted, but Chukwuma Okorafor got some work, and Jaylen Samuels was productive.
In 2019, their top two picks have been more akin to 2017. Devin Bush is the first-round linebacker, with Diontae Johnson (basically) the second-round wide receiver. Johnson and Smith-Schuster were only selected four picks apart, 66 versus 62. Bush, of course, was drafted much higher than was Watt.
But they both ended up in the starting lineup, with Bush leading the team in tackles and tying for the most takeaways. Johnson ended up recording the most receptions and receiving touchdowns, also emerging as their punt returner. Benny Snell also found success as a running back.
This was enough to anoint the Steelers’ 2019 NFL Draft class as the fifth-best in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, who graded their class behind only the Tennessee Titans, the San Francisco 49ers, the New Orleans Saints, and the Kansas City Chiefs. Michael Renner wrote:
After struggling out the gate, Devin Bush looked like a difference-maker in the Steelers’ defense. From Week 4 on, Bush earned a 76.1 grade in coverage, including a 91.4 grade when playing specifically man coverage. His freakish athleticism and movement skills are closer to that of a safety than most linebackers, and he looks like he’ll be leading that defense for years to come.
Diontae Johnson similarly had struggles and made mistakes of his own, but once again, you could see the raw talent more as the season wore on. The third-round pick finished the regular season tied for the league lead with 18 broken tackles on only 59 receptions, and he only dropped three passes on the season.
The site was high on both of these picks, as I recall, not just for the players but for the players’ fits in Pittsburgh, and so far, their pre-draft and immediate post-draft analysis seems to be corresponding with what they have seen. It corresponds with what we’ve seen, as well. Both had quality rookie seasons that promise better things to come.