How much and how many will the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 draft class contribute in their rookie seasons? It’s obvious hard to say for sure as we sit here a few weeks ahead of the start of the team’s annual training camp but that disclaimer aside, a look back over time shows that not many of the six players selected this year are destined to see the field for more than 20 percent of all offensive or defensive snaps played the entire regular season.
Dating back to 2007, the first year in Pittsburgh for Mike Tomlin as the Steelers head coach, only 26 of 107 total draft picks have managed to log at least 20 percent of all total offensive or defensive snaps played by the team during a rookie regular season. And of those 26 players, 21 of them were selected within the first three rounds of their respective drafts.
Of those same 26 players, just 13 managed to wind up playing 50 percent or more of all offensive or defensive snaps played in their rookie seasons with seven of those players being first-round selections.
Last season, the Steelers had two members of their 2019 draft class, inside linebacker Devin Bush and wide receiver Diontae Johnson, both play more than 50 percent of all snaps on their respective sides of the football. Bush accomplishing that feat was expected. Johnson, however, was not as poor early season performances by wide receiver Donte Moncrief and a mid-season multi-game injury suffered by wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster helped facilitate Johnson to play 65.4% of all offensive snaps in his 2019 rookie season.
Not surprisingly, injuries have played a major part in several of 26 players playing more than 20 percent of all snaps in their rookie seasons and especially when it comes to those drafted outside of the first three rounds. In 2011, then-rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert wound up playing 76.7% of all offseason snaps that season due to starting tackle Willie Colon suffering a serious injury in Week 1. In 2012, an early season injury suffered by Gilbert resulted in then-rookie tackle Mike Adams playing a lot more than originally expected. Another offensive lineman, Kelvin Beachum, managed to crack the 20 percent mark during his 2012 rookie season due to injuries sustained by both Gilbert and Adams.
Two of the other 26 players that made the 20 percent snaps played in their rookie season cut, inside linebacker Vince Williams and running back Jaylen Samuels, both did so only because of injuries suffered by players ahead of them on the depth chart.
Of the Steelers six 2020 draft picks, just their first four selections, wide receiver Chase Claypool, outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, running back Anthony McFarland Jr. and guard Kevin Dotson have shots at cracking the 20 percent snaps played mark in 2020. Even so, the last three in that group, Highsmith, McFarland and Dotson, are all likely to need significant injuries to occur to players ahead of them on their respective depth charts to hit that percentage of snaps played. With Dotson being a guard, he probably has the best shot of those three players to wind up playing the most snaps as a rookie and only due to injuries.
That leaves Claypool, who likely won’t need an injury to occur to see some sort of per-game offensive snap time right of the chute. Depending on how quickly he progresses, Claypool could see situational offensive snaps as early as week 1 and especially inside the red zone. Those situational snaps, however, might not be enough for him to hit 20 percent of the total offensive snaps during his rookie season. In short, he’ll likely need an injury to occur to a player or players ahead of him on the wide receiver depth to hit the 20 percent threshold.
Claypool also has the current NFL climate working against him during his rookie season as no minicamps or OTA sessions this spring and summer due to the coronavirus pandemic won’t help in his early-season development as an offensive contributor. In short, Claypool will need to be a quick learner during training camp to have a chance at seeing more than just a handful of offensive snaps per game.
Steelers Draft Picks With At Least 20 Percent Snaps Played As Rookies (2007-2019 Per PFF & SD
|2019||1||Devin Bush Jr.||ILB||889||82.0%|