Having traded their 2020 first-round selection to the Miami Dolphins in return for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Pittsburgh Steelers did not make a selection in this year’s NFL Draft until the second day. However, even with having to wait until they could address some of their team needs, they were able to cobble together a draft class full of value.
The Steelers had six total selection this year, with one pick in each of the second, third, sixth, and seventh rounds, and two in the fourth round. Of the six picks, there were three dedicated to the offensive side of the ball and three dedicated to the defensive side of the ball, spreading improvements equally across the board.
With certain elements being addressed, while others were left alone, here are some takeaways from the 2020 draft class for the Steelers.
No quarterback selected as a solid backup plan
Coming into this year’s draft, the Steelers had five quarterbacks on their roster: Ben Roethlisberger, Devlin Hodges, Mason Rudolph, J.T. Barrett, and Paxton Lynch. They left the draft with that same amount, and no real solid threat coming off the bench.
With mid-round options like James Morgan (Florida International), Nate Stanley (Iowa), and Jake Luton (Oregon State) all filling needs as average to above-average backups, the Steelers decided to move forward into the offseason without addressing an area of their team. It’s an area of the team that has come under fire as of the past few seasons, but especially in 2019.
Big Ben has been facing a ton of injury issues, including the shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve in the second game of the season. His backups for the year, a revolving door of mediocrity between Hodges and Rudolph, represented the contingency plan that head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert believed in… for some reason.
They had drafted former University of Tennessee Volunteer QB Joshua Dobbs in the 2017 draft in the fourth round, and he was the seventh QB selected in that draft. Dobbs had realistically put together a solid-enough training camp and offseason both in ‘17 and in 2018. But he was traded away to the Jacksonville Jaguars for a fifth-round pick after Rudolph had shown enough to justify becoming the team’s No. 2 option.
Regardless, this draft presented a solid amount of mid-round options at QB for the Steelers to take a lottery ticket on. Especially since their current roster does not have a solid option on it, based on prior experiences.
New offensive weapons added to the arsenal
Three of the team’s first four selections were on the offensive side of the ball, as WR Chase Claypool, RB Anthony McFarland Jr., and G Kevin Dotson went in the second, third, and fourth rounds, respectively.
Claypool is a real WR/TE tweener, but will most likely play as a receiver in the Pittsburgh offense. He brings a solid tall presence to the game and would be a nice outside pass-catcher that can help move Juju Smith-Schuster inside to the slot to help maximize his talents.
McFarland is another body to add to the busy RB room, as James Conner, Benny Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels, and Trey Edmunds will all be vying for playing time along with McFarland. His explosiveness that he put on display with the Maryland Terrapins should bring an exciting element to the Steelers’ offense. And hopefully, he can be one of the backs that actually remains healthy for the entirety of the season, something that PIT has been struggling with.
Dotson was a real solid mid-round steal for an interior offensive line upgrade out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Even though he did not play on a big stage all that often, he displayed a strong use of hands in the trenches and is a nice physical presence that can help beef up the interior offensive line.
Big-time additions in the defensive trenches
For the defense, two of the three draftees will suit up for the team’s defensive line. Edge rusher Alex Highsmith (Charlotte) and defensive lineman Carlos Davis (Nebraska) will both be nice additions with potential to start or add quality snaps on day one.
Highsmith comes out of a relatively-unknown football school in the Charlotte 49ers, but he was arguably the best football prospect that school will see for the next five-plus seasons. His ability to get out of his stance quickly and attack the line will be nice to pair up with T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree, and the other linebackers and edge rushers.
And for Davis, who had his brother and fellow Cornhusker DL Khalil go to Tampa Bay, will be asked to be a solid piece on the D-line moving forward, providing solid value in the seventh round.
Second Terrapin player may play bigger role than the first
Pittsburgh selected two Terrapins in the draft – RB McFarland, and safety Antoine Brooks Jr. While McFarland enters a pretty crowded position group, Brooks joins Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds as the most established safeties on the team.
Brooks can help the team in defensive sub-packages, playing all different roles on the field and letting Fitzpatrick continue to wreak havoc on opposing offenses as he did so well in ‘19. Having to fight through fewer players than McFarland to earn playing time, Brooks should have a decently large role in ‘20 and beyond.