Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: How Good Was The 2019 Draft Class?

2019 Steelers Draft Class

The 2019 Steelers draft class completed their fourth season in 2022. 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 including two undrafted free agents (UDFA).

Here is the link to the 2019 draft class year three update if you want to see how the players compared at the end of 2021.

Here is how the Steelers first three 2019 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after four seasons of play:


Name G Snaps D/ST INTs PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH Missed Tkl%
Devin White 62 3972/224 1 15 6 9 20.5 483 35/55 9.9
Josh Allen 57 2693/272 1 7 7 3 27.5 185 36/70 6.1
Devin Bush 52 2588/198 2 13 2 5 4.0 286 13/10 7.7
Rashan Gary 56 1759/118 0 2 3 4 22.5 135 23/54 3.6
Jahlani Tavai 61 1847/740 1 4 3 2 3.5 199 9/8 8.3
Ben Banogu 50 554/352 0 1 1 0 2.5 29 3/6 3.3
Mack Wilson 60 1745/594 1 10 2 0 2.5 199 7/4 13.9

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. He was named defensive player of the week once. Unfortunately, the Steelers placed him on injured reserve after he tore his ACL in the fifth game in 2020. In 2021, Bush played tentatively in 14 games. Bush played in all 17 games in 2022. But his snaps diminished towards season’s end.

A “quiet finish to the season” does not bode well for a defensive player counted on to be a disruptor. In four years, he has two interceptions and is second with 13 passes defensed and 286 tackles. But lags far behind in other splash categories. The Steelers did not pick-up his fifth year option. So, he’s a free agent going into the 2023 season.

Devin White (1st/5th overall) 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. He intercepted a pass and made 12 tackles in Tampa’s 2020 Super Bowl victory. In 2020, AP named him a second team All-Pro. He added 128 tackles and recorded 18 quarterback hits and named to the Pro Bowl team in 2021.

He leads this group with 15 deflected passes, nine fumble recoveries plus 483 tackles. He’s second with six forced fumbles, 35 tackles for losses , and 55 quarterback hits. White named defensive player of the week three times in the past four years. He’s also tacked on 20.5 sacks. Tampa picked up his fifth year option.

Josh Allen (1st/th7 overall) The PFWA named Allen to their 2019 All-Rookie Team. And he also made the 2019 Pro Bowl team as an alternate. He leads this group with seven forced fumbles, 27.5 sacks, 36 tackles for losses and 70 quarterback hits. 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. He had eight tackles, a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. A two-time defensive player of the week. Josh Allen scored on a game winning fumble recovery to secure a playoff berth for Jacksonville in 2022. Obviously, the Jaguars picked up his fifth year extension.

Rashan Gary (1st/12th overall) Green Bay used Gary in a rotational role in his first two seasons. In 2021, Gary started full time after Za’Darius Smith injured after just one game. His production increased: Seven sacks in his first two seasons to 9.5 in 2021. 24 quarterback pressures in 2019/2020 to 47 in 2021. He hit quarterbacks 14 times in his first two seasons to 28 times in 2021. He had 3.5 sacks in three playoff games including two in a 2021 loss to the 49ers. The Packers picked up his fifth year option prior to the 2022 season. Gary was on pace to exceed his 9.5 sacks from the previous year when he tore an ACL in week nine. Gary is second in the group with 22.5 sacks. And third with 23 tackles for losses and 54 quarterback hits. We’ll see if he maintains his form coming back from injury in 2023.

Jahlani Tavai (2nd/43rd overall) Tavai started 16 of 31 games played in his first two seasons. He hurt his shoulder at the end of his rookie season missing the season finale. He made 158 tackles, but the Detroit Lions waived their second-round draft choice just before the 2021 season. Bill Belichick signed him to the Patriots practice squad. He ended up playing in 13 games mostly on special teams. In 2022, Tavai began the season as a backup linebacker but started 12 games after week four. He played about half the Patriots defensive and 333 special teams snaps in 2022. Tavai signed a two-year, $4.4 million deal in 2022 with New England. If he maintains his role, the Patriots may have found a starting linebacker at a discount.

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. But his share of defensive snaps declined from 26% his first year to 11% in 2022. He’s hit the quarterback just once and had no sacks since his rookie year. A healthy scratch in 15 games; the Colts are unlikely to sign him for a fifth year.

