Tis the season for inconsequential lists and evaluations. We all mock it, yet we all participate in it, whether it’s creating the lists ourselves or discussing them. Or in my case, aggregating them. But that’s part of what we do as a Pittsburgh Steelers blog, passing along a significant amount of team-related data (with some degree of selectivity) and allowing you to pick and choose what you want to engage with. If you’re not interested in this, you can feel free to click the back button right now.
One of the more recent lists of the 2020 offseason is from NFL.com, ranking all of the rookie classes from all 32 teams. They had previously individually graded every rookie class, sorting them out by division, and have now put them into a league-wide ranking.
With a grade of a B+, they ranked the Steelers’ rookie class 10th in the league for 2019. The class was, of course, headed by first-round pick Devin Bush, a player for whom, for the first time in their history, they traded up in the top 10 to go and get, a day-one starter at inside linebacker out of Michigan.
Bush recorded 109 tackles as a rookie, the first player to do that in team history. He also recorded two interceptions and forced one fumble while recovering four, returning one of those four for a touchdown. Just 21 years old, he is expected to take a major step forward next season.
The other big contributor from the rookie class was 66th-overall pick Diontae Johnson at wide receiver, who would lead the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns, with 59 and five, respectively. He also had 680 receiving yards, as well as a punt return touchdown, and did not have the benefit of Ben Roethlisberger throwing to him.
The rest of the class was rounded out by third-round cornerback Justin Layne, who earned a special teams role; fourth-round running back Benny Snell, who had his moments; fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry, who pretty much redshirted; sixth-rounders Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, and Ulysees Gilbert III, none of whom contributed significantly (Smith did not make the team), and seventh-round lineman Derwin Gray, who was on the practice squad.
NFL.com had a higher opinion of the Steelers’ rookie class than did ESPN, who a few weeks ago ranked them 18th in the league. But frankly, a rookie class’ immediate impact is significantly less important than its long-term one, so it’s not as though we can properly evaluate how good the 2019 draft class was for any team at this point in time. We can only judge how quickly they were able to make an impact.