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2020 NFL Draft

Grading the Steelers 2020 Draft Picks

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The 2020 NFL Draft has passed and with six picks coming into the draft, the Steelers came out with six players. There were no shenanigans like last year and Kevin Colbert stayed put at all six picks. The Steelers did not go too far off the path that most people thought they would by drafting an offensive lineman, two more weapons for Ben Roethlisberger to work with, and some depth across the board on defense. Thus, here are SteelersNow’s grades for the Steelers’ 2020 NFL Draft haul.

Round 2: Notre Dame WR Chase Claypool

This pick was a bit of a surprise to me. The Steelers going wide receiver was not, but the fact that it was Claypool over Denzel Mims is something a bit unexpected. On tape, Claypool feels like more of a third-round talent than a middle of the second-round talent as a whole.

However, even if it was a slight reach based on true talent, Claypool’s fit within the Steelers offense is a ton of fun. As a guy that can work as a big slot mismatch and also work as a split-end, Claypool adds size on the outside that the Steelers did not have before. With sure hands and wicked physicality, Ben Roethlisberger is going to have a big target to stretch the middle of the field and make grabs on the boundary. With him being a big outside threat that will draw attention, JuJu Smith-Schuster will head into the slot and be in his best spot.

As a whole, Claypool gives the offense a ton of flexibility in the passing game. That is very encouraging, even if the true talent on tape is not a mid-second round level, the fit is just really good.

Grade: B

Round 3: Charlotte OLB Alex Highsmith

The Steelers needed a rotational pass rusher with their outside linebackers rushing the passers more than ever. Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper have shown some good things up to this point, but they are certainly not sure things at all. In addition, with Bud Dupree entering his contract season on the franchise tag, they could use an eventual successor at outside linebacker.

Enter Alex Highsmith, who has impressive burst and bend. When watching Highsmith on film, it was clear he would thrive as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and that is exactly what Pittsburgh gives him the opportunity to do. While he mostly has speed and bend right now, it is a great base to work with as a whole. The flashes of counters and pass rush moves are already creeping their way through as well. He is on his way to being a very solid starter in the NFL and continues to get better each year. The fit is great and offers an insurance policy in case Dupree walks after 2020.

Grade: A

Round 4: Maryland RB Anthony McFarland

Running back was a highly contentious position group coming into the draft. Certainly, an argument could be made that they did not need one, but the health of James Conner loomed over every discussion like a dark cloud. Including all of that, the Steelers had to add an element of speed to the backfield to complement the power that Conner, Benny Snell, and Jaylen Samuels bring to the table. Kerrith Whyte was good, but he is not as fleshed out as a player like McFarland is as a whole.

McFarland’s acceleration and burst are downright silly on tape. He is the home run hitter to complement the other running backs in the rotation. To complete a committee, it is nice to have a few different types of running backs as a whole, and McFarland diversifies this group. Now, with an all-around back in Conner, power back in Snell, and a home run hitter in McFarland, the committee looks strong. If they decide to keep Whyte, he is your slasher. They did pass up on K’Von Wallace for McFarland, but all things considered, this is not a bad pick.

Grade: B-

Round 4: Louisiana Lafayette OG Kevin Dotson

This dude is a massive mauler that will kick opposing defensive lineman’s teeth in. He and teammate Robert Hunt, both of whom were drafted this year, would lay opposing defensive lineman out all day on tape. The Steelers have a road grader mentality upfront that is built on physicality and Dotson certainly carries on the tradition that has been built over the years along this offensive line.

Dotson is not a great athlete, but in the NFL, guards do not have to be fantastic athletes. It is a nice plus, but Ramon Foster was never a great athlete either and started for the Steelers at left guard for nearly a decade. Dotson feels like the same type of player. Technically solid, Dotson should have gone earlier than this. The Steelers got a steal and a potential starter in the fourth round.

Grade: A

Round 6: Maryland S Antoine Brooks 

Double down on the Maryland men! The Steelers drafted two former Terrapins on day three and Brooks is a nice value pick in the sixth round. Not just because he probably could have gone far earlier than this, but because Brooks is going to compress a lot of roles that makes him valuable in the Steelers defense.

Getting it out of the way first, Brooks is a hybrid. He can play linebacker and box safety and it feels like that is what he will do in the NFL. A perfect subpackage defender, Brooks is going to be a nickel and dime linebacker that can be sent on blitzes and be trusted to fill runs. He can be an overhang defender or nickel slot defender that can be sent on blitzes and buzz over the middle of the field in zone coverage. As a tackler, Brooks is one of the best pure tacklers in the draft.

From day one, Brooks can step in and be a subpackage contributor and four-phase special teamer. For a sixth round pick, that is more than what you can ask for as a whole.

Grade: B+

Round 7: Nebraska DT Carlos Davis

In the seventh round, the main thing teams look for is either special teams help or some upside. When looking at Davis, he has the upside box checked. With a 4.82 40 at the combine at 313 pounds, Davis has impressive athleticism for an interior defensive lineman, and it shows up on tape. The burst he has turns itself into power and he has a hot motor.

