The Pittsburgh Steelers have had great success in recent years drafting players who are NFL ready from Day 1. Examples include the duo of Artie Burns and Sean Davis, and their fellow classmate Javon Hargrave, all who played significant roles in the first professional season.
Looking at the team’s 2017 NFL Draft class, there are a few players who need to make a big jump in 2018, and when I say ‘jump’ I am talking specifically about improving their game, and ultimately increasing their productivity.
You might be surprised, but only one defender made this short list.
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Of course Watt is the first on the list. As an outside linebacker in the Steelers’ new scheme, he is the Swiss Army Knife for Keith Butler’s unit. He has shown he can cover, but there is a lot Watt can improve upon when it comes to setting the edge and adding some counter moves to his pass rush in order to increase his odds to get to the opposing quarterback.
Watt has a ton of potential, and after a year with the team, he should have gained the necessary experience to realize what he needs to improve upon before his sophomore year. Knowing the Watt family the way the public does, there is a good chance Watt is on the verge of having a very good second season in 2018.
Smith-Schuster took the Steelers’ fan base by storm last year, and his fun-loving personality made him almost larger than life to the general public. However, Smith-Schuster certainly can improve on several aspects of his game.
Catching the ball isn’t an issue with Smith-Schuster, but his route running can continue to improve. Although he was markedly better than most, including myself, anticipated, if Smith-Schuster can continue to improve on his routes, and continue to be the physical presence he already has shown as a rookie, the sky is the limit for the kid from Southern California.
This was a toss up between Conner and Cam Sutton. I went with Conner because I feel he will have more of a chance to show himself than Sutton. Sutton is a great prospect, but I don’t see him as anything more than taking over William Gay’s dime package cornerback role. Sutton will certainly play a role on the team’s defense, but his classmate will be the one who needs to show improvement.
Conner had flashes in his limited role last year, but his deficiencies were also glaring. Conner needs to really put in the work as a pass blocker, as well as a pass catcher, if he wants to be given more time to spell Le’Veon Bell, assuming Bell is in Pittsburgh next year.
I believe James Conner can be an excellent change-of-pace back for the very patient Bell. Conner’s one-cut, downhill style can certainly be the fastball to Bell’s change up. When used correctly, he can really help stabilize the Steelers’ running back corps.
If these three players can step up their game next season, it will have a very big impact on the overall team moving forward. The experience a rookie gets from his first NFL season is invaluable, in getting through that rookie wall, realizing what it is like going up against seasoned vets and ultimately understanding what it takes to succeed.
For the great ones, there is no offseason...just more preparation.