The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be pretty please overall with their rookie draft class so far, especially in light of the fact that they didn’t even have a first-round draft pick—though the player for whom they gave up a first-round pick does have three takeaways and a defensive touchdown so far halfway through the year.
Though their draft class was only six men strong, five of them made the 53-man roster, and for the first time ever, all six of them have played in a game, with sixth-round safety Antoine Brooks having dressed for the past two games as a practice squad standard elevation.
Of course, the top of the class has been the most significant, led by second-round wide receiver Chase Claypool, who leads the Steelers not only in receiving yardage but touchdown as well. Third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith has seen his opportunities perk up recently as well, while fourth-round guard Kevin Dotson has played 190 snaps, including two starts. Running back Anthony McFarland and defensive lineman Carlos Davis have also contributed.
According to Pro Football Focus, one of these six has contributed enough so far in 2020 to actually make their 2020 mid-season all-rookie team—and it’s probably not the one you were thinking. No, Claypool didn’t make it, and in fact it doesn’t even sound like he was in the top four, as CeeDee Lamb and Jerry Jeudy were mentioned as unofficial runners-up to Justin Jefferson and Tee Higgins. It wasn’t even Dotson, either.
It was Highsmith who made the site’s list, the late-third-round pick out of small-school Charlotte—and if you read Michael Renner’s entry, it’s not exactly a glowing endorsement, but rather an admission that the rookie edge defenders have not performed this year. He writes:
While I tried to lean toward starters only for this list, the rookie edge class has been so dreadful that I included a sub-package player here. Highsmith has only played 97 snaps on the season but has gotten a little more of a run of late, with 25 snaps against the Ravens and 12 against the Cowboys in the past two weeks. He earned overall grades of 88.7 and 82.5, respectively, in those contests, and we’re excited to see what he can do with more playing time.
In consecutive weeks, Highsmith notched his first interception and then his first sack, and has gotten increased opportunities to see the field in a 3-5-3 sub-package in which he comes out in place of either Terrell Edmunds or Steven Nelson. I don’t know how much we’ll see that look going forward, but it is a trick in their bag.