The 2021 NFL draft is now only three weeks away. Each week leading up to the draft, we are going to dive into an NFL draft class starting with the Steelers 2004 NFL draft. In doing so, each player selected by the Steelers will be highlighted as to how their NFL career, or lack thereof, took shape. As we get to more recent years, some will be combined as many of those draft choices are still with the Steelers.
Part 12 of 15 will highlight the Steelers 2015 NFL draft, where after five seasons no players remain on the Steelers roster.
So let’s take a look at the eight players drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 NFL draft:
Outside linebacker, Kentucky
After six seasons with the Steelers, Dupree’s time in the Steel City has just come to an end. Signing a five-year contract with the Tennessee Titans for an average of $16.5 million per season, Dupree was one of the higher paid free agent acquisitions in the 2021 offseason despite never making a Pro Bowl. Taking some time to get warmed up in Pittsburgh, Dupree did not offer much to the Steelers in his first two seasons. Starting 15 games in his third year in 2017, Dupree managed 6.0 sacks on the season. In year four, Dupree began to see a slight increase in production when he was moved from the left side to the right side of the defense. With the Steelers picking up Dupree‘s fifth year option, many Steelers fans thought it was not a wise decision. But Dupree had a great 2019 season where he started every game and notched 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, three passes defensed, 17 quarterback hits, and 16 tackles for loss. Dupree was well on his way to another outstanding season in 2021 when an ACL injury cut his season short in the 11th game. Still, Dupree had 8.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, two passes defensed, 15 quarterback hits, and eight tackles for loss. While Dupree’s production took off towards the end of his time in Pittsburgh, he simply became a player the Steelers could not afford, especially with All Pro T.J. Watt also playing the position.
It’s one of the more sad stories towards the top of the NFL draft when it comes to Senquez Golson. Known for his durability in college, Golson never could get going in the NFL due to injuries. In 2015, it was a shoulder injury during training camp which put him on season ending IR. In 2016, it was a Lisfranc injury early in training camp. While the Steelers were hopeful Golson could return during the season, he was not able to and was placed on IR in October. As the Steelers continued to sign and draft cornerbacks, Golson was fighting for a spot by 2017. On the first day of training camp, Golson was injured yet again and did not appear in any of the Steelers preseason games. Released as a part of roster cut downs, Golson did land on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad in November 2017, but only lasted one week. After a brief time on the Oakland Raiders offseason roster, Golson was released prior to making it to training camp and has not played professional football since.
Wide receiver, Auburn
Another less tragic story about how injuries affected players career comes with wide receiver Sammie Coats. Only appearing in six games his rookie season where he had one reception for 11 yards, Coats appeared to be ready to take the next step in his second season. With solid production through his first four games of 2016, Coats had a six receptions, 139 yard, two touchdown performance in Week 5 against the New York Jets. Unfortunately, these would be the only two touchdowns of Coats’s career as he suffered a hand injury during the game which affected his ability to catch. But rather than have the issue taken care of, Coats continued to play the next nine games but only had two receptions for 14 yards. After being inactive in Week 16 and not seeing the field in Week 17, Coats saw primarily special teams snaps in the Steelers two playoff victories of the 2016 season. In the loss in the AFC championship game, Coats had two receptions for 34 yards which would be his last with the Steelers. Traded to the Cleveland Browns at the end of training camp in 2017, Coats went along with a seventh-round draft picks in return for a sixth-round selection. Coats only had six receptions for 70 yards in 12 games with the Browns, and was released in the offseason. Claimed off of waivers by the Houston Texans, Coats appeared in 12 games in 2018 but only had one reception for 12 yards before being released in December. Coats briefly landed in Kansas City in the 2019 offseason but was released following the NFL draft. Transitioning to the XFL as a member of the Houston Roughnecks, Coats played in four games and had six receptions for 61 yards but on 19 targets. Coach recently signed a contract with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League for the 2021 season.
Cornerback, Ohio St.
