The Steelers began the difficult task of trimming their roster to 53 on Saturday afternoon when nine aspiring NFL players were released not long after the preseason finale against the Panthers on Friday night.
Cornerback Shakur Brown, a Michigan State product and the crown prince of Pittsburgh’s crop of 2021 undrafted free agents, was one of the nine to get an unwelcomed visit from the Turk.
There was so much hype surrounding Brown, he of the great PFF grade. Not only did Pro Football Focus grade Brown favorably for his production at the collegiate level (82.2), but the site even ranked Brown as the fifth-best undrafted free agent signing.
“How Shakur Brown can make the Steelers roster and contribute in 2021” may have been a headline you read during the offseason. One of the ways Brown was expected to contribute was as a slot corner and someone who could be the next Mike Hilton, a fellow undrafted free agent who came out of nowhere to make Pittsburgh’s roster in 2017 before quickly ascending up the ladder as one of the top slot corners in the league.
People were flabbergasted that Brown, who was projected to be drafted in the third or fourth round, didn’t get selected by any team.
Based on Brown’s rankings and grades, he really should have been drafted.
But he wasn’t, and he didn’t do anything in his rookie training camp or preseason to warrant making the Steelers final 53-man roster.
How could Brown not get drafted? How could he fail to make a splash in his first training camp and preseason? He is likely missing something in his game or his physical attributes, which was why he went undrafted in the first place—coaches and scouts may not be perfect prospect evaluators, but they’re still pretty darn good at it.
Will Brown ultimately wind up on another team’s 53-man roster one day and go on to have a productive career—maybe even with the Steelers?
It’s too soon to say, but maybe Brown will act as a cautionary tale about hyping up future UDFAs and late-round draft picks before they even set foot on a professional football practice field.
Actually, it won’t stop people from hyping up future underdog players. How could it in this day and age? With so many football sites, football analysts and football podcasters out there in the modern world of the 24/7/365 news cycle, we know everything there is to know about an undrafted free agent or late-round pick before he even shows up to his first rookie camp. We know who his college coach was and the system he played in. We dissect him. We prod him (not literally, of course).
We write and talk about which players will surprise us during training camp and the preseason. Surprise us? How can we know who will surprise us ahead of time? I get it, it’s simply a vehicle to discuss these underdog players, but it sure does take the fun out of being surprised.
I can tell you that I was pleasantly surprised by Hilton.
The same can be said for offensive linemen Kelvin Beachum (seventh round, 2012 NFL Draft), Chris Hubbard (UDFA, 2013) and Matt Feiler (UDFA, 2014). None of these hogs will likely make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but they not only beat the odds by going on to have long NFL careers; they all signed lucrative deals that should set them up for life.
And I didn’t see any of it coming.
That’s the way it should be with underdog stories. You should be blindsided by someone beating the odds, not anticipating it months in advance.
Shakur Brown became a story long before he should have. For his sake, hopefully, he will go on to surprise us, after all.