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What happened to the Steelers’ 2019 draft class?

Leading up to the 2023 NFL draft in April, let’s look at how some of the Steelers’ drafts played out.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The 2023 NFL Draft is this week! The last few offseasons, we dove into a Steelers NFL draft class starting with the 2004 NFL Draft and outlined a successive draft each week. In doing so, each player selected by the Steelers was highlighted as to how their NFL career, or lack thereof, took shape. Each year was outlined with the last three draft classes all combined into one since a large number of the players were still with the team.

Since it worked the last two seasons, and since a lot of the research has already been done, let’s look back at they players from these drafts yet again, this time looking at two different years, on separate days, each week leading up to the last week of April. The last two years started with 2004 because Ben Roethlisberger had played the previous year. With Big Ben now retired, we’ll start with the 2011 draft since Cam Heyward is the oldest drafted player on the Steelers from 2022. For players no longer in the league, a lot of the information will be the same while others will be updated where needed.

Part 9 of 10 will highlight the Steelers 2019 NFL draft who just finished their scheduled rookie contracts.

So let’s take a look at the nine players drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2018 NFL draft:

Devin Bush

Linebacker, Michigan

Round 1
Pick 10

Trading away three draft picks in order for the Steelers to move up to the 10th spot, Devin Bush had a successful rookie campaign where he came in third in NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting and was a Pro Bowl alternate. But things fell apart when Bush was lost in Week 5 for the 2020 season with an ACL injury. Since returning, Bush never got anywhere close to his 109 tackles, four fumble recoveries, and two interceptions he had as a rookie. After the Steelers did not pick up his fifth-year option, Bush saw his utilization fall off a cliff at the end of the season in 2022 where he only played five defensive snaps in each of the Steelers last two games. Bush signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal to join the Seattle Seahawks for 2023.

Diontae Johnson

Wide receiver, Toledo

Round 3
Pick 66

After being selected Second Team All-Pro his rookie year as a punt returner, Diontae Johnson saw an increase in targets over his first three years with the Steelers. In 2021, Johnson was selected to the Pro Bowl after he had 1,161 receiving yards on 107 receptions with eight touchdowns. Johnson signed a two-year contract extension during the 2022 offseason only to see his production drop with the departure of Ben Roethlisberger. With 882 receiving yards on 86 receptions in 2022, the biggest statistic which jumped off the page for Diontae Johnson did not have a touchdown.

Justin Layne

Cornerback, Michigan St

Round 3
Pick 76

After three years with the Steelers in which Layne never started a game as a cornerback, he was primarily used as a special teams player where he played 599 snaps compared to only 145 on defense. Not making the Steelers 53-man roster for 2022, Layne was claimed off waivers by the New York Giants where he appeared in seven games but only had 11 defensive snaps. Waved in November by the Giants, Layne was claimed by the Chicago Bears where he appeared in two games with no defensive snaps and only played on special teams. Released by Chicago in December, Layne was yet again claimed off waivers this time by the Carolina Panthers. Layne did not report to the team for the conclusion of the 2022 season and was released ahead of the 2023 league year and is currently a free agent.

Benny Snell Jr.

Running back, Kentucky

Round 4
Pick 122

Appearing in every game over the last two seasons for the Steelers, Benny Snell settled into his role as the third running back and special-teams ace in 2022. In his time in Pittsburgh, Snell has seven rushing touchdowns with 982 rushing yards on 275 carries. More importantly, Snell had 24 special teams tackles with 15 of them coming over the last two seasons. With his rookie contract expired, Snell remains a free agent ahead of the 2023 NFL draft.