Failing to make the 53-man roster, Grant landed on the Steelers practice squad to start his rookie season. Prior to Week 9, Grant was promoted to the active roster where we spent the remainder of the season. Appearing in three games, Grant only played one defensive snap. The following season, Grant failed to make the active roster yet again and landed on the Buffalo Bills practice squad for a week. After a stop on the practice squad of the New York Giants, Grant landed on Jacksonville’s practice squad where he remained until the end of the season and signed a Reserve/Future contract. To start the 2017 season, Grant was placed on the Reserve/Injured list and was released in mid September. Grant then found his way onto the Chicago Bears practice squad where he remained for the entire season and the 2018 offseason. Failing to make the team in 2018, Grant played with the Atlanta Legends of the AAF in 2019 and the DC Defenders of the XFL in 2020. Grant signed with Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, but opted out his contract when the CFL canceled the 2020 season.
Tight end, Penn St.
Making the 53-man roster as a rookie, Jesse James did not appear in a regular-season game until November. In eight games as a rookie, James had eight receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown. Playing every game of the next three seasons, James had a total of 120 regular-season receptions for 1,189 yards at nine touchdowns in Pittsburgh while adding another 13 receptions for 171 yards in six playoff games. Signing a four year, $22.6 million contract with the Detroit Lions in 2019, James saw his production take a major hit as the Lions also drafted tight end T.J. Hockenson with the eighth pick of the 2019 NFL draft. With only 16 receptions for 142 yards his first year in Detroit, James did have two touchdowns in his second season but only 14 receptions and 129 yards. Despite not missing a game, James simply didn’t factor much into the Lions’ game plan. He was released by Detroit this past March prior to the start of the 2021 league year and is currently a free agent.
Defensive tackle, Central Michigan
As much as the Steelers had earlier draft picks who did not make the 53-man roster to start the season, players further down the draft board managed to make the team. L.T. Walton made the 53-man roster his rookie season and appeared in six games. Playing in 10 games his second season, Walton started the last four games of the regular season filling in for an injured Cam Hayward. Walton also started two of the three Steelers postseason games in the 2016 season. In four years with the Steelers, Walton played in 40 games where he had 2.0 sacks and 26 tackles along with three passes defensed. Walton also had a fumble recovery in the Steelers Wildcard victory over the Miami Dolphins during the 2016 postseason. Signing with the Bills for 2019, Walton did not make the roster in Buffalo. He was re-signed by the Steelers in October 2019 following the season-ending injury to Stephon Tuitt. Walton was also placed on injured reserve in November without appearing in a game for the Steelers. Walton did not play in the NFL during the 2020 season and is currently not on any roster.
Outside linebacker, Miami (FL)
Not initially on the Steelers 53-man roster his rookie season, Anthony Chickillo made it on the Steelers practice squad for the first few weeks of 2015. Called up to the active roster at the end of September, Chickillo appeared in seven games as a rookie. Used primarily as a special teams player and rotational outside linebacker, Chickillo was signed as an exclusive rights free agent in 2017 and was given an original round tender as a restricted free agent in 2018. The Steelers signed Chickillo to a two-year, $8 million contract for 2019. After being arrested for a domestic dispute in October, Chickillo spent eight days on the Exempt/Commissioners Permission List. Appearing at 11 games with only 0.5 sacks, Chickillo was released in the offseason and signed with the New Orleans Saints for 2020. Failing to make the team, Chickillo was signed to the practice squad only to be poached a few weeks later by the Denver Broncos. Chickillo ended the season in Denver playing in 11 games with one sack, one pass defensed, and 11 tackles. Chickillo is currently a free agent heading into the 2021 season.
Holliman failed to make the Steelers 53-man roster his rookie season, nor did he make the practice squad. It wasn’t until the very end of December in 2015 when Holliman was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad and then given a Reserve/Future contract for the following season. Unfortunately, Holliman never made it to training camp with Tampa Bay as he was released following the 2016 NFL draft and did not land with another NFL squad. In 2017, Holliman joined the Columbus Lions of the National Arena League where he still plays.