The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 53-man roster this year included a number of decisions that seemed more likely than not to have been the ones they would make from the outside looking in. One of those moves was the decision to keep rookie undrafted free agent cornerback James Pierre out of Florida Atlantic as the sixth on the depth chart.
That’s not necessarily because of him, even though the team’s other cornerback signed as an undrafted rookie, Trajan Bandy, entered the process with a lot more enthusiasm for his chance behind him. No, it was because of the unique circumstances in which he entered. Let’s recap what this offseason was like for undrafted rookies.
For starters, players who are likely to go undrafted are less likely to be invited to the NFL Scouting Combine. On top of that, barely any schools successfully managed to have a Pro Day. This means a lot of players had no offseason measurements. Pierre, at least was able to attend the Combine.
All of that is before the draft. Pierre didn’t go to a major school, and he was an underclassman to boot, so teams really had to be interested in his tape to look his way, especially since he didn’t exactly tear things up with the Combine work he did do.
Then after the Steelers agreed to sign him, he followed that up by having no rookie minicamp, no OTAs, and no mandatory minicamp. He was unable to see any of his coaches face to face until he reported to training camp at the end of July.
And this was no ordinary training camp. Like everybody else, he ran the risk of catching Covid-19. If he had been infected, he likely would have been waived like Arrion Springs. A player in his position cannot afford to miss time when there is so little of it.
What followed was a gradual buildup. Real practices did not even start until August 12, and pads didn’t come on until several days later. All he had were this practices in Heinz Field to impress his coaches. Most damning of all is the fact that he didn’t have any preseason games to show off in.
And there wasn’t much opportunity to attract a positive buzz, either. There were a limited amount of reporters allowed to attend practice, which means there was less likelihood that coaches and players would be asked about him.
The long and short of it is that it’s pretty remarkable in this climate for any rookie undrafted free agent to make a team, and the fact that one did it with the Steelers is noteworthy, as lately they haven’t had a lot come through successfully, last year being a bit of an exception.
The only explanation is that he had himself a damn good training camp and really opened some eyes. The only thing we could gather was pictures from training camp, with Dave Bryan noting that he often seemed to manage to have the ball. Now, he’s probably in for a redshirt season, but his foot is in the door, and sometimes that’s all you need.