Mack Wilson (5th/155th overall) Steelers Depot respondent Beeze requested Wilson’s inclusion. The Cleveland Browns traded Wilson to the New England Patriots for Chase Winovich following the 2021 season. He peaked his first year starting 14 of 16 games played. However, he hyperextended his knee just prior to the 2020 season and missed the first two games of his second year. His defensive workload steadily dropped. 88% of Brown’s defensive snaps in 2019, 43% in 2020 to 21% in 2021. In New England, he played a career high 284 special team compared to 236 defensive snaps. But received no defensive snaps after week 13. He places third in passes defensed (10) and tackles (199) among his draft class peers. However, seven PDs and 82 tackles are from his rookie year. And he’s missed 32 tackles for a 13.9% missed rate. We’ll see if New England brings him back for the league minimum in 2023.

Linebacker Summary

Teams selected few linebackers in the first two rounds, so Devin Bush compared to some draft contemporaries playing on the edge. Devin Bush and Josh Allen suffered knee injuries that cut short their sophomore seasons. Josh Allen returned to play decisively  while Bush played tentatively. Devin White leads this pack with Allen just behind him. I placed Bush at the bottom of the first-round picks after Rashan Gary. But ahead of the rest of the group but mostly based on his rookie year. The Steelers picked Rod Woodson as the tenth overall pick back in 1987. Steelers fans expected that type of dominant play from Bush also a tenth overall pick. Unfortunately, Bush unable to recapture his rookie year form. Pittsburgh unlikely to sign him since his fifth year option not exercised. Let’s see if he can flash with a new team.



Name G Snaps TGTs RECs Yds Y/C Y/G Catch % Drop% Points
Deebo Samuel 51 2502/11 340 223 3230 14.5 63.3 65.6 9.1 158
A.J. Brown 52 3046/14 440 273 4491 16.5 74.9 62.0 4.5 222
Mecole Hardman 57 1896/341 220 151 2088 13.8 36.6 68.6 5.5 122
JJ Arcega-Whiteside 40 797/249 35 16 290 18.1 7.3 45.7 14.3 14
Parris Campbell 32 1416/36 144 97 983 10.1 30.7 67.4 4.2 30
Andy Isabella 41 566/149 54 33 447 13.5 10.9 61.1 3.7 18
D.K. Metcalf 66 3620/18 499 306 4218 13.8 63.9 61.3 5.2 212
Diontae Johnson 64 3415/70 552 340 3646 10.7 57.0 61.6 5.6 132
Jalen Hurd 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Terry McLaurin 63 3786/5 477 299 4281 14.3 68.0 62.7 3.1 126
Marquise Brown 58 3071/2 424 262 3070 11.7 52.9 61.8 4.5 144

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 his league 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 other foot and leg injuries but only missed one game. He finished with 88 catches for 923 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s not returned a kick since 2020. In 2021, Diontae Johnson 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 four seasons. He’s managed to reduce his career drop rate from 8.1% in 2020 to 5.6% after four seasons. He leads this group in targets and receptions, but his low 57.0% catch rate must improve. He set an NFL record with most receptions in a season without scoring a touchdown in 2022. That dropped him to fifth in the group for scoring. Diontae signed a two-year contract extension worth $36.7 million before the 2022 season. So, he’s not due for free agency until 2025. Let’s see how his chemistry with Kenny Pickett mixes in 2023.

Deebo Samuel (2nd/36th overall) Deebo Samuel showed potential in 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. His second season interrupted by injuries and illness. He missed the first three games of the season as he recovered from a broken foot. Later, Samuel injured his hamstring. He ended up playing just seven games in his second year. But Deebo crushed it in 2021. He scored 14 touchdowns. Six in the air but 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 more 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.

Deebo signed a three-year $73.5 million deal with $58.1 reportedly guaranteed before 2022 season. His performance dipped as he missed four games with hamstring and ankle injuries. Plus, the 49ers started three different quarterbacks. A dual-threat scoring 14 rushing and 12 receiving touchdowns. He is third with 14.5 yards per catch, 65.6 Catch percentage, and 158 points scored. But he does have 31 drops out of 340 targets for a very high 9.1 drop%.

A.J. Brown (2nd/51st overall) 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. This 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. The Titans traded Brown to Philadelphia where he broke the Eagles all-time receiving yards record and fourth in the NFL with 1496. And his 11 touchdowns and 88 receiving yards per game led to another Pro Bowl.

