It’s said a draft class can’t be fully graded until at least three years after the picks are made. That’s why after submitting grades for every Pittsburgh Steelers pick made in 2021, I began going back through and grading previous Steeler draft classes beginning with 2018. Today continues the fourth class in that exercise, with the Steelers’ fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft: Doran Grant, a cornerback from Ohio State
This exercise follows the six viewpoints (listed below) for examining and re-grading a pick. Each of the first five viewpoints gets examined and assigned a letter grade, before taking 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.
Each factor in a retrospective doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made; consider the grades weighted. For example, to return a high grade in pick value, a first-round pick should have a long and impactful career, while a later-round pick needs only a couple seasons as a back-up or modest contributor to be worth the selection used on him.
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 4, Pick 22: Doran Grant, CB, Ohio State
STEELERS & NFL CAREER: F
The Steelers were desperate for cornerback help during the 2015 offseason. So, after spending a second-round pick on cornerback Senquez Golson out of Ole Miss, the team doubled up at the position with its first pick on Day 3, and took Ohio State corner Doran Grant in the fourth round. Golson was supposed to provide somebody who could succeed in the team’s zone coverage defense, Grant was supposed to be someone who could pick up more aggressive assignments on defense. In the end, both were immediate, spectacular misfires.
While not unheard of, fourth-round picks going to the practice squad the year they get drafted is an embarrassing look, both for the player who can’t make the roster and the team spending the pick. That was Grant as a rookie, who despite earning fourth-round status couldn’t earn a roster spot over the likes of Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin.
He finally made it to the main roster midway through the season, but never got onto the field. Grant played exactly one defensive snap as a rookie and in his NFL career. Technically, that is an improvement over Golson’s Steeler career, but by the smallest possible amount. Grant also played 17 special teams snaps for Pittsburgh, and didn’t survive roster cutdowns his sophomore season.
Grant received futures contracts from Jacksonville and Chicago in the years to follow, along with brief stints on the practice squads for the New York Giants and Buffalo Bills. None led to another chance at the NFL. Like many others, he turned to the two recent, high-profile start-up leagues for another shot. Grant played in the AAF for the Atlanta Legends, recording nine tackles before the league folded. He followed that up with an XFL career with the DC Defenders, which featured seven tackles and a pass defensed before that league also folded.
Continuing the path many went who turned to the AAF and XFL, Grant signed with the CFL, joining the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Unlike many others, though, Grant did not stick around in the league through the canceled 2020 season, leaving Winnipeg rather than staying on the roster for a chance to play in 2021, with the CFL season beginning next month.
PICK VALUE: F
Grant at least got on an NFL field, even if it was for a grand total of 18 career snaps. He can say that. But from the moment he ended up on the practice squad as a fourth-round rookie, things went downhill, and the Steelers never earned any value back on its pick to start Day 3 that year.
POSITIONAL VALUE: C
Golson got an F in this section because while I called the cornerback class outside the first round “atrocious,” there were some names of varying contributions that went at the position afterward. Almost all of those names were gone by the time Pittsburgh selected Grant. So looking at who was left, atrocious doesn’t cut it. The class of corners taken the rest of the way in 2015 is abysmal, with only a couple names dragging themselves free of the pit of non-roster despair.
The only names still left that earned a mention before are Tye Smith (170th, Seattle) and Darryl Roberts (247th, New England). Roberts started 10 games each in two consecutive seasons for the New York Jets, and has an interception each of the last four seasons. He is competing for a roster spot in Washington this training camp. Smith is a depth body who made three starts each of the last two years with Tennessee, and like Roberts is fighting an uphill battle for a roster spot in 2021, Smith with Minnesota.
Neither represents a glaring miss, but no other names of note remain on the board at the corner position. Things get a lot better if Quandre Diggs (200th, Detroit) or Bobby McCain (145th, Miami) stick and develop at corner instead of transitioning to safety before finding success. But looking strictly at cornerbacks, Pittsburgh was drawing dead making a selection this late in the draft, regardless of the name. Which is why this grade falls right in the middle.
OTHER OPTIONS: F
Two names from past 2015 retrospectives lead this one off. First, Za’Darius Smith, who earned a prominent spot in Bud Dupree’s retrospective, and who went 122nd to the Baltimore Ravens in 2015. Now a star rusher in Green Bay, Smith went the next pick after Grant. And then second, Stefan Diggs, featured in a retrospective on Sammie Coates. Drafted 146th by Minnesota, Diggs made 31 teams question their thinking by passing on him for four rounds, and is a star now in Buffalo.
Those two are far more than enough, but there’s plenty more to choose from. Misses don’t get much bigger, literally, than Grady Jarrett, a defensive tackle taken 137th by Atlanta and one of the best younger players in the game at his position six years later. Ditto that for Shaq Mason, taken 131st by New England, who has been a full-time starter all six of his seasons with the Pats at guard.
Kwon Alexander (124th, Tampa Bay) can’t stay healthy, but racks up tackles at linebacker when he is out there. Not far behind him and lacking a touch of his tackling prowess are Damien Wilson (127th, Dallas) and Jake Ryan (129th, Green Bay). Additional defensive options come from Adrian Amos (142nd, Chicago), a starting safety for the Bears and Green Bay, and McCain, now with Washington. And taken 149th, Jay Ajayi ran for 1,000 yards and made a Pro Bowl his second season with Miami, though hasn’t played in the NFL since 2019 as a reserve with Philadelphia.
OVERALL GRADE: F
Two cornerbacks drafted, exactly one defensive snap to show for it as the two-pick solution to one of the team’s most continually pressing needs. The 2015 Draft is example No. 1 of Pittsburgh’s sheer inability to draft and develop cornerbacks. Two of the team’s first four picks went to the position, and neither could help the team in any way. One because of injury after injury, and one because he couldn’t climb the depth chart to make it onto the field.
It would take a big miss with Artie Burns in 2016 before Pittsburgh finally hit on one with Cameron Sutton in 2017. While Sutton is prepping for his first year as a full-time starter with the Steelers, Grant is a free agent who has to get an NFL tryout or sign with an organization in the CFL or elsewhere to continue his football career.