Now that nobody has anything newsworthy to write about over the course of the next month or so, every outlet is turning to its retrospective content. The latest piece churned out through the league’s own website is a post-season evaluation of each team’s rookie draft class, with Nick Shook behind the keyboard on this one.
He did favor the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class well enough, giving them a B+. That was the highest grade in the division, with the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns both getting a B and the Cincinnati Bengals (whose first-round pick was injured) receiving a C+. He writes:
The Steelers’ trade up to select Bush was worth it, proven by his fine rookie play. Bush recorded 109 tackles, four passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He’s a stud. A+ for that. The third round provided some value to Pittsburgh in the form of Johnson, who saw additional playing time due to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury issues and caught 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes a bigger leap in his second season with Ben Roethlisberger back under center. Layne projected to perhaps answer the Steelers’ long-running question at cornerback, but he didn’t play a defensive snap in 2019, spending his entire time on special teams. Snell, however, flirted with a 4-yards-per-carry average on his 108 attempts, gaining 426 yards and making two trips to the end zone. He’s a worthy backup to James Conner. Gentry saw very little action and caught just one pass in 2019. Smith is now with the Seahawks. Buggs made an occasional rotational contribution, and Gilbert spent his season on special teams. Gray spent 2019 on the practice squad and was signed to a futures contract. The undrafted Hodges initially arose from afterthought who’d beaten out Joshua Dobbs for a roster spot to the symbol of hope for Pittsburgh, though his struggles down the stretch contributed to the Steelers missing the playoffs for a second straight season.
Needless to say, there are problems here, as there pretty much always is when you’re talking about a national media person trying to put the microscope onto all 32 teams simultaneously. For starters, Devlin Hodges was released, and only re-signed after the Steelers got a fifth-round pick for Joshua Dobbs. If they could have gotten a seventh-rounder for Hodges, they would have traded him in the preseason.
Each team also gets a free agency and draft focus, and Shook suggested that the Steelers’ top pick could be used on a quarterback. That’s not going to happen unless Tua drops. He wrote that “Rudolph proved he can’t be relied on”, but the Steelers already made it quite clear that he is the backup. He suggested they may use another high pick on a cornerback as well, though that is more realistic, especially with Cameron Sutton going into his final year on his contract.