A two-time Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro in 2022. Brown leads this receiver group with 4491 receiving yards, 74.9 receiving yards per game, and 222 points scored in his first four seasons. He is second with 16.5 yards per catch. He’s about to play his eighth postseason game in the Super Bowl. He signed a four-year deal with Philadelphia for $100 million.

Mecole Hardman (2nd/56th overall) Mecole Hardman made the 2019 PFWA All-Rookie team and Pro-Bowl beating out Diontae Johnson as the AFC return specialist. As a rookie, he was third in NFL in kickoff returns and yardage averaging 26.1 yards a return. And 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 5.5% over four seasons. In 2022, placed on injured reserve with abdomen injury after playing nine games. He returned to play in the conference final against the Bengals. He leads the group catching 68.6% of his targeted passes. He’s scheduled to be a free agent after the Super Bowl.

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 catching four of eight passes. 12 other Eagle players gained more receiving yardage. 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. In three seasons, JJ dropped five of 35 targets for an obscene 14.3% drop rate. But he does have an impressive 18.1 yards per catch. The Eagles traded him to Seattle in 2022. The Seahawks kept Arcega-Whiteside on practice squad a few weeks before releasing him without being activated for any games.

Parris Campbell (2nd/59th overall) Parris Campbell played a full season in 2022 after ending his first three years on injured reserve. The Colts placed him on injured reserve in each of his first three seasons. A sports hernia kept him out of two games his rookie year. A broken hand cost him four more. Finally, a broken foot ended his season with just seven games played. In 2020, his season shut down after injuring his left knee. He played just two games. In 2021, he played five games before breaking his foot scoring a 51-yard touchdown. He did come back to play in the Colts final game. But in 2022 he played all 17 games. His 97 receptions for 983 yards and three touchdowns exceeded his production in three previous seasons combined. Currently a free agent, he could be a valuable asset at a bargain price.

Andy Isabella (2nd/62nd overall) Isabella showed off his 4.31 combined speed with an 88-yard touchdown his rookie season. That was the fifth longest in the NFL that season. But he remained 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. In 2022, Arizona released Isabella after week four. Run-heavy Baltimore picked him up on their practice squad. Isabella made his debut as a Raven against Pittsburgh gaining one yard on a jet sweep. We’ll see if he connects with Lamar Jackson if both are back as Ravens in 2023.

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 made the Pro Bowl. His 4218 receiving yards in four seasons is third among this group. He’s also second with 306 receptions and 212 points. Receiving an average of 81.4 yards per game in 2020 was fourth in the NFL. He’s gained 451 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns in four playoff games. He gained over 1000 receiving yards for the second time with Geno Smith at quarterback. He signed a three-year deal with $72 million including up to $36 million guaranteed if he is on Seattle’s roster five days after the start of the waiver period in 2023 and 2024. Seattle looking forward to a huge year in Metcalf’s second season with Geno Smith at quarterback.

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 his ACL. Hurd injured a knee in 2021 and San Francisco released him that November. Over the Cap reports Hurd paid $2.7 million in his three years as a 49er. He is currently out of football before taking a single snap in a regular season game. Hurd is available as a free agent.

Terry McLaurin (3rd/76th overall) Three team name changes and ten different quarterbacks threw passes to McLaurin the past four seasons. Yet, he made the PFWA 2019 All-Rookie team. Then gained 1000 or more receiving yards three straight seasons. In 2022 he was seventh in NFL with 15.5 yards per reception and voted to 2022 Pro Bowl. In 2020, his teammates voted him captain. Impressive for a second-year player. The last receiver selected in this group, he ranks second in receiving yards, yards per game, and third in receptions. He’s dropped 15 of 477 targets for a low 3.1% drop rate. He signed a three-year contract extension with Washington worth $68.2 million in 2022. Imagine 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 fifth season, the studs set themselves apart from the duds. In my view, Diontae Johnson is fifth best in this group with A.J. Brown, McLaurin, Metcalf, and Samuel ahead of him. I have him ahead of Hardman and the rest. Good considering teams selected seven of nine of the other listed receivers before Diontae. Steelers fans will be on touchdown watch in 2023. How many games into the season before Pickett connects with Diontae for one?



