Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert wrapped up his final draft class a week ago today, completing a group of seven draftees that included two quarterbacks and two wide receivers. The team also added 10 players as college free agents after the draft, which currently has their roster set at 93 players, meaning three terminations are imminent.
Colbert hopped on SiriusXM Radio on Friday to recap last week’s draft with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan, and he did talk about the class of undrafted players that the Steelers added this year, and the philosophy behind where they were looking and the number they ultimately added.
“That’s always the deal: when you get to the end of that draft, you look for guys you still had draftable grades on”, he said. “We didn’t draft any corners, so Chris [Steele] coming into that mix, that’s important. You try to make sure you add enough players at the positions, maybe, you didn’t get to draft”.
The Steelers’ college free agent class this year does include two cornerbacks: the aforementioned Steele out of USC, as well as Bryce Watts, who came out of UMass Amherst. Defensive back was an area team president Art Rooney II acknowledged the team hoped to address in the draft, but they failed to select any. In addition to the two cornerbacks they signed after the draft, they also signed veteran free agent safety Damontae Kazee shortly afterward.
“I believe we ended up signing only nine [note: the Steelers’ website lists 10], because we had some holdovers from our practice squad from last year that we like”, Colbert said of their body of rookies, in addition to their seven draft selections. In comparison, the Baltimore Ravens drafted 11 players and added 17 more as college free agents, meaning their current roster consists of 28 rookies—nearly a third of the team.
The Steelers have never had an entire draft class make the 53-man roster out of the gate, though in 2020, they did have a game or two in which all of their draft picks were active for a game, with one of them being a member of the practice squad who was elevated.
This year will likely be no exception, with seventh-round picks Mark Robinson and Chris Oladokun having an uphill battle ahead of themselves to fight for a roster spot, at the least. The top four picks should have no difficulty, but Connor Heyward will not get an automatic green light.
“On average, I think it’s two [undrafted] players per NFL team will make a roster, and we’ve had some success with that group before, and hopefully we have it again”, Colbert said. The Steelers certainly have historically had plenty of success in this category, though less so of late.
The team does retain two players that they originally signed as college free agents last year, kept on the practice squad, in wide receiver Rico Bussey and safety Donovan Stiner. The most notable non-specialist undrafted free agents currently on the roster that they developed are Robert Spillane (though they were not his original team), James Pierre, Henry Mondeaux, J.C. Hassenauer, Kevin Rader, and John Leglue.