Zach Gentry

Tight end, Michigan

Round 5
Pick 141

As could be expected from a fifth-round draft pick, Zach Gentry only appeared in four games as a rookie and was inactive the rest of the season. Inactive for the first eight games of 2020, Gentry appeared in two games before being placed on injured reserve for the remainder of his second season. The 2021 saw Gentry utilized much more. Only playing 69 offensive snaps those first two seasons, Gentry had 473 offensive snaps in 2021 and 577 in 2022 while starting 25 games. While the starts look impressive, it’s mainly because Gentry is utilized in the Steelers run packages and therefore was on the field for the first offensive snap of the game. In his four years, Gentry has 39 receptions for 303 yards and no touchdowns. After becoming a free agent for 2023, Gentry signed a one-year deal to return to the Steelers this season.

Sutton Smith

Linebacker, Northern Illinois

Round 6
Pick 175

One of three sixth-round picks in 2019, Sutton Smith dealt with injury throughout training camp and never really got going as part of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Released as part of roster cut downs, Smith was not signed to the Steelers practice squad. Spending one week on the Jaguars practice squad in October, Smith was signed by the Steelers on their practice squad for one day in November. The following week, he was signed back to the practice squad but released six days later. Smith finished the 2019 season on the Seattle Seahawks practice squad and was signed to a Reserve/Future contract. Unfortunately, Smith was waived in late July as teams had to cut their offseason rosters from 90 players down to 80 players for the 2020 season. Smith signed with the New Orleans Saints following the 2021 draft but was released in late August. Smith caught on with the Las Vegas Raiders practice squad in mid November and was signed to the 53-man roster after being elevated several times and was under contract for 2022. Smith was released in May of 2022 and did not catch on with another team.

Ulysees Gilbert III

Linebacker, Akron

Round 6
Pick 207

Sticking in Pittsburgh for three seasons as a sixth-round draft pick, Ulysees Gilbert struggled with injury throughout his time with the Steelers. Appearing in only seven games in 2019 and four games in 2020, Gilbert finally was available for an entire season in 2021 but was utilized primarily with special teams as he only played 36 defensive snaps. Injured again ahead of the 2022 season, Gilbert was waived/injured during training camp and placed on IR the next day. Just over a week later, Gilbert was waived with an injury settlement and his time with the Steelers was over. But in October 2022, Gilbert was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad where he was elevated for three games in Week 10, Week 12, and Week 13. Ahead of the Buccaneers postseason game, Gilbert was signed to the 53-man roster and played 21 postseason special teams snaps. Gilbert is still currently under contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for 2023.

Isaiah Buggs

Defensive tackle, Alabama

Round 6
Pick 192

Buggs made the Steelers 53-man roster all three seasons in the NFL. After the injury to Tyson Alualu in Week 2 of 2021, Buggs was the starting nose tackle for the Steelers through the next eight games despite being credited with six starts due to the Steelers opening in a different defensive package. But after Week 11, Buggs fell out favor and was not active for the remainder of the season. Released prior to Week 18, Buggs landed on the practice squad of the Las Vegas Raiders. Signed by the Detroit Lions just ahead of training camp, Buggs appeared in all 17 games in 2022 with 13 starts. Buggs turned the best season of his career into a two-year, $6 million contract to stay in Detroit.

Derwin Gray

Tackle, Maryland

Round 7
Pick 219

After spending the 2019 season on the Steelers practice squad, Gray landed back in the familiar spot in 2020. After the injuries to Zach Banner and Stefen Wisniewski, Gray was promoted to the active roster for Week 2. Going into Week 16, the Steelers were extremely thin at inside linebacker and signed Tegray Scales from the practice squad. The corresponding move was the release of Gray, who many believe the Steelers were hoping to get back to the practice squad. Unfortunately, the Jacksonville Jaguars claimed Gray off waivers. Gray signed his exclusive rights free agent tender with the Jaguars for 2021 but was waived in late August. Gray was claimed of waivers by the Tennesse Titans but failed to make the 53-main roster. On and off the Titans practice squad in 2021, Gray signed a Reserve/Future contract with Tennessee for 2022 but was released in June. Gray is currently a member of the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL.