Top 2019 Steelers Draft Picks
The 2019 Steelers draft picks played a third season in 2021. Time to see how Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, and Justin Layne stack up against their draft class contemporaries. Picks from the first three rounds compared to their contemporaries. I’ll recap the rest of the Steelers 2019 draft class and include links to Matthew Marczi’s stock watch.
Here is the link to the 2019 draft class year two update if you want to see how the players compared at the end of 2020. The following tables show statistics after three full seasons of play.
Here is how the Steelers first three 2019 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after three seasons of play:
All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each player:
Devin Bush (1st/10th overall) Devin Bush put together a fine rookie campaign including the Pro Football Writers Association (PFWA) naming him to their 2019 All-Rookie Team. Bush started out strong with over 100 tackles including nine for a loss. Unfortunately, the Steelers placed him on the injured reserve list after he tore his ACL in the fifth game in 2020. In 2021, Bush played tentatively in 14 games. Bush does lead the group with two interceptions and 11 defensed passes. Plus, he intercepted a pass in the playoff loss to Kansas City. His missed tackle rate is 11.2% with the second most tackles (205).
Devin White (1st/5th overall) Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Devin White came on extraordinarily strong after missing three games due to a knee injury in 2019. He scored two defensive touchdowns and recorded 91 tackles. White is disruptive as evinced by his interception, three forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries. The PFWA named him to their 2019 All-Rookie Team. His 15 tackles for a loss were third in the NFL in 2020. Also, he intercepted a pass and had 12 tackles in Tampa’s 2020 Super Bowl victory. In 2020, AP named him a second team All-Pro. Some say he took a step back in 2021. But he added 128 tackles and recorded 18 quarterback hits and named to the Pro Bowl team. He leads this group with four forced fumbles and six fumble recoveries plus 359 tackles. White is still a wrecking ball.
Josh Allen (1st/7th overall) The PFWA named Allen to their 2019 All-Rookie Team. Additionally, he was a 2019 Pro Bowler as an alternate. He leads this group with 48 quarterback hits and is second in sacks. This despite missing eight games in 2020 with a knee injury. Allen led the Jaguars in a 9-6 upset of the Buffalo Bills in 2021. There, he had eight tackles, a sack, an interception, and fumble recovery. Josh Allen is earning his keep.
Rashan Gary (1st/12th overall) Green Bay used Gary in a rotational role his first two seasons. In 2021, Gary started full time after Za’Darius Smith placed on injured reserve after just one game. Gary’s workload steadily increased from one quarter (244) of the Packers defensive plays his rookie season to nearly half (456) in 2020. In 2021, he played 68% (681) of the snaps in games he appeared in. Plus, his production increased. Seven sacks his first two seasons to 9.5 in 2021. 24 quarterback pressures in 2019/2020 to 47 in 2021. He hit quarterbacks 14 times his first two seasons to 28 times in 2021. He has 3.5 sacks in three playoff games including two in the loss to the 49ers in 2021.
Jahlani Tavai (2nd/43rd overall) Tavai started 16 of 31 games played his first two seasons. He hurt his shoulder at the end of his rookie season missing the season finale. In two years, he made 116 tackles. But, the Detroit Lions waived Tavai just before the 2021 season. Apparently giving up on their second-round draft choice after just two seasons. Bill Belichick signed him to the Patriots practice squad. He ended up playing in 13 games mostly on special teams. Tavai played 1218 defensive snaps in two seasons for the Lions compared to 56 for the Patriots in 2021. He’s currently on the New England 2022 preseason roster.
Ben Banogu (2nd/49th overall) Banogu is a rotational defensive end for the Colts. His peak game came in his rookie season when he strip-sacked Joe Flacco to preserve a 15-13 win over the Denver Broncos. He played a career high 36 defensive snaps that game. However, his playing time dipped in 2020 playing 10% of the Colts defensive snaps compared to his first year before when he played 26%. 2021 was to be his breakout season. But Banogu played just 68 defensive snaps the seventh most among the Colts defensive ends. 2022 will determine whether Banogu just needed some time to develop into an NFL caliber player or if his selection as the 49th pick was an overreach.