He has developmental upside and can work at the nose and out to the 3-technique of passing downs outside of the base 3-4 that the Steelers are employing less of as time continues to go on. Davis still has a poor pad level and very little pass rush plan at this point, so he is more of a project that has to be molded. For this year, expect Davis to a practice squad candidate that they hope can improve as seasons continue.

Grade: C+

 

2020 NFL Draft

Chase Claypool Signs Steelers Contract

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Steelers top draft pick Chase Claypool has signed his rookie contract. Claypool posted to his personal Twitter account a photo of him signing the contract on Wednesday night.

According to Tom Loy of 247 Sports, Claypool signed a four-year contract worth $6.6 million, including a $2.4 million signing bonus.

The Steelers drafted Claypool out of Notre Dame with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver from British Columbia, Claypool caught 150 passes for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Fighting Irish.

With Pittsburgh, he’s expected to immediately contribute, joining Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington at the top of the Steelers’ wide receiver corps.

Claypool is the third member of the Steelers’ 2020 draft class to sign his contract, joining third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, Jr.
The Steelers rookies are in the process of reporting to training camp, which will begin fully at Heinz Field on July 28.

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2020 NFL Draft

Film Study: Alex Highsmith Brings Juice to Steelers Pass Rush

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The Steelers surprised more than a few people by taking an outside linebacker in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into the draft, it was a position that could be addressed due to the looming contract of Bud Dupree, who is on a one-year rental contract on the franchise tag. Seeing as the Steelers have a plethora of contracts to take care of in the next year, Dupree may be on his way out. Even then, with Anthony Chickillo gone, the Steelers needed to address the depth and get a rotational pass rusher.

All of that is taken care of now as they selected Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith, who was an uber-productive pass rusher who was a standout all week at the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa. Given what he has put on tape, his selection is not a surprise and the Steelers hit a home run with the pick of Highsmith, who put up quality tape not just against teams in the Conference USA, but also against a top team such as Clemson.

Highsmith’s Tape

The one developing area of Highsmith’s game is his counters and pass rush moves. There are a few moves that he employs to win and starting last season, a spin move was one of the ways he won inside as offensive tackles overset for his speed rush. Highsmith has a few defining traits to his game, but there is no doubt that his explosive first step is a key one. He gets off the line and up the arc in a hurry because of his explosive first step. The good thing is that he is not simply a speed rusher. While that is how he wins most of the time, he can pull off nifty moves like this. Clemson tackle Jackson Carman oversets expecting the speed rush from Highsmith, but instead, he takes his pass rush angle up the arc and bends it back inside on that spin move.

One thing that was telling on the Clemson tape was just how much they prepared for Highsmith. Carman is a good tackle and a potential first-round pick in 2021, but Highsmith gave him fits all day long. They chipped Highsmith with tight ends and kept running backs in just in an effort to try and stop him. This play above shows off his first step. He has rocket shoes on his feet on this play as he beats Carman to his spot. If not for a quick three-step drop and throw from Trevor Lawrence, this may have been a sack for Highsmith off his explosiveness alone.

Run defense is a part of Highsmith’s game that is inconsistent, but as his hand usage has improved, so has his run defense. This play is one where he shows he can take advantage of a tackle’s mistakes. Carman is flat-footed and lunges towards Highsmith rather than driving through his chest, allowing Highsmith to be nifty and zoom right on by here. That is part of the reason his explosiveness causes so many problems. However, he does a nice job of executing a chop-rip to slice down the line to make a tackle. Based on the film, the chop-rip combination is Highsmith’s go-to move.

Here is the chop-rip again, this time for a sack. Highsmith does a great job of nailing his hand right inside the tackle’s pad, which is almost always certain death for a tackle. The ability to rip around the edge and make this arc tight is something that Highsmith is really good at doing. Still, this is more about his burst and hand usage combination that allows him to win.

This is exactly how Highsmith recorded most of his sacks, however. When the Steelers drafted him, they likely bet not just on his improvement as a strategist with his counters and moves, but his combination of burst and bend to destroy set angles and win around the edge with his speed rush. He does that extremely well here as he sets his pass rush angle up as if he was going to come here with some power move such as bull rush. However, his lateral agility allows him to cut back outside and use his explosiveness to get the angle. After that, it is all flexibility in his ankles. The ankle flexion he gets is really great on that lead leg. It bends and leads under his shoulders and hip to allow him to dip and reduce his surface area on his way to getting this sack.

Highsmith’s Overview

The Steelers’ selection of Highsmith may have been their best pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His combination of burst and bend makes him a perfect fit for the 3-4 outside linebacker scheme. With the Steelers rushing their outside linebackers more than ever, Highsmith is a great fit to provide more pass rush upside in the rotation than anyone since Jason Worilds. With his improvement in his pass rush plan and hand usage, HIghsmith could be a starter in 2021 if Dupree walks after the 2020 season.

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2020 NFL Draft

Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft

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Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.

“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”

With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.

Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.

Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.

“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.

“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”

Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.

It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.

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