When it comes to player evaluation, it’s important to give players time to develop in order to understand what they truly are as NFL talents. Some players come pro-ready out of college and make an immediate impact in the league, but far more rookies need a season or two under their belts before we can truly give them a fair grade.
Bleacher Report recently published an article by Ian Wharton where he graded every team’s 2018 NFL Draft haul, listing each teams’ selections from the draft and how they turned out heading into the 2022 season. When Wharton got to the Pittsburgh Steelers, he opted to give the team a C- grade for their draft class as we stand here five years later. For reference, Pittsburgh selected Virginia Tech S Terrell Edmunds (No. 28 overall), Oklahoma State WR James Washington (No. 60 overall), Oklahoma State QB Mason Rudolph (No. 76 overall), Western Michigan OT Chukwuma Okorafor (No. 92 overall), Penn State S Marcus Allen (No. 148 overall), NC State RB Jaylen Samuels (No. 165 overall), and Alabama DT Joshua Frazier (No. 246 overall).
“The Pittsburgh Steelers did not land a star with their seven selections in the 2018 draft, but they did find two starters, two spot starters and two backups. Their most valuable pick was third rounder Chukwuma Okorafor, who emerged as the starting right tackle in 2020 and became a reliable enough presence to earn a three-year, $29 million extension this offseason. Finding a starting tackle at No. 92 overall is a good value. First-round safety Terrell Edmunds has been an average contributor in his role. He never quite lived up to expectations despite his great athleticism, but he has carved a niche next to star safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Edmunds is a solid downhill tackler who has little impact on the passing game.”
When looking at the names listed above and Wharton’s opening comments, it’s fair to say that his take on the 2018 Draft class for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a fair one. Pittsburgh failed to land a “star” player with its own draft picks in 2018, having none of the players selected match the impact of other draft picks in the past like Najee Harris, T.J. Watt, or Cam Heyward.
Still, while there hasn’t been a bonafide stud to emerge from this group, Pittsburgh has enjoyed capable play from several of its selections. Many, including myself, were perplexed with the Terrell Edmunds selection in the first round, seeing him more as a Day 2 prospect. Still, Pittsburgh had enough conviction to pull the trigger in the first round, making him a starter right away in his rookie season where he has since provided stable, yet unspectacular play.
Chukwuma Okorafor is the other starter to emerge from this draft class as a former third-round pick. While he has taken his lumps at times and has shown uneven nastiness as a run blocker, Okorafor has been an above-average tackle during his tenure as the starting RT in Pittsburgh. He has graded out to be one of the better pass blockers at his position according to Pro Football Focus, and remains only 24 years old, potentially having room to continue developing now inked to a contract extension this offseason.
Wharton calls WR James Washington the biggest “whiff” of the draft class, which based on draft capital, can be argued. While Washington starred as an All-American receiver at Oklahoma State, he failed to assert himself as a regular starter in Pittsburgh’s offense, lacking the nuance as a route runner and separator to move around the formation and consistently beat coverage. Pittsburgh ended up drafting Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in consecutive drafts, where they ultimately passed Washington up on the depth chart, relegating him to a backup flanker role with even Ray-Ray McCloud seeing snaps over him.
QB Mason Rudolph had his moments as a spot-starter in place of Ben Roethlisberger back in 2019 but failed to live up to that supposed “first-round grade” the Steelers claimed they had on him coming out in 2018. He split time with Duck Hodges that season without Ben, and while having a winning record as a starter, Pittsburgh felt compelled to sign Mitch Trubisky and draft Kenny Pickett in the first round this year to possibly unseat Rudolph on the depth chart.
Marcus Allen has been a viable special teams contributor but has failed to provide more than backup snaps at either safety or linebacker. Jaylen Samuels proved to be a capable backup during his tenure in Pittsburgh as a capable pass catcher, but his lack of juice as a runner made his skill set rather redundant based on what the team had on the depth chart. Joshua Frazier failed to make it one season with the team, flaming out before his NFL career could get started.
Overall, I believe Wharton’s grade on the Steelers 2018 Draft Class is a fair one. Even their best players from that class (Edmunds and Okorafor) still aren’t considered long-term locked in starters at their respective positions. However, if we look at the rest of the list, it’s intriguing to see how much talent Pittsburgh has acquired from this draft class from other teams. Pittsburgh traded for Miami Dolphins’ first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has become an impact player for the defense, and signed both Bears’ second-round picks, G James Daniels and WR Anthony Miller, to the roster.
What are your thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 Draft Class? Do you think they were given a fair grade? What is your reasoning? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!