Mack Wilson (5th/155th overall) Steelers Depot respondent Beeze requested Wilson’s inclusion. The Cleveland Browns traded Wilson to New England following the 2021 season. He started strong his rookie season starting 14 of 16 games played. However, he hyperextended his knee just prior to the 2020 season and missed the first two games his second year. His defensive workload steadily dropped. From 88% of Brown’s defensive snaps in 2019, 43% in 2020 to 21% in 2021. He did play a career high 180 special team snaps in 2021 compared to 194 defensive. He’s third in passes defensed (nine) and tackles (163) among his draft class peers. He allowed 70 receptions of 105 passes targeting receivers he covered for a 66.7% catch rate. But he missed 24 tackles for a 14.7% missed tackle percentage. We’ll see if he reverses the downward trend in defensive snaps with a new team in 2022.
Teams selected few linebackers in the first two rounds, so Devin Bush compared to some draft contemporaries playing on the edge. Devin White stands alone at the top of this group. Devin Bush and Josh Allen suffered knee injuries that cut short their sophomore seasons. Josh Allen returned to play decisively while Bush appeared tentative. I place Bush at the bottom of the first-round picks after Rashan Gary. But ahead of the rest of the group. The Steelers picked Rod Woodson as the tenth overall pick back in 1987. Steelers fans expecting that type of dominant play from Bush also a tenth overall pick. He showed the potential as a rookie but must rebound in 2022 to demonstrate he can dominate games.
All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each player:
Diontae Johnson (3rd/66th overall) Diontae had a strong rookie performance as a receiver and return specialist. The AP named him second team All-Pro as a returner based on NFL leading 12.4 yards per punt return including an 85-yard touchdown. He added 59 catches for 680 yards and five more touchdowns. In 2020, he injured his back on a punt return and Ray-Ray McCloud replaced him as the primary punt returner. He had foot and leg injuries but only missed one game. He finished with 88 catches for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. In 2021, Diontae became a Pro Bowl alternate after catching 107 passes for 1161 yards and eight touchdowns. After 13 drops in 2020, he reduced that number to five in 2021 for a total of 24 over three seasons. He’s managed to reduce his career drop rate from 8.1% in 2020 to 5.9% after three seasons. He leads this group in targets and receptions. But his low 58.8% catch rate needs improvement. He’s tied for third in scoring with Deebo Samuel with 128 points. He’s increased production in receptions, yardage, and touchdowns each season. Can he do it again in 2022?
Deebo Samuel (2nd/36th overall) Deebo Samuel showed potential his rookie season with 57 receptions for 802 yards and three touchdowns. He added three more touchdowns on the ground behind 14 runs for 159 yards. However, his second season interrupted by injuries and illness. He missed the first three games recovering from a broken foot. Later, Samuel injured his hamstring and then placed on the Covid reserve list. The 49ers shut him down December 22, and he ended up playing in just seven games in 2020. But Deebo crushed it in 2021. He scored 14 touchdowns. Six in the air and eight on the ground as the 49ers utilized Samuel in the backfield to increase his touches. He gained 1405 receiving yards on 77 catches. Plus 365 rushing yards on 59 carries. He led the NFL in 2021 with 18.2 yards per reception. His efforts resulted in AP naming him first team All-Pro and a Pro Bowl appearance. He leads this receiver group with a 67.9% catch rate despite an exceedingly high 8.9% drop rate. He’s tied with Diontae Johnson for third in scoring among this group.
A.J. Brown (2nd/51st overall) Brown leads this receiver group with 69.7 receiving yards per game in his first three seasons. He is second in scoring with 156 points. He was on PFWA All-Rookie team and his 20.2 yards per reception was second in the NFL in 2019. In 2020 he made the Pro Bowl team after scoring 11 touchdowns despite injuring both knees that required surgery in the offseason. In 2021, Hardman missed four games including three for a chest injury. He likely would have gained over a thousand receiving yards for the third straight season if not for those lost games. Obviously, the Titans want to keep this talented receiver who has gained over 100 yards in 12 of 43 games played.