Name G Snaps D/ST INTs PDs FF FR Tackles MT% Tgts Rec Comp% TD%
Deandre Baker 26 1226/116 0 10 0 0 82 9.9 117 75 64.1 6.8
Byron Murphy 56 3460/172 5 34 1 5 229 10.5 349 232 66.5 5.7
Rock Ya-Sin 52 2657/307 2 27 2 2 183 8.0 247 157 63.6 3.6
Sean Murphy-Bunting 53 2459/479 6 21 4 1 188 13.8 255 169 66.3 5.9
Trayvon Mullen 46 1995/261 4 29 1 0 150 9.1 198 122 61.7 5.1
Joejuan Williams 36 505/337 0 8 0 0 44 0.0 36 19 52.8 2.8
Greedy Williams 39 1375/201 2 12 1 0 99 14.7 139 84 60.4 2.9
Lonnie Johnson 56 1938/590 3 13 0 0 183 11.2 136 87 64.0 5.1
David Long 52 1029/474 1 7 0 0 77 9.4 97 66 68.0 4.1
Justin Layne 52 156/705 0 1 0 1 45 11.8 18 14 77.8 5.6
Jamel Dean 57 2648/492 7 41 0 0 193 4.9 253 137 54.2 4.0

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference *TD% = TDs given up/Targets

Synopsis of each player:

Justin Layne (3rd/83rd overall) Justin Layne leads the group in special team snaps with 705. But lags far behind with just 156 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 14 of 18 targets. The 77.8% completion rate is the highest among this group albeit a small sample size. He’s only given up one touchdown but with just 18 targets. Layne has an 11.8% missed tackle rate. Primarily a special team player, Layne has not made a significant impact on the field.

The New York Giants claimed Layne off waivers at the start of 2022 season. He played limited action in seven games before the Giants released him. Chicago picked him up for two games and released him. Then Carolina claimed him just before Christmas. But Justin Layne failed to report. Justin Layne’s career earnings are $3.7 million. But his NFL days may be numbered.

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 for robbing guests at a party using a firearm. The Giants waived him in June. The charges dropped and Kansas City added Baker to their practice squad. In 2020, he played two games late in the season including starting 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 of the Chiefs playoff games. But the Chiefs waived Baker in the 2022 preseason as they reconfigured their secondary. He did not play in the NFL in 2022. His career earnings are $7.4 million.

Byron Murphy (2nd/33rd overall) Byron Murphy was a starter out of the gate, starting all 16 Arizona Cardinals games in 2019. In 2020, he started seven of 15 games played. But in 2021 he started all 16 games he played in. In his first three seasons he only missed two games and intercepted five passes and deflected 30. In 2022, Murphy missed the last eight games due to a back injury.

In four seasons, quarterbacks targeted receivers he covered 349 times with 232 completions for a 66.5% completion rate. Among this group he is tops in snaps played, total tackles, and fumble recoveries. He’s given up 20 touchdowns in coverage. That’s 5.73% of targeted passes, which is one of the highest in this group. His 27 missed tackles give him a 10.5% missed tackle rate. But he was defensive player of the week in 2021 with two interceptions including a pick-six. In 2022, he scored a game winning touchdown against the Raiders on a fumble recovery. He has $9.2 million in career earnings. The Cardinals want to re-sign Murphy, but other teams may make an offer Murphy can’t refuse in 2023.

Rock Ya-Sin (2nd/34th overall) Rock Ya-Sin started 29 of the 41 Colts 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. But missed eight games in those three years. In 2022, the Colts traded Rock Ya-Sin to the Raiders. He missed six games due to knee  and foot injuries. But defended seven passes in the 11 games he played. His 16 missed tackles with 183 total tackles make an 8.0 missed tackle rate, among the lowest in this group. He has $8.9 million in career earnings. Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus says “he can expect to earn around $9 million per season” as one of the few outside cornerbacks in the 2023 free agent market.

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 four forced fumbles. And is second with six interceptions. But he’s missed 30 tackles for a 13.8% missed tackle rate. Quarterbacks targeted receivers he covered 255 times in four seasons with 169 completions for a 66.3% completion rate. But he intercepted passes in each playoff game in Tampa Bay’s 2020 Super Bowl run. A dislocated elbow limited Murphy-Bunting to nine games in 2021. Then a quad injury kept him out of five games in 2022. A free agent he has career earnings of $8.4 million. Tampa Bay observers like him as the nickel back to exploit his coverage and blitzing skills. Let’s see where he signs in 2023.

