Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: Reviewing The 2020 Draft Class

Top 2 Rookie Draft Picks

The 2020 Steelers draft class completed their third season in 2022. The Steelers traded Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears for a 2023 draft pick after playing two full seasons in Pittsburgh and part of a third. Alex Highsmith remains on the roster and is stacking up sacks opposite TJ Watt. Just two picks to track this season since the Steelers traded their 2020 first-round draft pick to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019. I’ll recap the rest of the Steelers 2020 draft class.

Here is the link to their second-year recap if you want to compare the statistical change from last season.

All statistics extracted from the Pro Football Reference (PFR). Here is how the Steelers’ top two 2020 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after three seasons:


Name G Snaps D/ST TGTs RECs Yds Y/R Y/G Catch % Drop% Pts
Henry Ruggs III 20 915/52 79 50 921 18.4 46.1 63.3 6.3 24
Jerry Jeudy 41 1931/0 269 157 2295 14.6 56.0 58.4 5.9 56
CeeDee Lamb 49 2627/94 387 260 3396 13.1 69.3 67.2 5.7 134
Jalen Reagor 45 1343/171 124 72 799 11.1 17.8 58.1 4.0 32
Justin Jefferson 50 2979/0 476 324 4825 14.9 96.5 68.1 2.9 162
Brandon Aiyuk 46 2636/61 294 194 2589 13.3 56.3 66.0 5.4 122
Tee Higgins 46 2272/3 327 215 3028 14.1 65.8 65.7 6.4 118
Michael Pittman Jr. 46 2744/24 331 227 2510 11.1 54.6 68.6 3.9 68
Laviska Shenault Jr. 43 1388/24 211 148 1491 10.1 34.7 70.1 6.2 42
KJ Hamler 23 833/16 80 42 620 14.8 27.0 52.5 10.0 18
Chase Claypool 46 2177/127 293 167 2184 13.1 47.5 57.0 5.1 84
Van Jefferson 44 1629/114 164 93 1391 15.0 31.6 56.7 4.9 60
Denzel Mims 30 988/3 92 42 676 16.1 22.5 45.7 6.5 2

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

Synopsis of each player:

Chase Claypool (2nd/49th overall): Chase Claypool scored nine receiving touchdowns in his rookie season. That led all rookie receivers including Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and Tee Higgins. Plus, he added two on the ground. But after that breakout year, the Steelers hired a new offensive coordinator. By 2022, his yards per reception slipped from over 14 to 9.7. He scored just three touchdowns in a season and a half. Pittsburgh traded Claypool to Chicago for a second-round pick. Chase immediately hit the field with little time to learn the Bears’ offensive scheme. His drop rate ballooned to 10% in Chicago. He’s slipped from first in points as a rookie to fifth among this group of receivers.

We’ll see how Claypool does after a full season with the Bears in 2023. And see who the Steelers select with the draft pick acquired from Chicago. As for Chase, he says, “I hope people haven’t counted me out yet. I’ve got a lot to bring to the table.’’

Henry Ruggs III (1st/12th overall): Ruggs was selected first in 2020 among this group of receivers. After finishing with 452 receiving yards and two touchdowns as a rookie, he gained 469 yards and scored two touchdowns in the first seven games of 2021. He had an impressive 19.5 yards per catch in 2021. Unfortunately, he was involved in a fatal car accident and charged with driving under the influence. The Las Vegas Raiders released their first-round draft pick the next day. He is out of the league and still awaiting trial.

Jerry Jeudy (1st/15th overall): Jerry Jeudy had his best season in 2022 in his young career. He caught 67 passes for 972 yards and six touchdowns. His 67% catch rate a vast improvement from his rookie year when he dropped ten passes leading to a 46% catch rate. He’s pushed his drop% down from 8.8% in 2020 to 5.9% overall. Jeudy missed seven games in 2021 which pushes him to the middle of the pack in most categories. Quarterback Russell Wilson was blamed for a lot of Denver’s woes in 2022 but he did not stymie Jeudy’s performance. He could have a breakout season in 2023 with proper quarterbacking.

