For a team that has become synonymous with building through the draft, it would be fair to say the Pittsburgh Steelers have not necessarily enjoyed a high level of success as of late. But while there have been notable misses over the past few years, it would appear the future is looking bright the class of 2017.
When the AFC takes the field at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, half of the Steelers representatives in the game will be made up of players drafted just two years ago. With the trio of T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner all set to take part, Pittsburgh has achieved something no previous draft class in the Kevin Colbert era has ever matched.
Dating back to 2000 when Colbert first joined the team, the Steelers have never seen as many as three players drafted in the same year ever make the Pro Bowl at any point in their careers with Pittsburgh. Let alone in only their second season in the NFL and all at the same time. The closest he came before happening with the 2010 draft class with Maurkice Pouncey, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. Even if Sanders was with the Denver Broncos when he finally earned a Pro Bowl selection.
However, this was not the future some in the media first projected for the 2017 draft class. Looking back at the initial draft grades published by a variety of outlets, there were one or two “experts” who could not possibly have imagined seeing three of them in the Pro Bowl on Sunday back then.
While it should be noted that there were many who gave positive reviews, there were also those who were rather unimpressed. Luke Easterling of DraftWire was far more enamored by the Cleveland Browns selections of Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer among others, rating them an A-. while the Steelers only received a C.
“Another roller-coaster class, the Steelers addressed some needs, added depth and got more athletic, but not without some head-scratching picks along the way. The good? Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt and Tennessee’s Cam Sutton bring much-needed versatility and athleticism to the defense, while Josh Dobbs and James Conner add depth and fantastic locker room presence to the offense.”
“The bad? Spending a second-round pick on a reliable pass-catcher with a low ceiling (USC’s JuJu Smith-Schuster), ignoring tight end completely and spending a pick on a long snapper. There’s just as much to like about this group as there is to make you bury your head in a Terrible Towel.”
“OLB T.J. Watt (pick No. 29) tested off the charts and the Steelers will love his effort level, but there were edge defenders deep into Day 2 who might have been capable of providing just as much pop as pass rushers. We’ll see. I understand the JuJu Smith-Schuster pick at 62—he was a value there, and the Steelers can’t really depend yet on Martavis Bryant—but I’m not sure I get it. The glaring needs were elsewhere on the roster. CB Cameron Sutton (No. 94) could be a good one, and RB James Conner (No. 105) is destined to be a fan favorite, plus he’ll pick up tough yards. No surprise they found a quarterback: Josh Dobbs (No. 135). Not sure that’s a replacement plan if Big Ben walks soon. Docked points for drafting a long snapper in Round 6 (Louisville’s Colin Holba, pick 213).”
While the rest of the draft class might be a bit further away from a Pro Bowl berth than the three playing on Sunday, Josh Dobbs has done well enough to secure the backup role to Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Sutton and Brian Allen remain in the mix as options as cornerback. Colin Holba is the only pick not still with the team and Keion Adams was on the practice squad this year having spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
Certainly seems better than a C so far.