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Steelers Seeing Earlier Returns From Rookie Draft Class Than Many Anticipated

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2020 season viewed as one of the most stable teams in the league, ranked by the consistency of personnel in their starting lineup, and the carryover from snaps played in 2019 to those who are returning to their teams for this season—especially when you factor in Ben Roethlisberger and the hundreds and hundreds of snaps he ordinarily would have played.

It was in light of that, and the fact that they did not have a first-round draft pick, that it wasn’t generally anticipated the Steelers would receive a particularly robust level of production, let alone playing time, from their rookie draft class in 2020.

Add in the fact that they only had six draft picks in total, only one in the top 100 selections, and then a nearly non-existent offseason, into a stable roster, and you have a recipe for boredom in a rookie class that should be spending its time sitting on the bench in observation mode.

That hasn’t been the case so far during the first three games of the 2020 season, though that has been based partly on circumstance. The rookie with the second-most snaps played, for example, is Kevin Dotson, who started in week two, but there is a reasonable chance he doesn’t play another snap this season.

Nevertheless, his contributions against the Denver Broncos were significant, providing a quality start at right guard while the Steelers were down David DeCastro, and his backup, Stefen Wisniewski, was also injured. It was a bright sign for his future, even if it doesn’t promise immediate rewards.

The other three rookie contributors have simply been a part of the game plan. Most notable has been Chase Claypool, the second-round wide receiver who has six catches on nine targets for 151 yards and a touchdown, plus an eight-yard run, and a handful of special teams tackles. Claypool has picked up 104 offensive snaps so far, and another 37 on special teams. If Diontae Johnson misses time due to his concussion, he will have an even bigger role.

Alex Highsmith, their third-round pick, has been in the rotation at outside linebacker from the get go, averaging about 10 snaps per game thus far behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. He has registered two tackles so far, including one for a loss on Sunday. He has also seen 61 snaps on special teams.

The latest rookie to be introduced is fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, who saw 10 snaps on Sunday, including seven touches. He rushed six times for 42 yards, including a 20-yard run, plus a seven-yard reception. Mike Tomlin has already indicated that he will play more from here on out.

Not to be left out is James Pierre, the undrafted free agent cornerback who has dressed for all three games, and has seen 26 snaps on special teams, about a third of the total. Seventh-round defensive lineman Carlos Davis figures to be a healthy scratch for the year barring injury, however, while sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks will likely be stuck on the practice squad all season.

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