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How long does it take Steelers draft picks to be fully integrated into the team?

It’s not the same for every player, but there is usually an acclimation period for Steelers’ rookies.

Philadelphia Eagles v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

In a recent episode of BTSC’s Steelers Stat Geek podcast, I was challenged to determine how long it takes Steelers’ draft picks to get fully acclimated to the team. Since it was not a “one size fits all” determination, I was given the liberty to try to determine the answer in whatever way I saw fit.

Since I was given the liberty to do what I thought was best, I decided to look at two different metrics. First, I looked at what point the player cracked the starting lineup. Additionally, I looked at the player’s snap counts per game and how they increased to a certain level. Between these two, I felt it gave a pretty good indication as to when the player was fully contributing their first season.

Because I’m looking at snap counts, I only went back as far as 2012. The reason for this is Pro Football Reference has 2012 as the first season they recorded player snap counts.

Additionally, any player who started off their rookie season injured I did not count toward the statistics. It was difficult to say how a player would have played their first few weeks of the season if it actually occurred much later on. For example, David DeCastro missed the Steelers’ first 11 games due to injury his rookie season and did not play in their 12th game. It wasn’t until the Steelers 14th game of the season where he became a starter. Would DeCastro have started Week 1 or would it have been in Week 3? There is no way to know for certain, so he was excluded from the data.

I thought it was logical to break up the Steelers draft picks since 2012 by round. Obviously, first-round draft picks would be expected to start before a lot of third-round draft picks. It just made sense in collecting the data.

To start off, I only looked at the first round draft picks and when they made their first start and how many snaps they were playing in each game the rookie season. In doing so, I established which week of the season they became a starter and at which week their snaps indicated they were fully integrated. The level of the number of snaps were determined by player rather than a particular threshhold as not all positions fully integrate to the same percentage of snaps. For the first round, the results are as follows:

2012: David DeCastro- Injured
2013: Jarvis Jones- Started Week 2, 72% of snaps in Week 2
2014: Ryan Shazier- Started Week 1, 88% of snaps in Week 1
2015: Bud Dupree- Started Week 12, 67% of snaps in Week 6
2016: Artie Burns- Started Week 9, 85% of snaps in Week 4
2017: T.J. Watt- Started Week 1, 94% of snaps in Week 1
2018: Terrell Edmunds- Started Weeks 1 & 3*, 100% of snaps in Week 3
2019: Devin Bush- Started Week 1, 100% of snaps in Week 3
*Indicates a gap in starts with diminished snaps over that time

It should be noted that every one of the Steelers first round draft picks since 2012 ended up in the starting lineup at some point in their rookie season and were acclimated into getting snaps on their respective side of the ball. When averaging the information, the Steelers first-round draft picks became starters approximately 4 weeks into their rookie season. When it came to being acclimated and looking at their number of snaps, players were integrated sooner as the average was 2.57 weeks into the season.

After figuring out this data, I continued to the Steelers second-round draft picks since 2012. For those, the data is as follows:

2012: Mike Adams- Started Week 7, 100% of snaps in Week 7
2013: Le’Veon Bell- Injured
2014: Stephon Tuitt- Started Week 14, 87% of snaps in Week 14
2015: Senquez Golsen- Injured
2016: Sean Davis- Started Weeks 1, 5, & 11*, 100% of snaps in Week 11
2017: JuJu Smith-Schuster- Started Weeks 1 & 8, 80% of snaps in Week 3
2018: James Washington- Started Week 2**, 80% of snaps in Week 2
2020: Chase Claypool- Started Weeks 5, 7, & 13*, 76% of snaps in Week 3
*Indicates a gap in starts, possibly due to formation
**Started in Week 2 for several weeks, but regressed to even be inactive later in the season

Once again, excluding the injury to Senquez Golsen, every one of the Steelers second-round picks became a starter as well as fully acclimated at some point during their rookie season. When averaging these numbers, second-round draft picks became starters on average 6.5 weeks into the season and were fully acclimated 6.17 weeks into the season.

Taking it to the next level with the Steelers third round picks, the data took a very interesting turn. Here are the numbers for the Steelers third round picks since 2012:

2012: Sean Spence- Injured
2013: Markus Wheaton- Started N/A, 62% of snaps in Week 11
2014: Dri Archer- Started N/A, No significant percentage of snaps
2015: Sammie Coats- Started N/A, No significant percentage of snaps
2016: Javon Hargrave- Started Week 2, 55% of snaps in Week 5
2017: Cameron Sutton- Injured
2017: James Conner- Started N/A, No significant percentage of snaps
2018: Mason Rudolph- Started N/A, No significant percentage of snaps
2018: Chuks Okorafor- Started Week 12*, 100% of snaps in Week 12
2019: Diontae Johnson- Started Week 3, 79% of snaps in Week 3
2019: Justin Layne- Started N/A, No significant percentage of snaps
2020: Alex Highsmith- Started Week 13, 83% of snaps in Week 3
*Indicates a gap in starts as it was his only one at tackle and not jumbo tight end

As you can see, there was only a fraction of the players who became starters or were fully acclimated into the offense or defense. In fact, it was only 4 out of 12 in each category that had a metric to be measured. This means only 33% of the Steelers third-round draft picks became starters or contributors in their first season.

Since this is the case, this is where I drew the line and cut off looking at the acclamation process. For this reason, it can be concluded that the Steelers first-round draft picks, although not always ready for Week 1, get acclimated fairly quickly in the first quarter of the NFL season.

As for the Steelers second-round draft picks, it’s generally during the second quarter of the NFL season by the time they are ready to start or be fully acclimated into the game plan. Once reaching the third-round selections by the Steelers, the majority of those picks do not end up at starters or fully integrated into what the Steelers are doing during their rookie season.

Based on this data, expecting a key contributor, let alone a starter, from any player on the third day of the NFL draft during their rookie season would be quite the accomplishment if the Steelers could pull it off in 2021. In fact, if the Steelers third-round pick could even contribute in 2021 it would be going against the majority of their previous third-round selections.

Of course, these are just statistics and averages. The Steelers could knock this draft out of the park and have four starters ready for the beginning of the season. On the other hand, the Steelers may end up with no players starting by mid season of 2021 from this year‘s draft. All we can do now is sit back, see how it plays out, and cheer on the black and gold.