The 2020 NFL Draft is drawing near, which seems to be a fitting time to take a look back at the rookie seasons of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2019 NFL Draft. People start talking about the quality of a draft class before said class is even completed, of course, but now we have a year of data to work from.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an overview of the team’s rookies, as well as an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of Robert Spillane and Tevin Jones because they were first-year players, not rookies.
The Steelers went into the 2018 NFL Draft with 10 selections, including two in the third round and three in the sixth, but ended up trading their second-round pick to move up in the first round. They received additional third- and fifth-round picks for trading Antonio Brown, a sixth for Marcus Gilbert, and the other sixth was part of the Ryan Switzer trade the year before.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected by them in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors as well.
Player: Ulysees Gilbert III
Draft Status: Sixth Round (207th overall)
Starts: 0 (7 games)
It may look like Ulysees Gilbert III was a virtual non-presence for the Steelers during his rookie season in 2019, coming to the team with their third of three picks in the sixth round, which they acquired in exchange for Marcus Gilbert. It may look that way, but he has 150 hidden snaps tucked away in his special teams duties over seven games, during which he registered five tackles.
Gilbert was placed on injured reserve halfway through his rookie year due to an injury, and he missed one game due to injury before that, but up to that point, he was on pace to register over 300 snaps on special teams and double-digit tackles.
That’s definitely something that will earn you a steady helmet on Sundays. But he could be out for a bigger role in 2020. With the release of Mark Barron, there is an opening for defensive playing time as a sub-package coverage linebacker. The projected buck starter is Vince Williams, a player the team has pretty consistently taken off the field over the course of his career on obvious passing downs.
While Devin Bush will be ascending to a 1000-snap player in 2020, Gilbert could join him on the field for some of those snaps in nickel situations, either on long-distance or late-game downs while protecting leads. He showed some coverage ability during the preseason, including intercepting a pass on a two-point conversion attempt.