Grading the Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Chris Tripodi

Draft Analyst Writer

The Steelers return much of their core from last season with the exception of Lawrence Timmons and Jarvis Jones, and most pundits expected them to shore up the second and third levels of their defense in this year's draft -- something they were able to accomplish both early and late.


T.J. Watt




JuJu Smith-Schuster




Cam Sutton




James Conner




Joshua Dobbs




Brian Allen




Colin Holba




Keion Adams


Western Michigan

UDFA Signings: Nelson Adams, DT, Mississippi State; Rushel Shell, RB, West Virginia; Christian Brown, DT, West Virginia; Francis Kallon, DE, Georgia Tech; Ethan Cooper, G, Indiana-Pennsylvania; Scott Orndoff, TE, Pittsburgh; Terrish Webb, DB, Pittsburgh; Keith Kelsey, LB, Louisville; Nick Schuessler, QB, Clemson

T.J. Watt went off the board right where he should have, and J.J.'s little brother will bring a tenacious, nasty attitude along with good strength to the edge in Pittsburgh. He wasn't asked to make many plays in reverse at Wisconsin but should be a force in the box who can provide some extra pass rush on the outside while he learns the tricks of the trade from the ageless James Harrison.

JuJu Smith-Schuster nearly cracked our top 40, so grabbing him at the tail end of Round 2 was nice value. A solid route-runner with good overall athleticism despite average 4.53 speed, Smith-Schuster lacks special traits but was productive from the moment he hit the field for USC and provides good insurance as a potential starter in case Martavis Bryant encounters further off-field issues.

The Steelers tend to have annual issues in the secondary, which makes Senior Bowl standout Cam Sutton an excellent choice to fill a need at good value in Round 3. A versatile defender who can line up at both corner and safety, Sutton defends both the run and pass well and should see significant snaps early wherever Pittsburgh feels they need him most.

James Conner was one of the draft's best stories who went earlier than expected, as we had him just outside our top 150. At 6-1, 233 pounds, he's a powerful runner with vision who shows ability as a receiver and in pass protection. Despite a lack of speed (4.65), Conner should only improve as he distances himself from Hodgkin's lymphoma and will fill the DeAngelo Williams role as a backup and spot starter behind Le'Veon Bell.

With Ben Roethlisberger likely to flirt with retirement every offseason for the rest of his career, Pittsburgh grabbed Joshua Dobbs late in Round 4. Dobbs ranks highly in the areas of athleticism, character and intelligence but is erratic with his accuracy and field vision, two of the more difficult traits for quarterbacks to improve in the NFL. There is theoretical starter upside here, but realizing it might be difficult.

At 6-3, 215 with 4.48 speed, Brian Allen is an intriguing if inexperienced project for the Steelers. A converted receiver who uses his size well and shows good ball skills, Allen is raw and needs work on his tackling, efficiency and awareness before he'll be able to contribute in the secondary.

It's rare to see a team grab a long snapper before the seventh round, but Colin Holba should fill that spot in Pittsburgh eventually, if not immediately.

A college defensive end who projects to outside linebacker in the Steelers' 3-4 defense, Keion Adams is explosive off the snap, plays with good pad level and moves well in every direction of the field. His size (6-1, 245) hinders him in one-on-one blocking situations, and much like Watt he'll need to prove he can make plays in reverse to see action as anything more than a designated pass rusher.

Pittsburgh grabbed a few notable prospects in free agency, the first being Ethan Cooper. Cooper has long-term starting potential at guard thanks to his strength and nasty attitude but is ineffective in motion. Keith Kelsey is small (6-0, 233) and slow (4.93) but is a tough, hard-hitting linebacker who should contribute on special teams. Rushel Shell is a short-yardage back who gets what's blocked and shows some ability as a pass catcher.

Analysis: The Steelers did well on the first two days to fill needs at good value and added some prospects with interesting traits on the third day. By no means was this a flashy draft in Pittsburgh, but the team netted at least three eventual starters and did a nice job despite picking at the back end of every round. Grade: B