It used to be a foregone conclusion rookies in the NFL would take time to develop. Not just for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but across the league. It was a rarity to see a rookie step in and not miss a beat. However, for every Troy Polamalu who took a year, or two, to get fully acclimated, there is a Ben Roethlisberger or Dak Prescott who comes in and lights the league on fire.
The expectation now, from fans, is rookies should be able to walk into the team facility, and be a starter...whether they are ready or not. For fans of the black and gold, the 2016 draft class certainly has them spoiled. By the season’s end, the Steelers’ top three draft picks were all starting at their respective positions. Artie Burns at cornerback, Sean Davis at safety and Javon Hargrave at nose tackle.
This begs the question, which rookie from the team’s 2017 NFL Draft class will have the biggest impact on the upcoming season?
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN answered this very question recently, and you can read his answer below:
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster
First-round pass-rusher T.J. Watt should have a big impact on the Steelers, but Smith-Schuster can make one more quickly. Playing behind James Harrison and Bud Dupree at outside linebacker might limit Watt's first-year snaps. There are more plays available on offense, even if wide receiver Martavis Bryant returns from conditional reinstatement. Smith-Schuster has the size, toughness and attitude to win over coaches early in camp. -- Jeremy Fowler
While Fowler makes several key points on why Smith-Schuster could be the rookie who impacts the team the most, other players could have a case made for them as well.
Personally, I would make a strong case for third round pick Cameron Sutton.
While most think top pick T.J. Watt, or Smith-Schuster, like Fowler, woudl have the biggest impact, but to me it comes down to who will see the field the most. With this thinking, Sutton very well could have the biggest impact on the Steelers in 2017.
While Watt has James Harrison and others ahead of him on the depth chart, and Smith-Schuster will be the No. 4 WR at best, barring injury it is Sutton who has a battle with Senquez Golson and William Gay for the starting slot cornerback role in Week 1. That is a battle he could certainly win, and his punt return skills also could benefit the team, and Antonio Brown.
The 2017 draft class is very different compared to their 2016 counterparts. There weren’t as many necessity draft picks this year, and therefore, there isn’t going to be such a need for these players to play right away. But that doesn’t mean none will. While Smith-Schuster and Sutton might have the best odds to be a difference maker, you would be silly to sleep on a player like T.J. Watt who screams work ethic and raw capabilities.
Which rookie do you think will have the biggest impact on the 2017 Steelers team?