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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: 2020 Rookie Midseason Update

Top 2 Rookie Draft Picks

Last year, I compared the statistics of the Pittsburgh Steelers top three draft picks with their contemporaries selected by other teams in the 2019 NFL draft. This season, we’ll track Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith to see how they stack up against their draft class. Just two picks to track this season since the Steelers traded their 2020 first round draft pick to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019.

I posted a rookie tale of the tape after Week one. Here is how the Steelers first two 2020 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after Week eight. I will update this again at the end of the season. Let me know if there are other players you want tracked against these Steelers rookies in the comments section.

WIDE RECEIVER

Name G Snaps Snap% RECs Yds Y/C Y/G Catch % TDs
Chase Claypool 7 299 62 23 375 16.3 53.6 67.6 7
Henry Ruggs III 5 239 50 10 220 22.0 44.0 55.6 1
Jerry Jeudy 7 345 73 23 359 15.6 51.3 48.9 1
CeeDee Lamb 8 402 66 40 524 13.1 65.5 65.6 2
Jalen Reagor 3 146 26 8 112 14.0 37.3 57.1 1
Justin Jefferson 7 321 74 31 563 18.2 80.4 77.5 3
Brandon Aiyuk 7 401 73 28 371 13.3 53.0 66.7 4
Tee Higgins 8 408 69 33 488 14.8 61.0 63.5 3
Michael Pittman Jr. 4 186 39 10 79 7.9 19.8 76.9 0
Laviska Shenault Jr. 7 302 65 29 324 11.2 46.3 76.3 1
KJ Hamler 5 202 43 11 115 10.5 23.0 61.1 1
Van Jefferson 8 108 19 9 121 13.4 15.1 64.3 0
Denzel Mims 2 100 19 6 84 14.0 42.0 60.0 0

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

 

Synopsis of each player through week eight:

Chase Claypool (2nd/49th overall) Claypool leads the rookies with seven touchdowns. He ranks from the middle to the upper half in most receiving statistics among the rookies. However, when looking at advanced receiving statistics he has zero drops and Ben Roethlisberger enjoys a 144.0 quarterback rating when targeting Claypool.

Henry Ruggs III (1st/12th overall). An early season injury limited Ruggs to five games in the first half of the season. He only caught ten passes, but they averaged an eyepopping 22 yards a catch to lead the rookies. The Las Vegas Raiders have a lot to look forward to in the second half the season.

Jerry Jeudy (1st/15th overall) Denver Broncos coach Vic Fangio says said it was feast or famine with Jeudy a couple weeks ago. He makes good plays but then drops a catchable pass. In the 31-30 barn burner with the Chargers, Jeudy gained 73 yards on four catches. But he was targeted ten times for a 40% catch rate.

CeeDee Lamb (1st/17th overall) CeeDee’s production hurt by the Dallas Cowboys quarterback woes. In the last two games, he caught just four passes for 27 yards after lighting it up in the first six games of the season. He still leads the rookies with 40 receptions. His 524 receiving yards will get hm to over a thousand if he can get back on track with whatever quarterback the Cowboys end up starting.

Jalen Reagor (1st/21st overall) After a 55-yard catch in his first game, Reagor injured his thumb in the second game and missed the next four after surgery. The Philadelphia Eagles receiver returned to play week eight and caught his first career touchdown pass in their victory over the Cowboys. We will see how his thumb holds up in the second half of the season.

Justin Jefferson (1st/22nd overall) Jefferson leads the rookie receivers with 563 receiving yards averaging 80.4 a game. He caught 77.5% of passes targeting him also a high among this group. Jefferson is the complete package. Not only is he a receiving threat, but he also relishes the opportunity to block downfield on running plays. The Minnesota Vikings incredibly happy with their selection.

Brandon Aiyuk (1st/25th overall) Aiyuk had a strong first half of season scoring four touchdowns. Unfortunately, he will miss the match-up with the Green Bay Packers due to Covid exposure to a teammate. Unknown how long he will be on the reserve list until he can return. Aiyuk caught 14 passes for 206 yards in his last two games.