CeeDee Lamb (1st/17th overall): CeeDee performed strongly in three seasons of play. A two-time Pro Bowler, the AP named him second-team All-Pro in 2022. He placed fifth in the NFL with 107 receptions. And sixth with 1359 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. In three seasons, he ranks second among the wide receivers selected in the 2020 draft in receptions, receiving yards, yards per game, and scoring. He caught 10 passes for 117 yards in the playoff loss to San Francisco in 2022. He’s set to continue threatening breakout games in 2023.

Jalen Reagor (1st/21st overall): Jalen Reagor’s production moving in the wrong direction. He gained 396 receiving yards despite missing five games with a torn thumb ligament during his rookie season. He returned to play in all 17 games plus a playoff appearance in 2021. But his receiving statistics did not improve as his receiving yards dropped from 396 in 2020 to 299 in 2021. He also went from one to four dropped passes. After scoring a touchdown on a punt return in 2020, he became the Eagles’ primary punt returner in 2021.

In the Eagles playoff game, he muffed two punt returns losing one in their loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Philadelphia traded Reagor to the Minnesota Vikings for a seventh-round pick in 2023 and a conditional pick in 2024. He caught just eight passes for 108 yards. Worse, he muffed another punt return in the Vikings’ 31-24 playoff loss. The Vikings recovered but with eight fumbles in three seasons, Reagor not living up to his selection in the first round.

Justin Jefferson (1st/22nd overall): Justin Jefferson is a superb wide receiver. He leads this group in almost every category except yards per reception. But the 2020 NFL Sporting News Rookie of the Year is now a three-time Pro Bowler and first-team AP All-Pro in 2022 after being elected second team his first two seasons. In three seasons, he’s caught 324 passes for 4825 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. Jefferson gained over 100 receiving yards in 24 of 50 games played. In 2022, he led the NFL with 128 receptions for 1809 yards averaging 106.4 per game. He’s a finalist for offensive player of the year and the most valuable player.

Brandon Aiyuk (1st/25th overall): Brandon Aiyuk has evolved into a complete football player under the tutelage of Kyle Shanahan. In his own words, “I’ve realized you can have a great game without touching the football.” His downfield blocks contributed to yards after catch by teammates Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey. Aiyuk has started 44 of 46 games played and took on additional responsibility as a punt returner in 2021. A solid performer with 194 receptions for 2589 yards and 20 over three years. He’s added 14 catches for 234 yards in five playoff games. Among this group, he ranks third in points scored and fourth in total and per-game receiving yards.

Tee Higgins (2nd/33rd overall): Higgins has been remarkably consistent in his first three NFL seasons. His targets ranged between 108 to 110. He caught 67 in his rookie season. Then 74 in each of the two past seasons. And gained between 908 and 1029 receiving yards. With six touchdowns each in the first two seasons. Then seven in 2022. But he also has eight, five, and eight drops, respectively. That is a 6.4% drop rate. In seven playoff games, Higgins caught 31 passes for 457 yards and three touchdowns. In this group, he is third in receiving yards and yards per game. Plus, fourth in targets, receptions, and points scored. But he is overshadowed by Ja’Marr Chase. Rumors that Dallas may seek a trade for him in 2023. Wherever he plays, he should continue to flourish.

Michael Pittman Jr. (2nd/34th overall): Pittman started slowly but finished strong in his rookie season. He played in the Colts’ playoff loss against the Buffalo Bills where he gained 90 receiving yards. In 2021, Pittman started all 17 games and broke 1000 receiving yards while scoring six touchdowns. Pittman was one of the few shining lights in the Colts’ dismal 2022 season. He caught 99 passes (10th in the NFL) for 925 yards and four touchdowns. He is second among his peers with 2744 snaps, catching 68.6% of his targets, and a low 3.9% drop rate. But he is second from the bottom with 11.1 yards per reception. If he gets a good quarterback in Indianapolis in 2023, watch out!

