As we’ve done in previous years, we’re taking a look at those Pittsburgh Steelers under futures contracts for the 2023 offseason. The ones who spent most if not the entire year on the practice squad and what we can expect from them during training camp (hopefully) into the regular season.
Duke Dawson/DB Florida – 5105 197
If there’s pedigree, the Steelers are going to find it. That’s Dawson, a former second-round pick of the New England Patriots in 2018, a former Florida Gator who received a lot of love in the pre-draft process. From Pittsburgh, too, who brought him in for a Top 30 visit prior to the ’18 NFL Draft, listed among our potential targets on Day Two that year which included future Steelers in James Washington and Anthony Miller.
But Dawson didn’t work out in New England. He was their Senquez Golson. Lost to injury the first half of his rookie season, he never played a down for the Patriots. In an admit-their-mistake move, Bill Belichick traded Dawson and a seventh-round pick to the Denver Broncos for just a sixth-round pick, getting something out of him instead of outright waiving him in the summer of 2019. In Denver, Dawson saw the field, working as a sub-package corner who logged three starts across 347 snaps. He didn’t make many impact plays and missed a couple of tackles. He returned in 2020 but saw more times on special teams than on defense, recording eight total tackles. His season was cut short with a torn ACL and he opened the following fall on the Reserve/PUP list. Once he got healthy, he was waived and then signed to the practice squad, not playing a single snap in 2021.
The Broncos didn’t extend a futures deal to him after the ’21 season. Dawson sat in free agency for months and only found a new home at the start of the 2022 training camp, inking a deal with the Carolina Panthers. Another injury struck, was placed on IR and released with an injury settlement 48 hours later.
Ostensibly, Dawson got healthy and Pittsburgh signed him to their practice squad on October 12th, spending the rest of the year there. By the time Dawson got up to speed, the Steelers’ secondary got healthier and there wasn’t a need to call anyone up from the practice squad the way CB Josh Jackson and S Elijah Riley did in the first portion of the year. Dawson did enough in practice to earn a futures deal shortly after the Steelers’ season ended.
Still just 27, Dawson’s first mission is to stay healthy. He’s been placed on IR too many times and no one makes the club from the tub, especially a now-journeyman like Dawson who is on his fourth team in four full seasons. Dawson profiles more of a slot corner and the Steelers don’t have a clear starter there, no Mike Hilton type who has that spot locked down. But Cam Sutton, assuming he’s re-signed, is more than capable of playing there while the team likes Arthur Maulet’s Hilton-lite skillset. Dawson will have a big mountain to climb but he first must be available to fight. Get through the offseason and summer healthy, compete, and see where the chips fall.