The 2020 NFL Draft is now history. The Steelers 2020 Draft Class is set and the assessments of Pittsburgh’s most unusual draft class in over a half century are already beginning.
- Defining “Winners” and “Losers” two days after the draft is as understandable as it is silly.
It is understandable because in every draft a select few teams lay foundations for future championships while the rest undermine their shot at a Super Bowl.
- The silliness comes in pretending to know which team falls on which side of the fence days after the draft.
Vito Stellino is one of the best NFL journalists there’s ever been, but he famously panned the Steelers 1974 Draft class. As Tony Defeo reminds us, it’s the nature of the beast that so many are already second guessing Steelers 2020 picks of Claypool and Highsmith. But how many of those voices rushed to declare Antonio Brown as a “steal” of the 2010 NFL Draft or call out Kelvin Beachum as 2012 NFL Draft’s true sleeper?
- You get my point.
The Steelers 2020 Draft class is getting a B- in a lot of circles, but those grades are about as accurate as an early April batting average. However, Steelers picks nonetheless tell us something important about how Pittsburgh’s brain trust sees it the team.
Steelers 2020 Draft Class at a Glance
2nd Round – Chase Claypool, Wide Receiver from Notre Dame
3rd Round – Alex Highsmith, Outside Linebacker, Charlotte
4th Round A – Robert McFarland, Jr., Running Back, Maryland
4th Round B – Kevin Dotson, Guard, Louisiana
6th Round – Antoine Brooks, Safety, Maryland
7th Round – Carlos Davis, Nose Tackle, Nebraska
That’s 6 picks, evenly divided between offense and defense with an early emphasis on offensive skill positions. Here are some conclusions that we can make now:
1. The Steelers Remain “All In” on a Roethlisberger Rebound
This has been true since the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade and is nothing new. Everything decision the franchise has made since that loss against Seattle suggests it is banking on a full recovery from Ben Roethlisberger. Taking Chase Claypool with their only pick in the top 100 players in the 2020 NFL Draft confirms the trend.
2. Steelers are Sold on Benny Snell Jr.
Before the draft Mike Tomlin was non-committal about whether the Steelers would draft a running back early. But he did commit running better in 2020 regardless of who the Steelers picked. A lot of folks are up in arms over the Steelers decision to leave J.K. Dobbins on the board in the 2nd round.
- They may be right.
3. The Steelers are Comfortable with Inside Linebacker Depth
Going into the draft with just six picks forced Pittsburgh to prioritize more than normal. Outside of tight end, every other position area could use a shot in the arm.
Yet, after making their first pick, the Steelers chose to address outside linebacker, running back, offensive line and safety at the expense of inside linebacker.
By implication, that suggests they’re a lot more comfortable with Ulysees Gilbert serving as “The next man up” at his position than they are with Jordan Dangerfield, Ola Adeniyi and/or Tuzar Skipper at theirs.
4. Steelers are Hedging on Dupree and JuJu’s Returns
Let’s look at some objective facts:
- The Steelers had no first round pick
- They have no obvious starting spots to be won
- Pittsburgh’s highest profile free agents for 2021 will be Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster
- The Steelers first two picks were at wide receiver and outside linebacker
Coincidence? Perhaps. But during the 1990’s the Steelers would routinely drafted with an eye towards replacing future free agents. (The strategy worked, for a while.) Could they be doing the same thing here?
Time will tell, but judging by how the a lot of different stars are lining up, the Steelers appear to be hedging their bets when it comes to the prospect of keeping JuJu and Bud Pittsburgh beyond 2020.