The past few years the Pittsburgh Steelers have been doing a tremendous job drafting NFL ready players who can contribute right away. Whether you are referring to the trio of Artie Burns, Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave in the 2016 NFL Draft class, or T.J. Watt and JuJu Smith-Schuster of the 2017 class, it is always difficult to look back in hindsight and re-evaluate the players who haven’t had time to fully develop at the professional level.
Nonetheless, don’t tell that to ESPN’s Mel Kiper. His latest piece has him re-grading every NFL team’s 2017 NFL Draft class a year after the fact.
But first, the criteria:
As a reminder: The updated grades are just a fun exercise in seeing how the draft class appears to be shaping up. It’s a check to see how players are coming along. A few parameters:
I look at first-year impact from the rookie class based on relative value -- contributing to a winner is worth more than piling up reps for a bad team.
I included rookie undrafted free agents added after the draft, as those are an important part of the process. And there were a few teams that had big contributors from UFAs.
As with the rookie rankings, I try to ask whether players who contributed could do so for most teams. Again, relative value matters.
With that said, see what Kiper had to say about the Steelers’ most recent crop of draft picks, and his re-grade at the bottom:
Post-draft grade: B+
The Steelers filled their top needs on my board with their first three picks, and two of those three had productive rookie seasons. Pass-rusher T.J. Watt was tied for second in sacks among rookies with seven and also had 52 total tackles and an interception. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster led all rookies in receiving yards (917) and touchdowns (seven) while averaging 15.8 yards per catch. I wrote last year that Smith-Schuster has No. 1 receiver potential, but I didn’t think he’d be this good this early. He could be a star -- on an already-loaded offense. Third-round cornerback Cameron Sutton, meanwhile, played only 108 defensive snaps.
Running back James Conner played sparingly and will sit behind Le’Veon Bell for at least one more season. Quarterback Joshua Dobbs took a redshirt year. The Steelers used a sixth-round pick on long-snapper Colin Holba, cut him, and then Holba landed in Jacksonville, playing in the Jags’ divisional-round upset over Pittsburgh.
Smith-Schuster’s emergence and Watt’s steady play keep this grade the same, and I expect Sutton to have a much bigger role -- potentially in a move to safety -- in 2018.
New grade: B+
I shouldn’t have to say re-grading players after just one season is a bit outlandish, but the fact Kiper didn’t go out on a limb and completely change the grade, or harshly criticize the class, shows a step in the right direction for Kiper and company.
With that said, I think a solid B is a good grade for the 2017 draft class, at least as of now. If Sutton, Conner and someone like Keion Adams become bigger contributors this class could be very special in addition to players like Watt and Smith-Schuster.