Trayvon Mullen (2nd/40th overall) The Raiders made Trayvon Mullen a fulltime 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 including two interceptions. He played the first four games in 2021 adding another interception. But he injured his foot in the fourth game after just six snaps. Mullen returned in week 14 but hurt his toe and missed the rest of the season after playing five games. Raiders traded Mullen to Arizona in 2022. He played eight games before Arizona released him. If he had played ten then the Raiders owed Arizona a sixth  instead of a seventh round pick.

Dallas signed Mullen but he only played in the season finale. He did not appear in the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens claimed him on waivers. He’s held receivers to a 61.7% catch rate. That’s fourth among this group. His career earnings are $8.3 million. We’ll see if he ends up on Baltimore’s roster with his cousin Lamar Jackson in 2023.

Joejuan Williams (2nd/45th overall) The Patriots traded up 11 spots to select Joejuan Williams. Williams primarily played 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 to receivers he covered. He gave up one touchdown. He does have the best catch percentage at 52.8 during the regular season with limited targets. Unfortunately, he injured his shoulder in a preseason game and missed the 2022 season. He has career earnings of $6.6 million and is scheduled to be a free agent.

Greedy Williams (2nd/46th overall) Greedy Williams played 12 games in 2019. But he suffered nerve damage in his shoulder and the Browns placed him on injured reserve missing the entire 2020 season. 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 in is tackling. He’s missed 17 tackles for a 14.7% missed tackle average. Last in the group. He does have the third lowest completion rate of 64.0%. Greedy has career earnings of $6.5 million for his 39 games played. He lost playing time only getting 105 defensive snaps in 2022 after missing multiple games with a hamstring injury. Will the Browns re-sign him for 2023?

Lonnie Johnson (3rd/54th overall) The Texans used Johnson on both defense and special teams. In 2020, he started five of the last six games this season 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. Kansas City acquired Johnson in a trade in 2022. But waived him prior to the regular season. Tennessee claimed him and he played 12 games. He missed four games due to a midseason injury. The Titans played him mainly on special teams. But he did play a career low 165 defensive snaps. Johnson ranks in the middle in most categories in this group. Johnson has $5.2 million career earnings for 56 games played. He is scheduled to be a free agent in 2023.

David Long (3rd/79th overall) David Long did not play much defense in his first two seasons. He totaled 225 defensive snaps in two seasons for the Rams. He led the group with 399 special team snaps as a rookie. 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 in the Ram’s Super Bowl win over Cincinnati. On the final play, his coverage helped Aaron Donald sack Joe Burrow to seal the game.

In 2022, Long started four more games. But by season’s end was on the bench. He played seven defensive snaps in the final three games. His snaps count peaked at 516 in 2021 and went down to 288 in 2022. Even his use on special teams limited to 17 snaps. He’s allowed receivers he covered to catch 68% of their targets. That’s near the bottom of the group. He’s scheduled to be a free agent in 2023.

Jamel Dean (3rd/94th overall) Jamel Dean defended 17 passes in 2019. That was fourth in the NFL. Quarterbacks tested Dean’s coverage skills with 122 passes in 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. He added nine pass deflections and two more interceptions. In 2022, he intercepted two more passes. Although his 253 targets are third, he leads this group with seven interceptions and 41 defensed passes. Also, he’s second in limiting receivers to 54.5% catches, made 193 tackles and a low 4.9 missed tackle rate. Already played seven playoff games with four PD’s, 31 tackles and a forced fumble. He’s earned one ring in his young career. A free agent, where will he be in 2023?

Cornerback Summary

Justin Layne does not favor comparably to this group. DeAndre Baker, who did not play in 2022 comes closest but has many more defensive snaps and contributed more on the field. Layne has not shown much impact on the field. Not reporting to Carolina when claimed on waivers from Chicago may be his last hurrah in the NFL. We’ll see in 2023.

Jameal Dean the last selection in this group emerges to top the group. Rock Ya-Sin, Sean Murphy-Bunting, Byron Murphy, and Trayvon Mullen round up the leaders. All of these defensive backs are free agents in 2023. It will be interesting to see where they all end up. Although Justin Layne was the second to last cornerback picked in this group, as a third rounder, his lack of contributions to the Steelers defense is a clear miss.


Five of the nine Steeler 2019 draft classes remained on the Steelers 2022 preseason roster. Now that number could be down to three in 2023. Fourth round pick Benny Snell played 63 games the past four seasons. His offensive output peaked in 2020. Since then, his offensive snaps declined as he plays mainly (991 snaps) on special teams. Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren are the main running backs with Snell ready to go as a third back. Fifth round pick tight end Zach Gentry played 40 games with 577 of his 1119 offensive snaps occurring in 2022. Primarily a blocker, Gentry chipped in 39 receptions with 19 each in 2021 and 2022.