Laviska Shenault Jr. (2nd/42nd overall): The Jacksonville Jaguars receiver scored five touchdowns his rookie season but none in 2021. Jacksonville traded Shenault to the Carolina Panthers for 2023 seventh-round and 2024 sixth-round draft picks. Shenault caught a 67-yard touchdown pass in his first game as a Panther. He’s a slot receiver even taking some direct snaps as a running back. Shenault leads the group by catching 70.1% of passes thrown to him. But he is dead last with 10.1 yards per reception. And has a 6.2% drop rate in three seasons. Carolina started three different quarterbacks in 2022. Let’s see how Shenault performs under new head coach Frank Reich and a regular starting quarterback in 2023.

KJ Hamler (2nd/46th overall): Hamler’s rookie season ended by a concussion in week 16. KJ did score the winning touchdown in the Broncos’ first game against the Chargers earlier in the season. Hamler showed flashes of potential but tore his ACL ending his 2021 season after just three games. He played seven games in 2022 and was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. Hamler ranks last or next to last in most categories. He’s ended each of his first three seasons on injured reserve. With a very high 10% drop rate, not a great outlook. We will see if he can play a full season and avoid the injury bug in 2023.

Van Jefferson (2nd/57th overall): The Los Angeles Rams played Van Jefferson sparingly early in his rookie season. But his snap counts increased from 256 in 2020 to 875 in 2021 and he started all 17 games in 2021. He missed the first six games with a knee injury in 2022. But came on strong as injuries took Cooper Kupp out. Jefferson started weeks 13 to 18 and proved a reliable target. He ranks in the lower mid-range in most categories among this group. However, he’s third with 15.0 yards per reception. In 2023 he looks to return to his second-year form when he had 50 catches for 800 yards. And add to his ten touchdowns in three years.

Denzel Mims (2nd/59th overall): Denzel Mims was hampered by hamstring injuries and a concussion during his rookie season. He played just nine games that year. In 2021, Mims played 11 games but only started three. His production dropped significantly. He failed to capitalize when injuries to teammates put him back in the lineup in 2022. Just 30 games played in three seasons. He’s scored no touchdowns and catches less than half the passes thrown to him. He ranks near the bottom in most categories among this group. One bright spot is he averages 16.1 yards per reception which is second among the group. He may have a tough time making the Jets roster in 2023.

Wide Receiver Summary

Last year, I said “Claypool must rebound in 2022 or he risks falling behind this group. Claypool will have a new quarterback and it will be the second season in Matt Canada’s offensive scheme.” I rated him comparable to Tee Higgins, Brandon Aiyuk, and Michael Pittman. This group was behind Justin Jefferson in first with CeeDee Lamb in second.

This year, Jefferson and Lamb hold their positions with Jefferson the clear front-runner. I have Brandon Aiyuk and Michael Pittman vying for third with Tee Higgins not far behind. Claypool is tied up with Jerry Jeudy right in the middle of the pack. But Jeudy is trending up while Claypool going downwards. For Steelers fans, we now want to see who is selected with the second-round draft pick acquired from Chicago in 2023.


Name G Snaps D/ST INTs PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH Missed Tkl%
Josh Uche 36 788/113 0 0 2 1 15.5 48 14/25 0.0
Willie Gay Jr. 41 1312/274 3 15 1 1 4.0 175 13/6 10.3
Logan Wilson 40 2005/368 7 11 2 0 4.5 256 12/10 7.6
Zack Baun 45 359/908 0 0 0 0 0.0 58 2/4 9.4
Terrell Lewis 30 823/19 1 3 1 0 6.0 40 8/10 11.1
Anfernee Jennings 30 635/261 0 2 1 0 1.5 47 1/5 9.6
Jacob Phillips 20 612/147 0 5 0 0 3.0 88 5/4 4.3
Malik Harrison 47 683/915 0 1 0 0 0.0 100 4/0 4.8
Alex Highsmith 49 2229/378 1 2 6 0 22.5 185 32/41 5.6
Davion Taylor 21 282/209 0 0 2 0 0 51 1/0 13.6
Akeem Davis-Gaither 41 748/739 1 7 1 1 0.5 105 2/2 9.5