Mecole Hardman (2nd/56th overall) Hardman was on the 2019 PFWA All-Rookie team and a Pro-Bowler beating out Diontae Johnson as the 2019 AFC Pro Bowl return specialist. He returned a kickoff for a touchdown. In 2020, he returned a punt return for a touchdown. He muffed a punt in the AFC championship game against the Bills but then caught a touchdown pass on the next drive to answer the miscue. His drop rate is 5.9% over three seasons. He averaged 36.6 receiving yards per game playing in Tyreek Hill’s shadow. Now that the Chiefs traded Hill to the Dolphins, Hardman should benefit if he can fill his shoes. That may lead to using him less on punt and kick returns.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside (2nd/57th overall) Arcega-Whiteside had a modest rookie season with 10 receptions for 168 yards and a touchdown. Too modest for a second-round draft pick. He played only eight games in 2020. He caught four of eight passes. 12 other Eagle players gained more receiving yardage. Plus, the Eagles placed him on the Covid reserve list on November 19 and reactivated him on December 2 missing two games. However, he did not play until the final game of the season. In 2021, the Eagles listed him fifth on the receiver depth chart. He caught just two passes and placed on injured reserve at the end of the season. JJ dropped five of 35 targets for an obscene 14.3% drop rate. His career desperately needs jump-started in 2022 or he could find himself out of the league.
Parris Campbell (2nd/59th overall) Injuries are devastating Parris Campbell’s career. The Colts placed him on injured reserve in each of his first three seasons. As a rookie, a sports hernia kept him out of two games. A broken hand cost him four more. Finally, a broken foot ended his season with just seven games played. In 2020, his season shutdown after injuring his left knee. He played just two games. In 2021, he got in five games before breaking his foot while scoring a 51-yard touchdown. He did come back to play in the Colts final game. But playing just 15 games in three seasons due to multiple injuries is not a good sign for his future in the NFL. He’s dropped only one pass in 53 targets. The Colts are sticking with him in 2022 as their wide receiver room is very thin.
Andy Isabella (2nd/62nd overall) Isabella showed off his 4.31 combine speed with an 88-yard touchdown his rookie season. That was the fifth longest in the NFL that season. But he remains buried on the Arizona Cardinals depth chart. In 2020, his 35 targets ranked sixth among Cardinals players. He caught 21 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. The Cardinals hired a new wide receiver’s coach in 2021. But that did not help. He remained sixth on the depth chart and received just one target in eight games played. The Cardinals gave Isabella permission to seek a trade in the offseason.
DK Metcalf (2nd/64th overall) Metcalf set the rookie record with 160 receiving yards in a playoff game. Then he broke out in his second season with second team honors on the AP All-Pro team and making the Pro Bowl. His 3170 receiving yards in three seasons tops this group. He also leads in scoring with 176 points. Metcalf averaged 81.4 receiving yards per game in 2020. That was fourth best in the NFL. He stretches the field with a healthy 14.7 yards per catch. Also, he’s gained 315 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns in three playoff games. The Seattle Seahawks found gold with the 64th pick of the draft. There are trade rumors now that Russell Wilson is gone.
Jalen Hurd (3rd/67th overall) The 49ers placed Jalen Hurd on injured reserve three consecutive seasons. In 2019 he hurt his back. In 2020, he tore an ACL. Hurd injured a knee in 2021 and San Francisco released him that November. He is currently out of football before taking a single snap in a regular season game.
Terry McLaurin (3rd/76th overall) Three team name changes and eight different quarterbacks threw passes to McLaurin the past three seasons. Yet, he led the team in receiving all three years. He made the PFWA 2019 All-Rookie team. In 2020, teammates voted him captain when Landon Collins lost for the season. Impressive for a second-year player. The last receiver selected in this group, he ranks second in receiving yards and receptions. Also, he’s third in receiving yards per game. He’s dropped 13 of 357 targets for a low 3.7% drop rate. His ceiling appears endless and wonder what he would achieve with a consistent quarterback throwing to him.
