Pro Football Focus recently put the spotlight on the 2020 NFL Draft, putting together a regrading exercise in which they self-examined their own analysis of each team’s draft class from a year ago in light of what we have now seen from them over the course of the previous season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers fared about as well as anybody on second look, as their draft grade improved from a B- all the way up to a solid A, with only two teams having been given an A+ grade. The site also regraded the 2019 NFL Draft class. I don’t know if they intend to continue working their way backward — they didn’t post anything yesterday — but we’ll see how Pittsburgh came out from this one as well.
Turns out, things stand as they did two years ago. At that time, they did not assign letter grades, but they were given an ‘above average’ mark for their class, and upon analysis of the past two seasons of play, that is where they believe it still is.
The draft class was helmed by inside linebacker Devin Bush, whom they traded their second-round pick, among other picks, to move up in the first round. Benefitting from the Antonio Brown trade, they also added wide receiver Diontae Johnson in the third round, followed by cornerback Justin Layne, running back Benny Snell, tight end Zach Gentry, and four more selections in the sixth and seventh rounds, among whom two remain.
“You’ve seen ‘it’ from both linebacker Devin Bush and receiver Diontae Johnson”, Michael Renner wrote of the Steelers’ class of 2019. “Now, Bush just needs to stay healthy and Johnson needs to be consistent. If that can happen, the Steelers got two of the bigger impact players in the draft with their first two picks”.
Getting two strong starters from any draft class is pretty good. Both Bush and Johnson contributed immediately as rookies. Bush, of course, missed most of last season after tearing his ACL. Johnson performed well, but battled significant issues with drops that he hopes to have largely put past him.
With that said, the rest of the draft class could be looking better. Snell did not have a strong follow-up season to his rookie year, and Layne hasn’t seen the expected progress, either. Gentry may not make the 53-man roster this year, and sixth-round defenders Isaiah Buggs and Ulysees Gilbert III are also on the bubble.
Sixth-round outside linebacker Sutton Smith never made the team to begin with. Seventh-round defensive lineman Derwin Gray spent much of the 2020 season on the 53-man roster, but the Steelers ultimately lost him on waivers to the Jacksonville Jaguars when they attempted to send him down to the practice squad.