Tee Higgins (2nd/33rd overall) Higgins and fellow rookie quarterback Joe Burrow connected for 488 receiving yards in eight games. He supplanted former first round draft choice John Ross as the Cincinnati Bengals third receiver. He scored three touchdowns and drew a flag in the end zone in a recent game.  Hopefully, he will not give the Steelers secondary fits when they play.

Michael Pittman Jr. (2nd/34th overall) Pittman hampered by a toe then a leg injury. The Indianapolis Colts placed him on injured reserve after his third game. He played week eight and caught his only target. He only played four games in the first half the season. We will find out if he can stay healthy and finish the season strong.

Laviska Shenault Jr. (2nd/42nd overall) The Jacksonville Jaguars receiver has not scored since his rookie debut. But he has played in 65% of the Jaguars snaps and consider him their best pick in the draft. Shenault poised to have a strong finish to his rookie season.

KJ Hamler (2nd/46th overall) Hamler targeted sparingly by the Denver broncos so far this season. But he did catch the game winning touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in week eight. We will see the Broncos feature him more in the second half of the season.

Van Jefferson (2nd/57th overall) He has not contributed much to the Los Angeles Rams offense in the first half of the season. Jefferson played just 19% of the Ram offensive snaps despite appearing in all eight games.

Denzel Mims (2nd/59th overall) His NFL debut delayed until week seven due to hamstring injuries. Mims caught two of three targets against the Kansas City Chiefs and flashes potential. However, he is playing for the New York Jets one of the weakest offensive teams in the league.

Wide Receiver Summary

I am comparing Chase Claypool to twelve wide receivers selected in the first and second rounds in the 2020 draft. NFL teams selected ten of the twelve receivers ahead of Claypool in the draft. Midway through the season, Justin Jefferson is at the head of this class of receivers. Tee Higgins and Brandon Aiyuk are not far behind. All three drafted ahead of Claypool who matches up very well. Ben Roethlisberger’s successful connection (144 rating) with Claypool and his scoring makes him the best value among these receivers so far. Looking for a strong second half of the season.

LINEBACKER

 

Name G Snaps Snap% INTs PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH
Alex Highsmith 7 83 19 1 1 0 0 0 12 1/0
Josh Uche 1 12 3 0 0 0 0 0 1 0/1
Willie Gay Jr. 8 124 23 0 2 0 0 1.0 16 2/1
Logan Wilson 7 180 34 2 2 0 0 1.0 19 3/2
Zack Baun 6 27 6 0 0 0 0 0 6 0/0
Terrell Lewis 4 55 11 0 0 0 0 0 1 1/1
Anfernee Jennings 6 106 25 0 0 0 0 0 10 0/0
Jacob Phillips 3 38 7 0 1 0 0 0 5 0/0
Malik Harrison 7 84 18 0 1 0 0 0 16 0/0
Davion Taylor 8 11 2 0 0 0 0 0 4 0/0
Akeem Davis-Gaither 8 197 37 0 1 0 0 0.5 12 0/2

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

 

Synopsis of each player through week eight:

Alex Highsmith (3rd/102nd overall) When you play behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree there are few opportunities to shine. Yet, Highsmith played on defense all seven games collecting 83 snaps. He intercepted Lamar Jackson’s pass early in the second half to help the Steelers in their win. The Draft Network named him the rookie of the week. Highsmith has played in 70% of the Steelers special team snaps.

Josh Uche (2nd/60th overall) Josh Uche finally made his NFL debut in week eight during the Patriots 21-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Uche played just 12 defensive and eight special team snaps recording one tackle and a quarterback hit. He has an incomplete grade until he gets more playing time in the second half of the season.

