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Grading the Pittsburgh Steelers past three Draft Classes: Part 2, Class of 2017

As we go back and review the Pittsburgh Steelers’ past three draft classes, we continue with the 2017 grouping.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In the first part of this three-part series, the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers draft class was examined and graded. Javon Hargrave and Sean Davis were the only two from the 2016 class to be graded favorably while the others harshly graded for their performance or lack thereof. The top of the 2017 draft class shined when compared to the 2016 class. Unfortunately, the bottom half of the 2017 class hasn’t fared as well as the previous years. T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster have beaten all expectations that Steelers fans have had but what about the rest of the draft class?

Here is the way the draft class will be graded.

The letter grades will not consider the round players were drafted and is based on a personal evaluation. All-Pro will receive an “A” while Pro Bowl caliber players may also receive an “A” grade and diminishing performance will follow a diminishing grade. The evaluation will be as a whole for the two years but the 2018 season will carry more weight than the 2017 season.

2017 Draft Class

Round 1: T.J. Watt
Grade: A Sky’s the limit.

Watt finished 2017 with seven sacks to go along with 52 tackles, 10 for loss, and 13 quarterback hits. Steeler Nation cheered at the production but the collective was eyeing 2018 for even more. Watt treated fans to a better performance in 2018. Watt exploded for 13 sacks, six forced fumbles to go along with 68 tackles and 21 quarterback hits.

Fans hope that his first Pro Bowl selection will be the first of many.

Round 2: JuJu Smith-Schuster
Grade: A Rising

Even though Smith-Schuster played in 14 games, he accumulated 907 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. The highlight of the season came on a 97 touchdown against the Detroit Lions.

As he avoided the dreaded sophomore slump that befalls many young wideouts, his 2018 season was even more impressive. His receptions almost doubled to 111 while his yardage vaulted to 1,426 with another seven touchdowns. Fans again were treated to another 97-yard touchdown scamper against the Denver Broncos. A game that his talent was showcased in a 13 catch 189-yard performance.

One big question looms large. Will he be able to be the Steelers number one wide receiver if disgruntled wideout Antonio Brown departs?

Round 3: Cameron Sutton
Grade: D Holding steady

The third round cornerback had a rocky first season as he spent the first 11 games on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. His first three games back he started one and replaced an ineffective Coty Sensabaugh in the other two. The performances were better than Sensabaugh, but his role in the NFL comes into question.

Sutton’s use increased early in the 2018 season at both outside and in the slot. Neither position he shined in. The worrisome thing about Sutton was his near non-existent use in the second half of the season even though Sensabaugh and Mike Hilton were not playing well.

Does Sutton practice well enough to earn playing time or will the draft or free agency bury him further on the depth chart?

Round 3: James Conner
Grade: B+ Rising

During the 2017 season, Conner was used sparingly but still racked up a 4.5 yards per carry average. Le’Veon Bell and Conner’s slow pickup of blitzes limited his time on the field.

No fan would have predicted the kind of season Conner had in 2018 with Bell still on the roster. Bell instead sat out the season which led Conner to showcase his abilities. Fans were concerned about his dual-threat ability (Me included) Conner put all that to rest with over 400 total yards in his two games against the Cleveland Browns. His 1,470 yards. That total was good enough for sixth best for running backs in the NFL and tops in the AFC.

Can Conner follow up his Pro Bowl appearance with two in a row?

Round 4: Josh Dobbs
Grade: D Falling

The harsh grade is not because he did not see the field in 2017 it is because of what he did in 2018 when he saw the field. Dobbs deserves kudos for holding Mason Rudolph off for the backup position but his play during the Oakland game was just plain bad. The four drives in which Dobbs subbed in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers gained 64 yards.

A “D-” may ruthless but when a backup quarterback comes into a game for a quarter he has to do better than 4-9 for 24 yards and an interception. This on a day when Big Ben threw for almost 300 yards in three quarters against the 19th ranked pass defense team in the league.

Steelers fans were given a dose of the harsh reality and saw the difference between a future Hall of Fame quarterback and one taken in the fourth round.

Round 5: Brian Allen
Grade: F Steady

Allen has yet to take an NFL snap on defense and has been relegated only to special teams. While he was active for 10 games his rookie season, he was released before the 2018 and placed on the practice squad. Pittsburgh elevated him to the 53-man roster where he was active for six games.

With the Steelers hunting for new blood at cornerback it may only be a matter of time before the team parts ways.

Round 6: Colin Holba
Grade: F Didn’t even make the team

The BTSC boards were electrified when Holba selection was called out. The comments section was longer and more entertaining than his short-lived Steeler tenure. Cut before the regular season he has had short stints with the Jacksonville Jaguars and San Francisco Forty Niners.

Holba’s grade is reflective on his lack of tenure with the Steelers.

Round 7: Keion Adams
Grade: F

A shoulder injury sent Adams to the injured reserve where he spent his rookie season. Adams was waived prior to the start of the 2018 and then signed to the practice squad where he spent the rest of the season.


Watt, Smith-Schuster, and Conner all erupted in 2018 with exceptional seasons which leads Steelers fans to have high hopes for them in 2018. For the trio, the pressure will be on to improve not only their performance but the win percentage for the team. The rest of the draft class will be fighting for their pecking order on the roster if not for their Steelers and NFL lives.

In the next installment, the 2018 draft class will be evaluated. If you missed the previous installments, check them out below:

Part 1: Class of 2016

Please share your thoughts and your own grades in the comments section below.