Three Six-Round Picks

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 playoffs. 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 2021 season opener. Back injuries landed him on injured reserve twice. The Steelers placed him on injured reserve a third time prior to the 2022 season. He later signed with Tampa Bay to play three games on special teams.

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. But Smith did not play in 2022. 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. Buggs found a home in Detroit in 2022. He started in 13 of 17 games played recording his first sack and forcing a fumble. Buggs scheduled to be a free agent in 2023. Could he get another stint in Pittsburgh if the Lions do not re-sign him?

The Last Pick

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. The Birmingham Stallions of the USFL signed Gray in December 2022.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Steelers signed two undrafted free agents in 2019 that played for the Steelers. Matthew Wright did not make the Steelers roster in 2019. But in 2020 Pittsburgh re-signed Wright to their practice squad. He played in three games late in the season in pace of injured Chris Boswell. Wright kicked in 14 games for Jacksonville in 2021. And started the 2022 season subbing for Harrison Butker in two games with Kansas City. Then Wright came back to Pittsburgh to kick in four more games. In his two stints, Wright converted 16 of 18 field goal attempts and 14 of 14 points after touchdowns in seven games. Amazingly, his 16 field goals are tied for 13th all-time in the Steelers 90 year history.

The 2019 Duck Season

Then there is Devlin “Duck” Hodges. The Steelers signed Hodges after a May minicamp. He end-up on the roster as Pittsburgh traded Josh Dobbs to Jacksonville. Hodges made his NFL debut in the fifth game against Baltimore after Mason Rudolph knocked out of the game. He started the next week in a 24-17 win over the Chargers. Rudolph came back from his concussion. But Hodges replaced Rudolph midway through the third quarter of a week 12 contest against Cincinnati. Duck threw for 118 yards including a 79-yard touchdown pass for a 16–10 comeback victory over the Bengals. He started the final five games of the season. He passed for 1,063 yards with five touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Duck never played another NFL down. He was on the Steelers practice squad in 2020. He signed with Rams in 2021 but didn’t make the roster. Duck played one season with the CFL Ottawa Redblacks. He played four unspectacular games then announced his retirement from football.

Recent Depot Articles on the Class of 2019

RD Name Article Author Trend
1 Devin Bush Will Bush or Spillane Earn More in Free Agency Matt Marczi DOWN
3 Diontae Johnson Diontae and Pickens Both Top-15 Receivers Joe Clark UP
3 Justin Layne Layne Claimed by Giants Josh Carney SOLD
4 Benny Snell Snell Thankful for Every Opportunity Matt Marczi UP
5 Zach Gentry Gentry 2023 Free Agent Analysis Matt Marczi UP
6 Sutton Smith Sutton Smith Draft Review Matt Marczi SOLD
6 Isaiah Buggs Buggs Signing with Lions Dave Bryan SOLD
6 Ulysees Gilbert Gilbert Signed to Buccaneers Practice Squad Matt Marczi SOLD
7 Derwin Gray Titans Waive Derwin Gray Dave Bryan SOLD
UDFA Matthew Wright Tomlin Can’t Say Enough Good About Wright Joe Clark SOLD
UDFA Duck Hodges Duck Hodges Retiring from Football Hunter Muro RETIRED



Devin Bush underperformed for a number 10 overall selection. Pittsburgh did not extend his fifth year option and is unlikely to re-sign him in 2023. Diontae Johnson is performing a better than his relative position among the other wide receivers. Justin Layne provided special teams help but now gone from team.

As for the rest of the class. Benny Snell has settled in as a special team player and third running back. Tight end Zach Gentry improved as both a blocker and receiver. Ulysees Gilbert, Sutton Smith, Isaiah Buggs, and Derwin Gray are no longer on the roster.

Undrafted free agents Mathew Wright played as a substitute kicker and Duck Hodges as an emergency starting quarterback. They were available and contributed when needed.

This draft class may be salvageable if Diontae Johnson blossoms in 2023. And Benny Snell and Zach Gentry make positive contributions in their respective roles in 2023. Here we go.


I always like to include a bit of music. The 2019 Steelers draft class fading away. We might feel a little let down. Here is Never Let Me Down Again by Depeche Mode.

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