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: John Houston
Position: Inside Linebacker
Draft Status: Undrafted
Starts: 0 (0 starts)
One of a couple inside linebackers that the Steelers picked up as college free agents after the draft last year, John Houston was a sizeable prospect out of USC with a good deal of starting experience at a major college program.
He was among the first players to be released, however, when the team started making cuts in early August to get into compliance with the COVID-19 protocols that required teams to trim their 90-man rosters down to 80.
That was just a week or so into training camp, and really before they did any meaningful work, essentially boiling down to glorified Phase 1 and Phase 2 elements of the offseason, with true practices beginning shortly thereafter.
The Steelers had lost Mark Barron and Tyler Matakevich from the position since the previous year, and were counting on young players like Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert III to step up. While they didn’t use a draft pick on a linebacker after taking Devin Bush in the first round, they knew they needed to add some depth.
As it would turn out, that depth would come from safety, as they converted Marcus Allen to linebacker. Neither Houston nor Leo Lewis, the other undrafted free agent linebacker addition, would last very long in Pittsburgh. He got a look from the Falcons in October, but apparently never signed.
Like Christian Montano, whom I wrote about yesterday, though, Houston participated in USC’s Pro Day last month. The New Orleans Saints just signed Montano yesterday weeks after that workout, so there’s still hope.