The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off of a 2019 season that hearkened back to the old days of Steelers football, with a focus on elite defense. A disappointing offense kept them just out of the playoff picture. After a trade for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the team did not have a first-round pick this year. With the picks that they did have, how did the Steelers grade in the 2020 NFL Draft?
Who did the Steelers draft?
Round 2, Pick 49: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
Round 3, Pick 102: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte
Round 4, Pick 124: Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland
Round 4, Pick 135: Kevin Dotson, G, Louisiana
Round 6, Pick 198: Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland
Round 7, Pick 232: Carlos Davis, DT, Nebraska
Best Pick: Alex Highsmith
Alex Highsmith was the highest-ranked player on my board among the Steeler selections. Highsmith has an excellent blend of burst, bend, and quickness as a pass-rusher, which gives him a high floor to build off of to reach his ceiling.
Highsmith likely rotates in with TJ Watt and Bud Dupree as a rookie while he continues to develop, and he’ll hopefully take the primary pass-rusher spot opposite of Watt the following year. For a team that sorely lacked depth at EDGE, Highsmith gives the Steelers a breath of fresh air in that room with the potential to become a high-impact player quickly. This selection boosted the Steelers’ draft grade early on.
Biggest Value: Kevin Dotson
It’s rare to get a starting-caliber player in the fourth round, but the Steelers did just that with the selection of Kevin Dotson. Dotson’s tape is entertaining to watch, as he routinely bullied defenders every game with dominating power and hand usage. Dotson was an egregious snub from the NFL Combine despite putting excellent tape on film next to teammate Robert Hunt, selected two rounds earlier.
Dotson will likely be limited to a depth-role for the Steelers as a rookie while he adjusts to the NFL game, but expect him to take over the left guard spot in 2021.
Biggest Reach: Chase Claypool
A strong combine performance really boosted Claypool’s stock compared to what his tape showed. At the NFL Combine, Claypool showcased as an enticing height/weight/speed prospect that never showed up on tape. He routinely struggled to separate downfield and struggled when faced with press coverage.
Claypool is a huge target with a large catch radius. He’ll make the tough grabs in contested situations and will be a deadly red-zone weapon. He also blocks well on the perimeter, adding more value in the run game.
The Steelers plan will likely be to use Claypool outside at X so they can move JuJu Smith-Schuster into the slot more often. For my money, Claypool is better off as a big-slot target, where he can use his size over the middle more effectively, so this move is puzzling to me. There were better outside receivers on the board for the Steelers to take. Thus, this is deemed the biggest reach of the Steelers’ 2020 NFL Draft.
Biggest Sleeper: Antoine Brooks Jr.
Antoine Brooks will likely emerge as the dime backer for the Steelers, an area that was a weakness on their otherwise impressive defense in 2019. Brooks is an explosive and rangy safety who is better closer to the box. He has an excellent nose for the football and is plenty physical. Brooks epitomizes Steeler football with his physicality as a tackler and his decisiveness against the run.
Brooks is a bit of an odd fit as a true safety, but the Steelers had trouble with missed tackles in the secondary last year – something Brooks will help clean up early on.
Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Grade: B+
The Steelers didn’t gain any truly elite players (except for Minkah Fitzpatrick), but they had a well-rounded class with plenty of upside that addressed various needs. They added to already elite areas of strength with the selections of Highsmith at EDGE and Dotson on their OL. The two Maryland prospects add a boost of explosiveness to the team ready to take the next step. If Claypool develops into a legitimate weapon on the outside or in the slot for Pittsburgh, this class can become a truly great one for the Steelers to build off of for years. Overall, the Steelers’ 2020 Draft earns a solid grade of B+.
AJ Schulte is an NFL Draft Analyst for PFN. You can follow him on Twitter @AJDraftScout.