To the best of my knowledge, the Pittsburgh Steelers have never had an entire draft class make their 53-man roster. Even this year, in a six-man class, sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks failed to make the cut, even if he is on the practice squad. It’s generally a tough thing to do, and happens somewhat rarely throughout the NFL—especially on clubs with better rosters.
The Steelers did come close even last year, however, when they drafted nine players. Seven of them made the 53-man roster in 2019, and are still on the 53-man roster today, with an eighth—seventh-round pick Derwin Gray—on the practice squad. Sutton Smith, a sixth-rounder, also spent some time on the practice squad last year, but is the only one of the nine no longer a part of the organization.
Two are already starters in Devin Bush and Diontae Johnson. Others are emerging into larger roles, such as Benny Snell and Zach Gentry and Ulysees Gilbert III. All of them who remain, however, have greater expectations placed on them this year.
Earlier today, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if Johnson looks as though he is ready to make that second-year jump. He responded in the affirmative, but also said that it applies to the entirety of that second-year group, which is welcome news, but also shouldn’t be a surprise, considering the seven who were on the 53 last year still are.
“He does, and so does Benny Snell, and a lot of our other second-year players”, he said. “We’re excited about the growth and development of second-year players. We’re excited about challenging them to take a significant step in their game. The same could be said for Justin Layne and Isaiah Buggs and others. It’s reasonable to expect those guys to raise their level of play”.
Buggs looks as though he may be the team’s fifth defensive lineman this year after Daniel McCullers was released to make room for rookie Carlos Davis, and that he will have a role as a versatile reserve who will take some snaps at nose tackle. At least, that’s what logic and the depth chart would indicate.
As for Gilbert, he was fifth on the depth chart during his rookie season, but after the departures of Mark Barron and Tyler Matakevich, he is now third, the top backup, and may even have a defensive role in sub-packages for passing situations, though that is yet to be determined.
And it’s good to hear even an indication that Layne has done well, because we’ve heard virtually nothing about him throughout training camp after he was removed from the reserve/Covid-19 list. When I mentioned this earlier in training camp, people were already writing the second-year former third-round pick off as a bust and another failed Tomlin cornerback.
Gentry probably has the least pressure on him after the Steelers signed Eric Ebron in free agency to pair with Vance McDonald. He spent most of his rookie year as a healthy scratch. With more gameday helmets this year, maybe that changes, maybe it doesn’t, but he’s still not likely to see much playing time barring injury.