All statistics pulled from the Pro Football Reference

Synopsis of each player:

Alex Highsmith (3rd/102nd overall): Alex Highsmith started out as the third OLB behind T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree as a rookie. He’s missed only one game in the past three seasons. Highsmith tied for first in NFL with five forced fumbles in 2022. He leads this group with six forced fumbles and 22.5 sacks. Plus no one comes close to his 32 tackles for losses and 41 quarterback hits. His 5.6% missed tackle rate is among the lowest in the group. Highsmith was not named to the Pro Bowl despite having the sixth most sacks along with leading NFL in forced fumbles. Nine of the 11 top NFL sackers were named to the Pro Bowl in 2022. A snub in my opinion. Should the Steelers extend his contract now that he has one year remaining on his rookie deal?

Josh Uche (2nd/60th overall): Josh Uche was placed on injured reserve three times in his first two seasons. But he had a breakout year in 2022. In 2020, Uche finally made his NFL debut in week eight during the Patriots’ 21-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills. He played nine games until another injury landed him on injured reserve. In 2021, he missed five games including four in midseason on injured reserve. But in 2022, he sacked quarterbacks 11.5 times. Including three against Arizona resulting in being named the AFC defensive player of the week award. A rotational player, Bill Belichick has increased his defensive snaps from a third his rookie season to nearly 40% in games played in 2022. He’s second in the group with 15.5 sacks.

Willie Gay Jr. (2nd/63rd overall): Willie Gay played all 16 games in his rookie year. But missed the playoffs after ankle and meniscus injuries. In 2021, Gay missed the first four games with a toe injury. He missed four more in 2022 for violating the NFL personal conduct policy after an arrest in a domestic dispute. He’s started 32 of 41 games with increased defensive snaps each year. He scored on a 47-yard pick-six in a 34-28 win over Denver in 2022. He’s played in five playoff games for Kansas City and will be in this year’s Super Bowl if his injury heals sufficiently. He leads this group with 15 defended passes and is third in tackles. But does have a 10.3% missed tackle rate, which is high for this group. If he resolves self-acknowledged mental health issues and remains physically healthy, Gay could prove to be a solid selection by Kansas City.

Logan Wilson (3rd/65th overall): Logan Wilson gets a lot of playing time. As a rookie, he had 343 defensive and 203 special teams for the Cincinnati Bengals before missing the final three games with an ankle injury. In 2021, he became a full-time starter as middle linebacker. In week three, he intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice and led with 14 tackles as the Bengals beat the Steelers. Wilson tore the labrum in his shoulder causing him to miss four of the last five games. In 2022, missed only one game making 123 tackles. Wilson leads this group with 256 tackles and seven interceptions. Plus is second with 11 defended passes.

Despite missing 10 regular season games, he played every single defensive snap in the Bengals’ seven postseason games the past two seasons. His big play in 2022 forced Pro Bowl quarterback Tyler Huntley to fumble at the one-yard line with the game tied 17-17 in the fourth quarter. Teammate Sam Hubbard returned the fumble 98 yards for a touchdown to win 24-17. In 2021, with a game tied 16-16 with Tennessee, Wilson intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s pass with 28 seconds to play. The Bengals exploited the takeaway by kicking the game-winning field goal. That is impactful play.

