Admit it. You were probably looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers with twisted lips when they didn’t make much of a splash in Free Agency when it began last month. To be honest, the hype of that time of year only lasts about 2 weeks when the so-called ‘big names’ usually sign for more money than they’re worth. (See San Francisco 49er FB Kyle Jusczyk’s $21 million deal to leave Baltimore…A Fullback! Mind you, the Steelers did make some Free Agent moves, which includes signing an RB ( Knile Davis), a WR (Justin Hunter) and a DE (Tyson Alualu), plus they slapped the $12 million Franchise Tag on All-Pro RB Le’Veon Bell. So it wasn’t as if the Steelers were exactly quiet during free agency, but with the fact that they actually have salary cap space, a lot of fans were hoping that the Steelers would turn into one of those teams who like to make headlines signing free agents.
Wrong. That’s not the Steelers way. Although they’re not cheap like the local baseball team, they have said on occasion that the key to their success on the field will come through the NFL Draft. That’s how it’s always been with this organization from Art Sr, to Dan and to Art Rooney II. And get this: They won’t change for anybody. Not for me or for you.
And look that their track record: They haven’t had a losing season since 2003 and although they haven’t won a Super Bowl since 2008 and haven’t been to one since 2010 (Hey! You can’t make it every year!) it’s hard to question their Method of Operation regarding the Draft. It still works.
And after watching this year’s version of the NFL Draft which took place on the famous ‘Rocky Steps’ in Philadelphia Pa, I am convinced that the 8 players that the Steelers selected will give proof that the Draft Still Does Work when it comes to a team’s success. Especially to a team that was only a win away from Super Bowl 51. They selected players with the expectation that they will blend well with the current group of veterans in order for them to get to the Big Game in 2017.
I don’t compare this Steelers draft to the 1974 draft in which they selected 4 potential Hall of Famers which helped lead them to their first Super Bowl title, but I think this group can rank in their Top 10. It was a combination of meeting needs and choosing the Best Player Available, which has always been their philosophy.
Here is a recap of the Steelers 2017 Draft Picks:
Round 1: LB TJ Watt (Wisconsin)-I like this pick because he fills a need at outside (Or as they call it ‘Edge’) linebacker. Watt was a tight end and was convinced to switch to LB at the request of Head Coach Paul Chryst and he made the former Pitt Coach look like a genius. He had 11.5 sacks and earned first-team All-American honors. Like his All-Pro DE brother JJ Watt (Houston Texans) TJ is big (6-4, 252) and can cause a riot on the field. I just hope he didn’t follow his brother’s injury history. If he stays healthy, he can be a true force along with Steeler LB’s Bud Dupree and 39-year old James Harrison.
Round 2: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)-Even I looked at the Steelers like they were nuts with this pick because the last time I checked, they already have enough wide receivers, but after looking at this young man’s bio, I can see why they picked him. He’s the example of the Best Player Available
in this round. Smith-Schuster’s big (6-2, 220), and is tough (some compared him to Hines Ward) and isn’t afraid to catch the ball in traffic or up the middle. He reminds some of Anquan Boldin and that’s a pretty heavy compliment. He had 1,454 yards in 2015 and 914 yards in an injury-filled 2016. I would put him right behind the now reinstated-Martinis Bryant as the #3 WR on the depth chart. There’s something special about this dude and I can’t wait to see what he can do.
Round 3-CB Cameron Sutton(Tennessee)-I know a lot of fans were happy that the Steelers added another CB to their still-struggling secondary and I’m glad they did as well. Sure, they have last year’s #1 pick Artie Burns who did well, but Ross Cockrell isn’t the answer on the other side and veteran William Gay is close to considering His Life’s Work (translation: Retirement) after him, there’s the often-injured Senquez Golson who hasn’t even seen the field after being drafted in 2015. So drafting Sutton was a smart move. At Tennessee, he had 7 career interceptions and 127 total tackles and has shown good cover instincts and according to Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, he can play the slot or the outside corner spots. With the exception of Burns, It easy to proceed with caution every time the Steelers select a corner because some have fared far worse (see Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown) so stay tuned.
Round 3-RB James Conner(Pitt)-Were you as touched by the pick as I was? Not only is Conner an exceptional human being who non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and a knee injury in 2015, he is also an exceptional player who took advantage of an opportunity in 2013 and became the ACC Rookie of the Year, ACC Player of the Year(1,765 yards), a 2-time 1,000 yard rusher and Pitt and the ACC’s career leader in rushing touchdowns. He’s more of a bruiser compared to the all-purpose Bell and will take DeAngelo Williams place as Bell’s backup. I enjoyed watching his college career, now I look forward to watching his NFL career as a Steeler.