Wide Receiver Summary
I am comparing Diontae Johnson to wide receivers selected in the second and third rounds. So, I do not include Marquise Brown though I did add a stat line for him. Entering their fourth season, the studs setting themselves apart from the duds. In my view, Diontae Johnson is fifth best in this group with Metcalf, Samuel, A.J. Brown, and McLaurin ahead of him. I have him about even with Hardman who was number two receiver with Chiefs. Good considering teams selected seven of nine of the other listed receivers before Diontae. He’s reduced his drops, and this next season will lock him in as a solid pick if he continues to increase his production as the Steelers number one receiver.
All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference
Synopsis of each player:
Justin Layne (3rd/83rd overall) Justin Layne leads the group in special team snaps with 599. But he lags far behind with just 145 defensive snaps. His opportunities on defense came largely because of injury and in dime package situations. Almost half his tackles made on special team plays. In coverage he allowed receivers to complete 13 of 16 targets. The 81.3% completion rate is the highest among this group albeit a small sample size. He’s only given up one touchdown but with just 16 targets it’s a high rate. Primarily a special team player, Layne has not made a significant impact on the field. NFL teams drafted all but one of this group ahead of him.
Deandre Baker (1st/30th overall) Baker’s career is undergoing giant swings. A late first round pick, he started 15 of 16 games and played in 87% of the New York Giants defensive snaps in his rookie season. Police arrested him in May 2020, allegedly robbing guests at a party using a firearm. The New York Giants waived him in June. Once the charges dropped, Kansas City added Baker to their practice squad. Eventually, he played two games late in the season including starting in the final game against the Chargers. He recorded his first career sack but broke his leg in the third quarter of the game. In 2021, Baker played eight games starting one. Plus, he played in two the Chiefs playoff games. The Chiefs tendered Baker as an exclusive rights free agent so he should be in Kansas City next season.
Byron Murphy (2nd/33rd overall) Byron Murphy was a starter out of the gate and ended up starting all 16 Arizona Cardinals games playing 98% of their defensive snaps in 2019. In 2020, he started seven of 15 games played. But in 2021 he started all 16 games he played. In three seasons he’s only missed two games and intercepted five passes and deflected 30. Quarterbacks targeted receivers he covered 291 times in two seasons with 195 completions for a 67.0% completion rate. Among this group, he is tops in snaps played, receptions, and total tackles. He’s given up 16 touchdowns in coverage. And that’s one per 12.2 targets which is the most frequent in this group. His 24 missed tackles give him an 11.1% missed tackle rate.
Rock Ya-Sin (2nd/34rd overall) The Colts traded Rock Ya-Sin to the Raiders where he will join Trayvon Mullen. The Colts started Rock in 29 of the 41 games he played 2019-2021. In three years, receivers caught 115 of 178 passes when he covered them for a 64.6% completion rate. He intercepted two passes and deflected 20 passes. His 10 missed tackles with 138 total tackles make a 6.8 missed tackle rate, among the lowest in this group. However, some of his tackles were complete whiffs. Hip and ankle injuries caused him to miss seven games the past two seasons. He’s considered stronger in man-to-man than zone coverage.
Sean Murphy-Bunting (2nd/39th overall) Murphy-Bunting made the 2019 PFWA All-Rookie team. He intercepted three passes his first year along with a strip-sack. Sean leads this group with three forced fumbles. But he’s missed 25 tackles for a 13.7% missed tackle an improvement from his first two seasons. Quarterbacks targeted receivers he covered 214 times in three seasons with 148 completions for a 69.2% completion rate. Only Justin Layne gave up a higher catch rate. His 13 touchdowns given up in coverage is second highest in this group. But he intercepted passes in each playoff game in Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl run. Stepping up when it counts. A dislocated elbow limited Murphy-Bunting to nine games in 2021. Tampa Bay observers like him as the nickel back to exploit his coverage and blitzing skills.
