The Pittsburgh Steelers are now into the offseason, following a year in which they had high hopes for Super Bowl success, but ultimately fell short of even reaching the postseason at 8-8. It was a tumultuous season, both on the field and within the roster, and the months to follow figure to have some drama as well, especially in light of the team’s failure to improve upon the year before.
The team made some bold moves over the course of the past year, and some areas of the roster look quite a bit different than they did a year ago, or even at the start of the regular season. Whether due to injuries or otherwise, a lot has transpired, and we’re left to wonder how much more will change prior to September.
How will Ben Roethlisberger’s rehab progress as he winds toward recovery from an elbow injury that cost him almost the entire season? What about some of the key young players, some of whom have already impressed, others still needing quite a bit of growth? Will there be changes to the coaching staff? The front office? Who will they not retain in free agency, and whom might they bring in?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: How much will this draft class help in 2020?
It’s become a trend in recent years for the Steelers to get their rookies on the field sooner rather than later. With a limited offseason and no first-round pick, however, that’s a much bigger ask than usual for Pittsburgh. Add in the fact that they already have a strong starting lineup on both sides of the ball, and opportunities to contribute can be limited.
I do think the Steelers’ first three draft picks will contribute. Chase Claypool will catch some balls. Alex Highsmith will chase some quarterbacks. Anthony McFarland will run the ball some. Beyond that, nobody else is guaranteed to see the field on offense or defense—possibly even to make the 53-man roster.
Even those who do get on the field will have limited opportunities. Claypool checks in behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Diontae Johnson. McFarland enters with James Conner the lead back, supplemented by Jaylen Samuels and Benny Snell. Highsmith is playing behind two double-digit-sack rushers who played about 90 percent of the snaps last year.
I wouldn’t expecting any 500-yard seasons from either of the offensive skill position players. Highsmith would be lucky to get a couple of sacks, I would expect. Those guys will be more likely to make bigger contributions on special teams.
Players can always, of course, force their way onto the field by practicing and playing well. It’s not impossible that Claypool ends up in the top three receivers, or McFarland the number two back, for example.