Round 4-QB-Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)-You wanted them to draft a QB Steelers Nation, well here he is. Although most wanted to see the Steelers pick former Pitt QB Nate Peterman, the Steelers instead chose the kid who beat Peterman for the job at Tennessee (which led Peterman to transfer to Pitt) Dobbs is a ‘Rocket Scientist’ after having done internships at an aerospace manufacturer, but he has proven to also throw a rocket of a football which he did in 4 years at Tennessee. With the Volunteers, Dobbs passed for 7,138 yards and 53 career touchdowns, including 27 in 2016. He can also scramble as he rushed for 831 yards in 2016. Some compared him to Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, and that’s not bad company. He’ll be #3 on the depth chart, on but Landry Jones needs to watch out for this kid as he might end up being the first backup to Ben Roethlisberger.
Round 5-CB Brian Allen (Utah) Did you see how big this kid is? He’s 6-3 and 215, almost the same size as HOF Mel Blount and current Arizona Cardinal Patrick Peterson. But those 2 gentlemen have proven they can play at the NFL level, Allen has yet to prove that. At Utah, he made the switch from wide receiver in 2015 and intercepted 5 passes (including 4 in 2016) showing some cover skills and a 38-inch vertical. He is a known project which the Steelers are obviously aware of but he will get his chances to make the team and join the group of cornerbacks.
Round 6-LS Colin Holba (Louisville) In 2000, the New England Patriots selected QB Tom Brady in the 6th round, in 2010, the Steelers selected WR Antonio Brown in the 6th round. And in 2017, those same Steelers select a Long Snapper (You know, the one who snaps the ball to the punter?) in the 6th round. Now I said earlier that we shouldn’t question the Steelers draft history, but we can still question their draft picks at times and I don’t agree that one should’ve been on a player that they can find off the street. And the fact that veteran Greg Warren is still on the team. Long Snappers don’t have stats, but Holba did make some history as the only long snapper taken in the NFL Draft as well as the first Louisville player taken in this year’s draft.
Round 7-LB Keion Adams (Western Michigan)-This is more proof that the Steelers aim to improve their pass rush. This young man was a proven Edge rusher in Western Michigan had 15.4 sacks in 4 years at Western Michigan including 13 in his final 2 seasons. He stands 6-2, 245 and is already drawing comparisons to James Harrison and Arthur Moats. I’m thinking he could make an impression in training camp and the preseason.
Undrafted Free Agents-Wait, there’s more. There isn’t usually much to say about the undrafted free agents until they make an impact, but there’s something special about some of the Steelers 2017 undrafted rookie class. Here the list:
Nelson Adams, DT 6-3 287, Mississippi State
Christian Brown, DT 6-3 295, West Virginia
Ethan Cooper, OG 6-2 322, Indiana-Pennsylvania
Francis Kallon, DE 6-5 295, Georgia Tech
Keith Kelsey, LB 6-0 233, Louisville
Scott Orndoff, TE 6-4 253, Pittsburgh
Nick Schuessler, QB 6-3 196, Clemson
Rushel Shell, RB 5-9 227, West Virginia
Terrish Webb, DB 5-10 190, Pittsburgh
Recognize some? Of course you do. Three have local ties and I believe two of them could make the Steelers team this year. One of them is Orndoff who spent the past 3 years at Pitt and really made a splash in his final 2 years with 10 touchdowns. He also had 35 catches and 579 yards in 2016, which included a 72-yard score that he caught on a tipped pass. His size 6-5, 256 reminds me of former Steeler TE Heath Miller and he also wore #83. He could be the 3rd TE depending on the health of LaDarius Green. The other is Shell, who played one season at Pitt and had 641 rushing yards and 4 scores as a freshman. He eventually transferred to West Virginia where he finished his final 3 years with two 700 yard and one 500 yard season as part of a running back by-committee. He also as 20 scores at WVU. He could give Fitzgerald Touissant a run for his money. Webb had 5 interceptions in 4 years with Pitt, but I can’t see him making the team because of how crowded the secondary is. His best bet is on the practice squad.
Grade: Overall, I give the Steelers a B+ for this draft and t could move up to an A depending on how these rookies pan out. As I mentioned before, there’s something special about this draft class and I believe they could help the Steelers get over the top this season.
Notes: In addition to Conner being selected by the Steelers, a total of 5 Pitt Panthers were drafted over the weekend. OT Dorian Johnson (Arizona), QB Nate Peterman (Buffalo), Guard Adam Bisnowaty (NY Giants) and LB Ejuan Price (LA Rams) also heard their names called and are now in the NFL.
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