How did the Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 rookie class fair overall? According to NFL.com this past week, the Steelers 2020 draft class received a B- grade from them. According to Pro Football Focus, however, the Steelers 2020 rookie class ranked eighth overall. Below are their reasons for the eight-overall ranking.
Why they’re ranked here: Despite not having a first-round pick, Pittsburgh still managed to rank in the top 10 in cumulative WAR generated by their rookie class this year. Their first pick, wide receiver Chase Claypool, was actually the seventh most valuable non-first-round rookie in the NFL this season, per PFF WAR.
How their top pick fared: Claypool was a big-play threat for Pittsburgh right out of the gate. He actually saw more deep targets than anyone in the NFL, including plays nullified by penalty. He may have ranked only 11th in total deep receiving yards (347), but Claypool drew two more defensive pass interference calls on deep targets than anyone in the league (seven). The latter is the second most we have recorded in the past decade.
Best value pick: Alex Highsmith (No. 102 overall) was hot and cold this season but managed to finish the regular season with a 72.0 PFF grade. That mark is over 11 grading points higher than Bud Dupree‘s mark in 2020 before his torn ACL. It’s also nearly 30 grading points better than what we saw from Dupree as a rookie in 2015.
Claypool was certainly a bright spot for the Steelers as a rookie and right out of the chute at that. The Notre Dame product ended up finishing his rookie season with 62 receptions for 873 receiving yards, and nine touchdowns. He also had two other rushing touchdowns and led the league in pass interference penalty yardage drawn. Had the Steelers not taken it easy on him in the final third of the season, Claypool’s numbers would have been much better, and he likely would have hit 1,000 yards receiving.
As for Highsmith, the Steelers third-round selection out of Charlotte, he got increasingly better as his rookie season wore on. He certainly didn’t look out of place when asked to take over fulltime for injured starting outside linebacker Bud Dupree early in December.
Its quite interesting that Steeler guard Kevin Dotson didn’t receive any name recognition from PFF in their recap of them ranking the team eighth overall. After all, while Dotson didn’t play a ton during his rookie season, he looked really good wherever he was on the field. It’s easy to see that he should be a longtime starter in Pittsburgh at one of the two guard spots for many more years to come.
While the Steelers didn’t get much overall production out of the few other members of their 2020 draft class such as running back Anthony McFarland, Jr. Antoine Brooks Jr., and Carlos Davis, at least all three were able to get some playing time during their respective rookie seasons. How many other NFL teams can say that all their draft picks received playing time as rookies? That’s a rare feat and especially when it comes to the Steelers.
Overall, the Steelers got quite a bit of bang out their 2020 rookie class and it will now be interesting to see how many of the six players can make a solid second-year jump in 2021. Claypool, Highsmith, and Dotson all should be expected to make big jumps in their second NFL seasons and hopefully one or two of McFarland, Brooks and Davis will as well. Quite honestly, the Steelers 2020 rookie chance has a legitimate chance to be one of the better ones general manager Kevin Colbert has drafted since arriving in 2000. Time, however, will tell if that’s ultimately the case.