The Runner Sports

Steelers Bolster Both Sides Of The Ball In Draft

The 2017 NFL draft is in the books, and with the 30th pick (each round) the Steelers effectively addressed most of the needs the team faced. Read on for a full run-down of each selection and analysis of what their role might be in the coming season and beyond.


Round 1 (30th overall): TJ Watt (OLB), Wisconsin

The younger brother of the Texans’ JJ Watt, TJ stands at 6’4”, 252 pounds. He played three different positions in college before settling on outside linebacker, but was productive once he did so. He showed good technique and fundamentals but doesn’t have explosive speed compared to other edge rushers in this draft. The pick fills a need for Pittsburgh, though, with Jarvis Jones gone and James Harrison aging. Watt should see the field in year one to spell Harrison and Bud Dupree as needed, while hopefully developing into a full-time starter in the future.


Round 2 (62nd overall): JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR), USC

Smith-Schuster has good size and is absolutely fearless running routes across the middle of the field. He has good vision to see defenders coming, and the frame to be able to withstand unavoidable hits from defenders. Smith has great hands as well and is an accomplished run blocker. The greatest weakness in his game is probably his inability to separate from defenders in man coverage. This is largely due to a lack of burst at the top of his routes. The pick makes sense because the Steelers lost Markus Wheaton to free agency this offseason. Even with Martavis Bryant’s reinstatement, Smith could still find his way onto the field as a slot receiver.


Round 3 (94th overall): Cameron Sutton (CB), Tennessee

The Steelers sought to shore up their secondary by snagging Cameron Sutton with the team’s third-round pick. Sutton started every game in his college career until a fractured ankle sidelined him for six games in his senior season. He is proficient in man coverage, though his size (5’11″, 188 lbs) is sometimes an issue covering bigger-bodied receivers. He deflected 37 passes and picked off 7 balls during his college career, allowing just 3 touchdowns. It’s hard to see him supplanting Artie Burns or Ross Cockrell as a starter, but he could fit in well as a nickel corner in this Pittsburgh defense.


Round 3 (105th overall): James Conner (RB), Pittsburgh

The Steelers were going to have to do something to address the backup RB position, as Knile Davis and Fitzgerald Toussaint were the only other guys on the roster entering the draft. Conner is very sturdily built at 6’1”, 233 lbs, and uses his size well. He’s a physical runner who builds momentum quickly and always finishes with his pads low. Conner is a little slow to read blocks sometimes, and doesn’t have the lateral quickness to make cuts. He’s perfect as a goalline/short yardage back because of his power and effort. He has the potential to be a great complement to Le’Veon Bell’s patient, lightning-fast running style.


Round 4 (135th overall): Joshua Dobbs (QB), Tennessee

With the same exact pick that united the Cowboys and Dak Prescott a year ago, the Steelers added Ben Roethlisberger’s new heir apparent a year later. Dobbs has a quick release and displayed the ability to progress through his reads and find the open receiver. He has decent arm strength and throws an incredibly accurate deep ball. He’s very mobile too, both in escaping the pocket and as a runner (12 rushing TDs his senior year and 11 his junior year). He will have to work on footwork and balance, two areas he struggles with that adversely affect his accuracy on short-to-intermediate throws. He will also need practice reading coverages, as he threw 12 INTs his senior year. The good news is he should have at least a couple years to develop under the tutelage of Big Ben and certainly has a chance at being the Steelers’ next franchise QB.


Round 5 (173rd overall): Brian Allen (DB), Utah

At 6’3”, Allen is one of the tallest corners in the draft, and the NFL for that matter. His long arms are an asset in press coverage, and his height makes it difficult for opposing QBs to complete fades or over-the-shoulder passes against him. He started 7 games for Utah last year and recorded 4 interceptions. He has poor tackling technique and struggles with off coverage. He also needs to work on turning and locating the football on downfield passes. He’s a project player who, with some improvements to his technique, has the physical attributes to be a force on defense.


Round 6 (213th overall): Colin Holba (LS), Louisville

Holba showed great velocity and accuracy on his long snaps in college. His biggest struggle was sometimes being slow to stand up and block after making the snap. He will push Greg Warren for the starting LS position this year.


Round 7 (248th overall): Keion Adams (OLB), Western Michigan

The 6’2”, 245-pound outside linebacker was highly productive in his final two college seasons, racking up 28 tackles for loss and 13 sacks combined. He has great footwork and quickness with the ability to edge rush and also execute spin moves back inside. Adams is a little smaller than the typical OLB which sometimes leads to him being swallowed up by bigger offensive linemen. He has the skillset to be a rotational player in obvious passing situations, but struggles defending the run and is not an every-down player right now.


Overall, this looks like a strong draft class for the Steelers. If these players pan out, they now have eventual replacements for Big Ben and James Harrison, as well as an exceptional backup/complement to Le’Veon Bell. Cameron Sutton adds depth to the secondary, while JuJu Smith-Schuster gives this already potent aerial attack another weapon. It’s a good mix of players who will have the chance to contribute right away (Watt, Smith-Schuster, Conner) and guys with more long-term upside. Whichever way you look at it, the team has added a lot of talent and it’ll be exciting to see the new additions take the field once training camp rolls around.

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