Willie Gay Jr. (2nd/63rd overall) The Kansas City Chiefs started Gay in three games where he played 25-39 snaps apiece. In the other five games he played less than ten defensive snaps. However, he plays 62% of the Chiefs special team plays with 133 snaps. He tackled to runners for a loss and has a quarterback hit. We’ll see if the Chiefs play him more in the second half of the season.

Logan Wilson (3rd/65th overall) Logan Wilson gets a lot of playing time. He has 180 defensive and 125 special team (55%) for the Cincinnati Bengals. A solid tackler he leads the rookie linebackers with 19 tackles without a miss. One weakness may be in pass coverage. Opposing quarterbacks tested Wilson’s coverage skills completing seven and scoring one touchdown to receivers he was covering. However, Wilson intercepted quarterbacks twice. The Bengals play Pittsburgh after their bye week. We will see if Ben throws his way.

Zack Baun (3rd/74th overall) Baun played in seven games after the New Orleans Saints did not activate him for the season opener. He’s played special teams but did play 12 and 13 snaps in weeks five and seven, respectively. He played just one defensive snap in week eight against the Chicago Bears.

Terrell Lewis (3rd/84th overall) The Los Angeles Rams placed Lewis on a non-injury reserve list to start the season. The Rams reinstated him October 10 and he has appeared sparingly in four games. Not much to measure him by.

Anfernee Jennings (3rd/87th overall) Jennings did not play a defensive snap in week eight after starting the previous two games. Patriots coach Bill Belichick may be reserving him for the base defense which limits his opportunities in a pass happy league. Anfernee played in 25% of New England’s defensive plays so far this season.

Jacob Phillips (3rd/97 overall) Phillips rookie year stymied by a knee injury. He has only appeared in three games. He heads into the Cleveland Browns bye week after missing the past three games. It remains to be seen if he will play against the Houston Texans in week ten.

Malik Harrison (3rd/98th overall) John Harbaugh inserts Harrison for about ten defensive snaps per game. In the meantime, he played 62% of the Baltimore Ravens special team snaps. He tied with Highsmith for fourth among the rookie linebackers with 12 tackles. He will miss some time after the Ravens placed him on the Covid reserve list following the game against the Steelers.

Davion Taylor (3rd/103rd overall) The Eagles used Davion for special teams in the first half of the season. He played 52% of their special team snaps so far. Taylor appeared on defense for one game where he played 11 snaps in week six against the Baltimore Ravens. He is a talented athlete but inexperienced. Let’s see what the second half brings for this project.

Akeem Davis-Gaither (4th/107th overall) Davis-Gaither overshadowed by fellow Bengals rookie LB Logan Wilson. But he leads this group of rookies with 197 snaps played (37% of Bengals defensive snaps). Will the Bengals use him more in the second half. The Bengals play the Steelers after their bye week so we will soon find out. He does have a high 30% missed tackle percentage.

Linebacker Summary

I am comparing Highsmith to other linebackers drafted in the second or third rounds. Fourth rounder Akeem Davis-Gaither included since the Bengal was picked just five spots after Highsmith. Eight of the ten listed linebackers were chosen ahead of Highsmith. Right now, he is in the top half of this group following his play against the Ravens. The Bengal’s Logan and Davis-Gaither along with Raven Malik Harris and Willie Gay top this group for now. But Highsmith stacks up favorably. The week ten match-up against the Bengals will tell us more.

CONCLUSION

The Steelers made cost effective picks in Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith. Both measure up favorably against their respective groups of contemporaries drafted ahead of them. Of course, my evaluation is after just half season of play. We will learn much more as the 2020 season progresses and in the coming years. But I am pleased with their progress to date.

Your Music Selection

I always like to include a bit of music. During the Terrible Podcast this week, a listener compared Dave Bryan’s voice to Mel Tillis when he got into detailed statistics. Alex Kozora drew a blank on the reference to Tillis who stuttered when talking but once he began signing the stutter disappeared. Since the Steelers play Dallas this weekend thought it appropriate to present Mel Tillis singing Coca Cola Cowboy.

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