Zack Baun (3rd/74th overall): Baun started eight games for the New Orleans Saints over his first three seasons. But he is mainly a special team player. As a rookie, The Saints put Baun in for 82 defensive snaps compared to 246 special team snaps. In 2021 he played 194 defensive snaps, 17% of the Saints’ total. Compared to the 372 special team snaps that were 79% of the Saints’ total. In 2022, he injured his ankle and was placed on injured reserve late in the season. His 58 tackles are in the lower half of this group of linebackers with players who missed extensive time. New Orleans expended a third-round pick for a special team player and backup linebacker.

Terrell Lewis (3rd/84th overall): The Los Angeles Rams placed Lewis on a non-injury reserve list to start his rookie season. The Rams reinstated him on October 10, and he played sparingly in eight games and in the playoff loss to the Packers. In 2021, Lewis played in the Rams first 11 games starting in four. The Rams did not play him in the final six regular season games, and he was inactive for the Rams’ Super Bowl run. In 2022, Lewis played in the Rams first 11 games, starting the last three. The Rams waived him on December 15. The Chicago Bears signed him to their practice squad on December 20 and elevated him to the 53-man roster, but he did not appear in any of their last three games. Let’s see if the change of scenery to Chicago jumpstarts his career in 2023.

Anfernee Jennings (3rd/87th overall): In 2020, Jennings missed the final game due to a shoulder injury. In 14 games he recorded just 20 combined tackles missing two others for a 9.1% missed tackle rate. After playing 14 games as a rookie, Jennings did not play at all in 2021. The Patriots placed him on injured reserve prior to naming their initial 53-man roster ending his season before it began. Jennings returned in 2022, backing up Matthew Judon. He set the edge well in 16 games collecting 27 tackles. Overall, he’s missed five tackles in two seasons for a 9.6% missed tackle rate.

Jacob Phillips (3rd/97th overall): Jacob Phillips was injured in each of his first three seasons. Phillips’s rookie year was stymied by a knee injury and Covid resulting in only 11 games played. He played his best game in the Browns’ regular-season finale when he recorded 10 combined tackles, a tackle for a loss, and hit the quarterback. He played 49 snaps in the Browns’ playoff win over the Steelers. In 2021, a bicep injury caused him to miss the first 12 games. He played just four games. In 2022, the middle linebacker played backup for the first three games. Then started four games when Anthony Walker was injured. But Phillips tore his pectoral muscle ending his season. Just 20 games played in three seasons. He remained in Cleveland at the season’s end working with trainers and meeting new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Let’s see if he can be injury free in 2023.

Malik Harrison (3rd/98th overall): In 2020, Harrison played in all 16 games. He totaled 44 combined tackles second to Highsmith’s 48 but played about 60% of the defensive snaps. Malik started the first five Raven games in 2021. He played 170 defensive snaps through week seven. However, Harrison was shot in the calf in Cleveland during Baltimore’s bye week. He missed the next three games then played in the final seven games. But he played almost exclusively special teams with just one defensive snap. In 2022, he started eight games and played nearly half the Ravens’ defensive snaps in the first half of the season. But after week eight, he played mainly on special teams and got just a handful of defensive snaps. The spot starter and special teamer made 100 tackles in three seasons. He’s appeared in three playoff games.

Davion Taylor (3rd/103rd overall): Taylor landed on injured reserve in 2020 and 2021. The Philadelphia Eagles used Davion mostly for special teams his rookie season. He played 178 special team snaps compared to just 32 defensive snaps. An injured knee kept him from playing the last four games of the season. Taylor started six straight games beginning with week 6 in 2021. He forced two fumbles in a victory over the Denver Broncos in week 11. But he suffered another knee injury that put him out for the rest of the season. Davion Taylor spent the 2022 season on the Eagles practice squad.

Akeem Davis-Gaither (4th/107th overall): Davis-Gaither overshadowed by fellow Bengals 2020 draft pick LB Logan Wilson. He played in all 16 games in his rookie season. But Akeem hurt his foot in week nine and missed eight games in the 2021 season and the Bengals run to the Super Bowl. He came back to play 16 games in 2022. He intercepted Tyler Huntley on the Ravens’ opening drive of the wildcard game that resulted in a ten-point Bengal lead early in the playoff game. He has also defended seven passes in three seasons which is third in this group. A big contributor on special teams and a role defender. He’s a value pick ranked right in the middle of the group despite being the last selected.

