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Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class considered the best in the AFC North

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When comparing 2019 draft classes, the Steelers were graded the highest of all four teams.

NFL: DEC 01 Browns at Steelers Photo by Mark Alberti/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The 2019 NFL season is officially in the books, and while many are looking head to 2020 NFL Free Agency and the NFL Draft, it is worth looking back to last season’s rookie class and seeing how the group as a collective did.

In a recent article by NFL.com’s Nick Shook, he ranked all draft classes for every NFL division. For the AFC North, the Steelers took the top grade among the four teams who call the AFC North home.

Check out the grade Shook gave the Steelers’ 2019 draft class, headlined by inside linebacker Devin Bush:

Pittsburgh Steelers — B+

Round 1: (No. 10 overall) Devin Bush, LB, 16 games/15 starts.
Round 3: (66) Diontae Johnson, WR, 16 games/12 starts; (83) Justin Layne, CB, 10 games/0 starts.
Round 4: (122) Benny Snell Jr., RB, 13 games/2 starts.
Round 5: (141) Zach Gentry, TE, 4 games/0 starts.
Round 6: (175) Sutton Smith, OLB, 0 games/0 starts (now with Seahawks); (192) Isaiah Buggs, DT, 9 games/0 starts; (207) Ulysees Gilbert III, LB, 7 games/0 starts.
Round 7: (219) Derwin Gray, OT, 0 games/0 starts.
Notable rookie FA signings: Devlin Hodges, QB, 8 games/6 starts.

The Steelers’ trade up to select Bush was worth it, proven by his fine rookie play. Bush recorded 109 tackles, four passes defended, two interceptions and a forced fumble. He’s a stud. A+ for that. The third round provided some value to Pittsburgh in the form of Johnson, who saw additional playing time due to JuJu Smith-Schuster’s injury issues and caught 59 passes for 680 yards and five touchdowns. It’ll be interesting to see if he makes a bigger leap in his second season with Ben Roethlisberger back under center. Layne projected to perhaps answer the Steelers’ long-running question at cornerback, but he didn’t play a defensive snap in 2019, spending his entire time on special teams. Snell, however, flirted with a 4-yards-per-carry average on his 108 attempts, gaining 426 yards and making two trips to the end zone. He’s a worthy backup to James Conner. Gentry saw very little action and caught just one pass in 2019. Smith is now with the Seahawks. Buggs made an occasional rotational contribution, and Gilbert spent his season on special teams. Gray spent 2019 on the practice squad and was signed to a futures contract. The undrafted Hodges initially arose from afterthought who’d beaten out Joshua Dobbs for a roster spot to the symbol of hope for Pittsburgh, though his struggles down the stretch contributed to the Steelers missing the playoffs for a second straight season.

Combine/free agency focus: Joe Haden had an excellent year, but it’s time to start thinking about life after the 30-year-old corner. Pittsburgh spent a third-rounder on Layne last April, and could use another selection this draft on a quality prospect. Mason Rudolph proved he can’t be relied on, as did (ultimately) Hodges, meaning the first pick Pittsburgh owns could be spent on a quarterback. Big Ben turns 38 in March and is currently rehabbing from a serious elbow injury. Another thing to think about: the future at center beyond 30-year-old Maurkice Pouncey. Not an immediate need, but something to consider. Pittsburgh sent its first-round pick to Miami for Minkah Fitzpatrick, so the expectations in the draft should be lowered slightly. With less than $2 million in projected cap space for 2020 at the moment, per Over The Cap, there are going to be a couple of cap casualties (looking at you, Mark Barron). Expect most additions to be made via the draft.


If you are curious how the other three AFC North teams were graded, check out the grades below:

Other AFC North Grades:

Baltimore Ravens — B
Cleveland Browns — B
Cincinnati Bengals — C+


The Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class, like all other NFL draft classes, are still a work in progress. Players like Justin Layne are still a giant question mark, but if you wait until their rookie contract, 4 years, expires you will have a better idea as to whether the pick was a boom, or a bust.

Of the Steelers’ rookies who saw significant time in 2019, mainly Devin Bush, Diontae Johnson, Isaiah Buggs and Benny Snell Jr., there is promise with them being players for the team in the future. No, they all won’t be tremendous players, but they can contribute to the overall cause and help the Steelers win football games.

With 2019 now in the history books, how do you view the Steelers’ draft class? Do you think the B+ grade is spot on? Or do you think it is too high, or too low? Let us know in the comment section below and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the upcoming 2020 league year.