Trayvon Mullen (2nd/40th overall) The Raiders made Trayvon Mullen a full-time starter from week seven of his rookie season. He intercepted his first pass that season. But suffered a head injury at the end of the season. Mullen started all 16 games in 2020 intercepting two passes. He played the first four games in 2021 adding another interception. But he injured his foot in the fourth game after playing just six snaps. Mullen returned in week 14 but hurt his toe and missed the rest of the season after just five games. Mullen gave up eight touchdowns in three years but has held receivers to a 59.8% catch rate. He’s third among this group in passes deflected with 28. He’s expected to start the 2022 season opposite Rock Ya-Sin.
Joejuan Williams (2nd/45th overall) The Patriots used Williams primarily on special teams his first two seasons. However, injuries to defensive players in 2020 gave him more defensive snaps in the second half of the season. In 2021, he started one game and doubled the defensive snaps from his first two seasons. He played 35% of the defensive snaps in the 12 games he appeared in. Williams started the Patriots playoff loss to Buffalo. He allowed four receptions on five targets and gave up a touchdown to receivers he covered. He does have the best catch percentage at 52.8 during the regular season with limited targets. Despite that, media coverage say he’s not guaranteed to make the roster despite some losses in free agency and trades the past two seasons.
Greedy Williams (2nd/46th overall) The Cleveland Browns got Greedy to play 12 games in 2019. Then He suffered nerve damage in his shoulder and the Browns placed him on injured reserve in 2020. Greedy managed to play 16 games in 2021 missing just one. His coverage improved allowing 37 catches on 67 targets in 2021. That is just 55.2% catch rate. One area he requires improvement is tackling. He’s missed 15 tackles for a 14.6% missed tackle average. He’s played the least number of games among this group due to missing a full season. The Browns expect Greedy to take a leap in 2022 if he can remain healthy.
Lonnie Johnson (3rd/54th overall) The Texans use Johnson on both defense and special teams. In 2020, he started five of the last six games after starting seven games his rookie season. His usage increased from 49 to 62% of the Texans defensive snaps. He transitioned from cornerback to safety after Justin Reid’s season ending injury. Johnson returned to cornerback in 2021. After allowing receivers he covered to catch 67.4% of passes his first two seasons, he allowed only 57.9% in 2021. Plus, he intercepted three passes this past season. In the playoffs he scored a touchdown off a blocked punt against Kansas City in 2019. But his ineffective coverage of Travis Kelce helped the Chiefs to a comeback victory. We’ll see how new coach Lovie Smith employs Johnson in 2022.
David Long (3rd/79th overall) The Los Angeles Rams did not play Long much on defense his first two seasons. He totaled 225 defensive snaps in two seasons. He led the group with 399 special team snaps. Long started his first game in week eight of 2020 season when Jalen Ramsey missed the game due to illness. In 2021, he started five games but lost his starting position. However, injuries kept him in the lineup, and he played 516 defensive snaps more than double the first two seasons. He got a pick-six in the wildcard game versus Arizona and started the Super Bowl win over Cincinnati. On the final play his coverage helped Aaron Donald sack Joe Burrow to seal the game.
Jamel Dean (3rd/94th overall) Jamel Dean shows steady improvement. Quarterbacks tested Dean’s coverage skills with 122 passes his first two seasons. Receivers caught 69 for 56.6% completion rate. Dean intercepted three passes but gave up six touchdowns. Dean returned his 2020 interception for a touchdown. In 2021 he started 11 games and held receivers to just 32 catches on 66 targets. That brought the completion rate down to 53.7%. He added nine pass deflections and two more interceptions. He leads the group of defensive backs with 33 PD’s and his five interceptions tie Byron Murphy. Already six playoff starts with four PD’s and a forced fumble. He’s earned one ring in his young career.
