The Steelers endured about as strange of a season as you could imagine 2019.
Star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a season-ending injury early in the season, and a 1-4 start seemed to ensure the Steelers would fall apart at the seams. Instead, Pittsburgh won seven of its next eight football games with its second- and third-string passers only to lose its final three games and finish the season 8-8.
The Steelers entered the 2020 NFL Draft needing a few necessary pieces to help rebound as Roethlisberger hopes to bounce back in 2020 and potentially ride off into the sunset in the twilight of his career. Will this year's draft class help?
Pittsburgh's 2020 draft picks:
- No. 49: Chase Claypool, WR, Notre Dame
- No. 102: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte
- No. 124: Anthony McFarland, RB, Maryland
- No. 135: Kevin Dotson, IOL, Louisiana
- No. 198: Antoine Brooks Jr., S, Maryland
- No. 232: Carlos Davis, IDL, Nebraska
Best Pick: Alex Highsmith
Highsmith is an enticing value at No. 102, especially considering the success Pittsburgh had with another lean pass rusher in T.J. Watt. That isn't to say Highsmith is that caliber of a player; he's not. But he's got flexibility and quickness in his corner, and the Steelers have proven to be capable of providing good opportunities to those players. Highsmith is likely a rotational pass rusher early on, but he's a developmental starter in the long run.
Biggest Surprise: Picking Chase Claypool over a slew of talented CBs
The Steelers' secondary is in pretty good shape with Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson at cornerback. Haden just turned 31 years old, marking a transition into very rough waters in a historical context. Cornerbacks north of 30 typically see their drop off happen suddenly, which made seeing Pittsburgh elect to draft Claypool in favor of the likes of Kristian Fulton, Jaylon Johnson and Trevon Diggs — all of whom were off the board in the next 12 picks — so surprising.
Day 3 Sleeper: Antoine Brooks Jr.
Pittsburgh must have really liked what they saw from Maryland’s program this past fall; the Steelers drafted two Terrapins on Day 3, and both will have a chance to make a splash. Brooks Jr. is a box hybrid defender who made big plays time and time again. He's a low-value coverage option but should serve as a staple on special teams and a sub-package hybrid player who can defend the run and provide pressure with consistency.
X-Factor: Chase Claypool
Claypool was something of a surprising pick for a number of reasons. Aside from the previously outlined dynamics, Claypool is also a bit raw; so to see Pittsburgh invest its top pick there while up against the end of Roethlisberger's career shot clock is going to be a fascinating sub-plot. If the Steelers get a different version of Claypool than what we saw on tape at Notre Dame, they'll be justified to make the pick. But if route running development offsets his early impact, Pittsburgh may desire a mulligan.
Author’s note: Yes, I should know better than to question the Steelers about drafting a wide receiver prospect. You're right.
Pittsburgh's 2020 class appears to have more prominent role players than anything else, but that's okay. This team has a veteran offensive line, veteran quarterback and returns one of the league's most ferocious defenses — a group that nearly carried the Steelers limp offense into the playoffs last season. Niche contributions from the early picks should be the expectation. Pittsburgh is betting on its experience for the here and now as it tries to run it back one last time with "Big Ben."