One of the most common things you hear after every draft is that grades can’t be finished until at least three years after a pick has been made. So after submitting my grades for every Steelers’ pick in this year’s class, I’m going back and revisiting picks from three years ago and beyond made by Pittsburgh. That continues today with the first of the team’s two fifth-round picks in 2018, safety Marcus Allen out of Penn State.
I tweaked my exercise for grading this year’s draft to look at and give letter grades to past picks, based on five specific ways to view the pick (listed below), before taking all that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into the draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Steelers’ Career: What did the player contribute to the team that drafted him?
NFL Career: Did the player make the pick look better in hindsight after leaving Pittsburgh?
Pick Value: Did the player outperform his draft slot? Did he fail to live up to the pick used on him?
Positional Value: Was the player the best player remaining at his specific position in the draft?
Other Options: Did any players go during the next round that were better selections?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one better spent elsewhere.
Just like when grading a current year’s draft, each factor in a retrospective doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made. For example, a first round selection should have a longer and more impactful career, whereas a late-round pick only needs a few seasons in a limited role to live up to his draft slot.
Some factors are universal, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to, and steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 5, Pick 11: Marcus Allen, S, Penn State
STEELERS & NFL CAREER: C+
We’re getting to the point where any players picked in the draft who can contribute something (and stick the length of their rookie deals) are doing well. Allen hasn’t worked his way onto the field a ton in his three seasons, but took a big step forward by appearing in 14 games and making his first two career starts. After playing just three games and 18 defensive snaps his first two seasons, Allen played 206 snaps in 2020, with 30 tackles and two for a loss. His special teams snaps went from a combined 19 to 196.
It’s a positive improvement and hopeful sign for the Penn State man. And any time at all is a plus for a fifth-round pick. But thus far, it’s hard to give this a stellar grade given how little he has made his way onto the field. His two starts showed high moments that inspire confidence he can be the hybrid player Pittsburgh is looking for. They also showed a need for improvement if he wants to earn NFL snaps in 2021 in a crowded room with fellow depth options and hybrid players Miles Killibrew and Antoine Brooks Jr.
PICK VALUE: B
It’s hard to label any pick from here on a failure, short of them being cut or sent to the practice squad their first couple seasons. Allen hasn’t been an everyday player for Pittsburgh, no. But starting a pair of games and appearing in almost all last season brings back value for a fifth-rounder. The hope that the team has of Allen continuing to fill a hybrid role also helps. Even if 2020 was Allen’s final year in Pittsburgh and he loses out on a roster spot, this grade won’t drop much.
POSITIONAL VALUE: F
While Allen has transitioned from being purely a safety to more of the hybrid safety-linebacker some teams are searching for, for this I considered him strictly by the position he was drafted. Only four safeties went the remainder of the draft, and three have had better careers and a third is arguable.
Foyesade Oluokun is another who transitioned from safety to a linebacking role. He just had a 117-tackle season with four forced fumbles, two interceptions, and three sacks for Atlanta, and started at least seven games two of his three seasons. Of all the Day 3 picks, he tops all safeties drafted. DeShon Elliott rebounded from a missed rookie season to start all 16 for Baltimore last season with 80 tackles, and Marcell Harris has started at least four games all three of his seasons for San Francisco, with at least 34 tackles every one of them, and five forced fumbles the last two seasons.
This is a regrettable situation for Allen, who I considered the perfect Steelers’ pick and had graded as a third-rounder. Of all those players, I still believe he is the best fit for the team. But this section is to strictly compare him to the other options at the position, and three of the other four have become long-term contributors to their teams.
OTHER OPTIONS: B-
It’s a couple big names, a couple of depth contributors, and a bunch of afterthoughts in the 32 picks following Allen at 148 overall. The biggest one is guard Wyatt Teller, a starter all three seasons in the league who has become one of the best guards in all of football for the Cleveland Browns after Buffalo cut him following his rookie season. Quality offensive linemen are an evergreen great pick in the final three rounds of the draft.
The other bigger name is Folorunso Fatukasi of the New York Jets. Taken 32 picks after Allen, he has become a quality defensive tackle in his three seasons with the Jets. Beyond Teller and Fatukasi, there is tackle Tyrell Crosby, mentioned in yesterday’s retrospective on Chukwuma Okorafor, depth receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and a host of specialists — punters Michael Dickson and JK Scott, and kicker Daniel Carlson. Not a horrendous group of missed opportunities, with the first two names the primary reason for the grade.
OVERALL GRADE: B-
Allen just screamed “Steeler” during the lead-up to the 2018 NFL Draft, and it was one of the best Day 3 fits when Pittsburgh selected him. His career hasn’t blossomed the way many thought and hoped it would with the Steelers. But Allen finally got onto the field in 2020, and earned two chances to show what he could do as a key player on the team’s defense.
The competition at linebacker and safety is some of the fiercest on the roster this camp. Allen is fighting players at both positions. If he earns a roster spot and fourth season with the Steelers, he will be a contributor in some way on defense or special teams for a second season, and add more value to his pick. If he is one of the players let go, it wasn’t an outstanding selection, but a serviceable one that ended with him assuming the hybrid role in his final season.