Justin Layne does not favor comparably to this group. David Long and Joejuan Williams come the closest, but both have many more defensive snaps and contributed more on the field. Layne has not shown much impact on the field. Next season may be his last opportunity to carve out a significant role on defense. Right now, his main contribution is on special teams.
Sean Murphy-Bunting, Byron Murphy, Trayvon Mullen, and Jamel Dean top this group. Rock Ya-Sin, Deandre Baker, Joejuan, and Greedy Williams have opportunities to shine in 2022. Justin Layne ranks at the bottom but nine of ten of these defensive backs selected ahead of him in the draft.
THE REST OF THE 2019 DRAFT CLASS
Six of the nine Steeler 2019 draft class remained on the roster at the end of this year. Fourth round pick Benny Snell appeared in 17 games in 2021 mainly (326 snaps) on special teams. Rookie Najee Harris took the lion share of running back plays leaving Snell with just 110 offensive snaps. Fifth round pick tight end Zach Gentry played all 17 starting 12 games. Primarily a blocker, Gentry chipped in 19 receptions.
Sixth round pick Ulysees Gilbert III landed on injured reserve his first two seasons with back injuries. In 2021 he appeared in all 17 regular season games and the playoff. He played just 36 defensive snaps compared to 337 on special teams. But he scored a touchdown on a blocked punt against Buffalo in the season opener.
A couple of six rounders are no longer on the team. The Seattle Seahawks added undersized defensive end Sutton Smith to their practice squad after Pittsburgh released him in the 2019 midseason. He ended up with the Las Vegas Raiders making his debut in 2021 appearing in eight games. Isaiah Buggs played the first ten games for the Steelers in 2021 starting six times. However, Tomlin benched and eventually waived him at the end of the regular season. The Raiders signed Buggs to their practice squad and he did not play in their playoff loss to Cincinnati.
The last pick, Derwin Gray played five games for the Steelers with just 25 offensive snaps in 2020 after spending his rookie season on the practice squad. The Steelers waived him near the end of the season to place him back on the practice squad, but the Jacksonville Jaguars signed him. He spent 2021 on the Tennessee Titans practice squad and has a futures contract with them for 2022.
MARCZI SOPHOMORE REVIEWS
Steelers Depot stalwart contributor Matthew Marczi conducts a “stock watch” to review how player performance during trends during the year the season. I’ve pulled the links for the latest evaluation to show how each player was last trending:
|1||ILB||Devin Bush||Marczi Stock Watch||Up|
|3||WR||Diontae Johnson||Marczi Stock Watch||Up|
|3||CB||Justin Layne||Marczi Stock Watch||Even|
|4||RB||Benny Snell||Marczi Stock Watch||Even|
|5||TE||Zach Gentry||Marczi Stock Watch||Up|
|6||Edge||Sutton Smith||Marczi Draft Review||Sold|
|6||DL||Isaiah Buggs||Marczi Stock Watch||Sold|
|6||DB||Ulysees Gilbert||Marczi Stock Watch||Up|
|7||OL||Derwin Gray||Kozora Update||Sold|
The three top draft picks are lagging. Devin Bush underperforming for a number 10 overall selection. Let’s see if he returns to form from his injury in 2022. Diontae Johnson is performing a little better than his relative position among the other wide receivers. Can he rise with a new quarterback? Justin Layne at the bottom of his group.
As for the rest of the class. Benny Snell has not asserted himself the few times he carries the ball. Tight end Zach Gentry improved as both a blocker and receiver. Ulysees Gilbert has a shot to compete to backup the linebacker position. However, Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, and Derwin Gray are no longer on the roster. If the Steelers can get at least two to contribute along with dominant play by Bush and Diontae, these players can salvage the class.
YOUR MUSIC SELECTION
I always like to include a bit of music. The 2019 Steelers draft class looks a little shaky. But these players aren’t done yet. They had a dream and there is still time to realize it. Here is Not Done Yet by Sticky Fingers.