The 2021 NFL Draft is drawing near, which is as fitting a time as any to take a look back at the rookie season of the Pittsburgh Steelers class from the 2020 NFL Draft. While draft analysis begins as soon as the pick is in, we now have a year’s worth of data on these players to gain more compelling insight.
Over the course of the next several days, I will be providing an evaluation of each rookie that the Steelers drafted, while also noting any undrafted free agents that were able to stick around. This will not include the likes of J.C. Hassenauer and Henry Mondeaux, because while the 2020 season was their first to accrue, they were not true rookies, but rather first-year players.
The Steelers went into the 2020 NFL Draft with just six selections, including no first-round pick after dealing it to the Dolphins in 2019 for Minkah Fitzpatrick. They received a third-round compensatory pick for the loss of Le’Veon Bell. Their natural third-round pick was traded away the year before to move up for Devin Bush.
They swapped fifth and sixth-round picks with Miami for fourth and seventh-round picks, while they sent their previous fifth-round pick to the Seahawks for Nick Vannett. Their other fifth-round pick, which they dealt to Miami, came from the Jaguars in exchange for Joshua Dobbs.
Continuing a recent trend, the class has proven to be top-heavy in terms of early results, though there are still opportunities for those selected in the later rounds of the draft to develop into bigger contributors, as well.
Player: James Pierre
Draft Status: Undrafted
Games: 16 (0 starts)
The Steelers drafted six players in 2020. Six rookies made their initial 53-man roster. One was undrafted free agent James Pierre, a cornerback out of Florida Atlantic who boasts 6’2” height. Antoine Brooks was the only draft pick who didn’t make the initial 53-man roster, though Pittsburgh added him later.
The training camp emergence of Pierre is probably the biggest reason why. Everybody expected the Steelers to carry only five cornerbacks into the season, but Pierre made six, and that’s because he showed himself to be very useful on special teams — even without the benefit of the preseason.
He would go on to play in every single game, logging 227 snaps on special teams, which is a remarkable total for a cornerback. In the late stages of the season, he got a bit of work on defense, logging 27 snaps in the regular season, due to injuries and health.
Most notable is the fact that he also played eight snaps, ahead of Justin Layne, during the Steelers’ postseason game, coming in as a dime defender while Joe Haden was out on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. With Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton gone, at this point he enters this offseason process vying for the number three cornerback role behind Haden and Cameron Sutton.