Podloski’s Re-Grading of the 2020 Draft Class: Pittsburgh Steelers

Podloski’s Re-Grading of the 2020 Draft Class: Pittsburgh Steelers

by July 1, 2021 0 comments

The Pittsburgh Steelers traded their first-round pick for safety and defensive playmaker, Minkah Fitzpatrick. The trade worked out overall, as the aging defense received an elite safety who covered up a bad secondary. There is no doubting Fitzpatrick made a significant and positive impact, however, it limited the ability to draft a quarterback in the first round causing more problems for the 2021 season.

Moreover, some of the selections made meaningful contributions due to the lack of depth on parts of the roster. Yet the questions the media was asking last year are still unanswered. Importantly the questions remain – who’s the next quarterback going to be? How are they going to replace players with expiring contracts? Overall, there were several great selections, but the draft plan lacked a long-term strategy. This lack of long-term planning will ultimately hinder the team going forward. 

Be sure to check out all of Podloski’s 2020 NFL Draft Re-Grades.

Draft Class

Best Pick: Kevin Dotson, IOL, Louisiana

Many will point to Claypool being the crown jewel of the draft, but for the value and impact he had, Dotson is the best pick. For a late fourth-rounder to come in mid-season and improve the right/left side is not normal. Dotson had the power and movement for what was a seamless transition to the NFL. Dotson’s above-average play is unheard of for rookie interior linemen, making him the best pick. He still has some room for improvement with awareness, and his best play is still ahead of him. 

Questionable Selection: Who’s the Future Quarterback 

Similar to the ‘what they should have done’ section, there does not seem to be a long-term plan here. Ben Roethlisberger was 38 (now 39) and coming off of elbow surgery. Some will say Mason Rudolph is the answer, but in his short stint, he was debilitating to the offense. There is no clear picture of what this team looks like when Roethlisberger is gone. With that said, it is fair to wonder about the outlook of this team if a player like Jalen Hurts was the backup, or if there could have been a trade up in the 2021 draft. 

Late Bloomer: Alex Highsmith, LB, Charlotte

Highsmith came out of small school Charlotte but showed high-end flashes in his pass-rushing reps. With an intriguing blend of bend and quickness, he has the potential to develop another effective pass-rushing tool. With experience and some more time in the weight room, he could be a threatening edge rusher for years to come. Overall, Highsmith bolsters a high ceiling and his ascension as a pass-rusher could occur this year.

Player to Keep an Eye On: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame 

Does Claypool become the preferred wide receiver over Diontae Johnson in targets and yards? He has several skills which should give him the advantage over Johnson including his length and reach, ball skills, body control, speed, and reliability as a catcher. While Johnson is a savvy route runner, he struggled with drops and concentration – which ultimately hindered the momentum of the offense during significant games last year. Claypool has the prototype size and traits to the top receiver in this receiving core, he just needs to become more consistent game to game. 

What They Should Have Done: Drafted Future Starters of the Offensive Line

Steelers are typically a forward-thinking team that ultimately have a plan. However, this was not the case as they let Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler walk. While Villanueva isn’t the best runner blocker in the league, he is among the best pass blockers. In addition, they played Chukwuma Okorafor, a 2018 selection who played left tackle in college, at the right tackle position. Okorafor’s first year was trial by fire and left lots to be desired. Although reports suggest he will go back to his original spot of left tackle this year, he is only 23 and should see another jump in development. Feiler was an average guard but just makes this offense line lack continuity with the new starters. 

Moreover, the team recently released David DeCastro and signed Trai Turner. While many will point to DeCastro’s decline, it was his first bad year as a pro and he should rebound if healthy. Overall, this offensive line is in shambles with three new starters, and will likely hinder the offense. 

Summary

There’s no doubt the Steeler got better, but they must continue to trust in Roethlisberger. How long before fans see a significant decline – similar to other recent quarterbacks his age? As well, this question should be reiterated for the offensive line where DeCastro, Villanueva, and Feiler depart, leaving three new starters.

Something that did not get addressed above is the second cornerback position. With Steven Nelson a free agent, the team will likely let Cameron Sutton play outside. With that, there are more questions than answers a year after the Steelers draft. The Steelers selected what looks like three key contributors, but they still have the same questions as last year to solve.  

Final Grade: B- (Drafted Key Contributors but Questionable Long-Term Process)


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Contributor for Prime Time Sports Talk for the NFL. Covering the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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