Hopes were high for the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 NFL Draft class. The group was very defense oriented, which is exactly what the team needed heading into the new year. However, after a crucial injury to their second round draft pick, cutting another draft pick and barely getting any production from the rest left many with a sour taste in their mouths.
Nonetheless, there is hope within the 2015 draft class. It may not have shown at times during the regular season, but potential resides within each player who still has a spot on the team's roster. Recently, NFL.com's Bucky Brooks graded every team's 2015 draft class, after a season in the books, and added each team's focus heading into the 2016 NFL Draft.
See what Brooks had to say about the Steelers' most recent draftees:
Bud Dupree looks like a keeper as a designated rusher off the edge. Dupree not only exhibits explosive first-step quickness, but he has a non-stop motor that allows him to register sacks on extra effort. With Dupree also displaying enough athleticism and versatility to set the edge as a run defender or drop into the flat in coverage, the Steelers have a hybrid defender with the tools the wreak havoc. Senquez Golson and Doran Grant were expected to bolster the secondary with their energetic games, but the young cornerback tandem failed to contribute in Year 1. Golson spent the entire season on the sideline nursing a shoulder injury, while Grant honed his skills on the practice squad before earning a late-season promotion to the 53-man roster. Anthony Chickillo participated in seven games, but he failed to really make his mark as a rotational player. Offensively, the Steelers added Sammie Coates and Jesse James to a loaded lineup, which is why neither player made much of a contribution as a rookie. Although both players flashed potential in limited action, the Steelers hope to get more from the young pass catchers down the road.
It is rare that I agree with one of the supposed "experts" in the field, but Brooks pretty much hit the nail on the head with his analysis, and grade, of the Steelers' latest draft class. Before fans get upset over the poor grade and the criticism within his statement, everyone should realize a draft class isn't judged by just one season. Senquez Golson could be a very important part of the 2016 Steelers secondary, and Bud Dupree's progression could make him a force to be reckoned with next season. Just those two players stepping up their game in their sophomore season would certainly improve the grade, and perception, of the draft class.
Nonetheless, despite the 2015 class, the focus now is turned on the potential 2016 draft class, and who the team should be targeting at the NFL Scouting Combine and beyond. Brooks took a stab at that topic as well:
Combine focus: Despite taking a couple of cover corners in the 2015 draft, the Steelers, who hold the 25th overall pick, should seriously consider snatching up a ballhawk in the early rounds to replenish their secondary. Ohio State's Eli Apple, Virginia Tech's Kendall Fuller and Houston's William Jackson III could be great fits based on their length, ball skills and athleticism. The Steelers also will take a peek at the safety position to see if they can identify a traffic cop to man the middle of the field. Boise State's Darian Thompson, Ohio State's Vonn Bell and Southern Utah's Miles Killebrew could be considered if they test well in Indianapolis.
There are several players of note in Brooks' analysis, but the thought of the Steelers bucking so many trends and going with a cornerback in the first round still seems extremely odd, and rather "off". However, this could certainly happen depending on how the chips fall on draft day, but the Steelers will certainly be keeping an eye on the defensive secondary not only at the Combine, but at their individual Pro Days as they prepare for the NFL Draft.