The Steelers’ 2016 campaign came up one game short of reaching the Super Bowl. For General Manager Kevin Colbert, Head Coach Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the front office, this ultra-talented roster has almost everything to get it done. But after being embarrassed by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots, the Steelers and their fans were realized just how much more work needs to be done, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Steelers have always been a team that relies heavily on the draft, no matter where they sit in the order. 2017 was no different.
It was a memorable night, both on the national stage and locally as well. Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Drew Pearson stole the show while taking it to the hostile Philadelphia crowd, Steeler-greats Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris paid tribute to the great late Dan Rooney right before announcing the Steelers’ 1st round pick, and there was some social media drama between Martavis Bryant, Sammie Coates, and Mike Tomlin.
Here are the 2017 Steelers’ draft picks:
1st Round (30th overall):
OLB T.J. Watt (Wisconsin)
Arguably, the Steelers’ biggest need of the offseason was getting a pass-rusher. Some have a valid argument of getting secondary help, but with the bust known as Jarvis Jones now gone and James Harrison getting closer and closer to the other side of 40, getting a pass-rusher was a big need. And when T.J. Watt was still available at the 30th pick, it was clear Colbert and Tomlin weren’t about to pass on him.
Yes, T.J. is the younger brother of J.J. Watt, arguably the best defensive player in the league, but T.J. is very clear that he wants to make a name for himself. After converting to outside linebacker after being recruited by Wisconsin as a tight end, Watt had major success. He registered 11.5 sacks in 14 games in 2016 for the Badgers, showing freak athleticism with a high motor and loads of tenacity. He’s raw and is eager to learn from great Steeler linebackers like Harrison and coach Joey Porter, but he has the potential to be a really good NFL pass-rusher.
2nd Round (62nd overall):
WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (USC)
It came as quite a surprise when the Steelers drafted a wide receiver in the 2nd round, especially after hearing news earlier in the week that mega-talent Martavis Bryant was reinstated by the league. JuJu Smith-Schuster could be the most productive player from this draft class. He’s physical, strong, a decent route-runner, and has great potential after the catch. He would make a great fit lining up in the slot with Bryant and Antonio Brown outside. This pick definitely gives the Steelers another weapon for Ben Roethlisberger, but some argue there were other needs ahead of a receiver in the 2nd round.
3rd Round (94th overall):
CB Cameron Sutton (Tennessee)
The Steelers addressd their secondary with the first of two 3rd round picks and took Cameron Sutton. He’s a man-coverage cornerback, something the Steelers desperately need. He’s not the best tackler in the world, which was an issue from time to time last year for the Steeler defense, and his backpedal needs polished, but he’s got a lot of tools to show that he can be a decent NFL corner. He’ll compete for the number two cornerback or nickel spot, but he’ll have to have a strong training camp to beat out some of the veterans.
3rd Round (105th overall):
RB James Conner (Pittsburgh)
Well this amazing story got even more amazing this past weekend. James Conner was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. While rehabbing a knee injury in 2015, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He battled back from cancer and injury to play football again, and at a high level. He didn’t put up the inflated numbers from 2014, but still turned in a solid year and looked like an NFL running back.
With the Steelers needing a back up for star running back Le’Veon Bell this upcoming season, Conner looks to fit that role right away. He’ll be a good change of pace from Bell. Bell’s as patient as a runner can get, while Conner hits the hole and likes to finish runs over tacklers. Conner will probably see some goal line and short yardage situations, while spelling Bell as well. The only caution to consider is how his body continues to hold up after defeating cancer just two years ago.
4th Round (135th overall):
QB Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee)
With Ben Roethlisberger briefly contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, many speculated that the Steelers would draft a quarterback. And they did. They might’ve gotten the best value at the position with when they drafted him. Joshua Dobbs is a highly intelligent quarterback with a great arm and great ability to extend the play, keeping defenses honest. He has some mechanics to work out (primarily footwork), but the Steelers obviously don’t need him in a starting role right away. They drafted him as a developmental quarterback, and that’s the role he’ll fill barring any injuries.
5th Round (173rd overall):
DB Brian Allen (Utah)
Brian Allen is an interesting pick. His size, speed, and length are amazing features that can’t be taught. However, he struggles mightily with tackling, his footwork is sloppy, and he’s not great at turning his hips. He doesn’t appear to be ready to play in the NFL, but with coaching, he could become something. It doesn’t look like he could contribute to the team in 2017, but if he develops well, could become a piece in the defense in future seasons.
6th Round (213th overall):
LS Colin Holba (Louisville)
I think this pick puzzled just about everyone. Drafting a long-snapper? In the 6th round no-less? It’s definitely interesting, to say the least. With the addition of Colin Holba, the current roster is at 97 players, three being long-snappers. It’d be a pretty good guess that at least one gets cut, right?
7th Round (248th overall):
OLB Keion Adams (Western Michigan)
This could possibly be the biggest sleeper in the Steelers’ draft. Not to make any predictions, but Keion Adams has the speed, quickness, and athleticism to be a good edge rusher. He needs to be coached on some mechanics at the point of attack and how to set the edge better, but a lot of the tangibles needed to be a contributing linebacker are there. He needs to be polished a bit, but as stated before, this pick could be a steal.
Final Grade: B+
All in all, it was a solid draft. If it weren’t for the blemish in the sixth round of drafting a player that you most likely would have been able to sign as an undrafted free agent, this would be an A- grade. They addressed the needs of the team, while adding to a strength, and bringing in a couple of developmental players. Only time will tell who’s a bust or who’s a sleeper, but the Steelers definitely added some quality, high-character guys who won’t embarrass the emblem.