Linebacker Summary

Last year, I said, “Highsmith will need to demonstrate the ability sack quarterbacks or at least flush them regularly to prove he will be a complementary OLB to T.J. Watt.”  Placing sixth in the NFL with 14.5 sacks and accumulating 41 quarterback hits over three seasons answers that question. I have him in front of Logan Wilson and Willie Gay both selected ahead of Highsmith in the 2020 NFL draft. A question that remains: Can he impact playoff games with splash plays from 2023 onwards wearing Black and Gold? First, this young Steeler team must make it to the postseason. Then Highsmith will have another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.

Day Three Selections

Fourth-round pick Anthony McFarland played in 11 games as a rookie. In 2021 he played 19 snaps in two games. In 2022 he was on the practice squad appearing in just one game for 21 snaps. With a minuscule eight special team snaps including three kick returns in 2021, his ability to stay on the roster in 2023 is limited. Conversely, fellow fourth-round pick Kevin Dotson played 39 games including starting nine in 2021 and all 17 games in 2022. His limitations as a pass defender and 19 penalties may see him challenged to retain the starting role in 2023.

Sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks played in four games during his rookie season. He played 28 defensive snaps in the 36-10 win over the Bengals. The Steelers waived him injured in the 2021 preseason. The Los Angeles Rams signed him, and he played eight games, all on special teams. The Rams waived Brooks prior to the 2022 season. The Seattle Sea Dragons of the XFL drafted Brooks in November 2022.

Seventh-rounder Carlos Davis played 116 defensive snaps in 12 games. He totaled 12 tackles, one quarterback hit, and one sack. But played only one game and 12 snaps in 2022. Perhaps sensing he did not have a future in Pittsburgh, he did not sign a futures contract. Instead, he has visited other teams. Most recently the New York Giants. Maybe he’ll be part of a package deal with twin brother Khalil who spent time on the Steelers practice squad in 2021 and training camp in 2022.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Steelers signed ten undrafted free agents in 2020. But only two are mentionable. Cornerback James Pierre appeared in all 50 games the past three seasons. He’s played 701 defensive and 667 special teams snaps during that period including six starts. Pierre intercepted two passes, defended eight, and forced three fumbles. A nice find.

Corliss Waitman lost out to Jordan Berry and then Pressley Harvin in camp battles. He did play two games in late 2021 averaging 52.1 yards on seven punts. He found a home in Denver in 2022 leading the NFL with 96 punts at 46.9 yards a boot.

Recent Depot Articles on the Class of 2020

RD Name Article Author Trend
2 Chase Claypool Steelers Own Top Pick of Second Round Josh Carney SOLD
3 Alex Highsmith Examining a Highsmith Contract Extension Dave Bryan UP
4 Anthony McFarland RB Anthony McFarland Jr. – Stock Up Matt Marczi DOWN
4 Kevin Dotson 2022 Exit Meeting – Dotson Matt Marczi UP
6 Antoine Brooks Rams Waive Antoine Brooks Dave Bryan XFL
7 Carlos Davis Carlos Davis Works Out for NY Giants Joe Clark SOLD
UDFA James Pierre Tomlin Sees Different Version of Pierre Alex Kozora UP
UDFA Corliss Waitman Harvin excited Waitman Won Denver Job Matt Marczi SOLD



2023 is the final year for this group’s rookie contracts. All six Steeler draftees played as rookies. But only two remain on the roster for 2023. One starting guard and a Pro-Bowl caliber outside linebacker. The Steelers got 2 and a half seasons from Claypool with a strong rookie season.

If Dotson proves his critics wrong and Highsmith continues his upwards trend; it may not be a bad class. A bonus is if the second-round pick acquired from the Bears proves to be a solid contributor.


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