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Steelers 2017 draft report card

The 2017 NFL draft is in the books, and the report cards are in.

This is the first time the Steelers’ 2017 draft will be graded. It could take five years or longer before we can give this draft a final grade in ink.

Based on what we know know, these grades are penciled in for each individual pick and the Steelers’ overall draft.

(, NFL Draft Scout and Pro Football Focus were used for scouting information.)

Round 1 (No. 30)

T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin

The Steelers go defense in the first round for the fifth straight year, tapping into the Watt bloodlines and drafting T.J. Watt. The younger brother of J.J. Watt had 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss in 2016. The bad news is that was Watt’s only injury-free season at Wisconsin. A converted tight end, the 6’4″, 252-pound Watt missed the 2014 season after having surgery on his right knee, then injured his left knee in the spring of 2015 and had just seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks and two passes defended. In his breakout 2016 season, Watt had a 17-yard pick-six, four passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He placed in the top three among outside linebackers at the combine in the vertical leap, broad jump, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle. He was the top outside linebacker in the 60-yard shuttle. Is he a workout warrior? Is he a one-year wonder? We do know he’s a hard worker and a team player, and if he takes those traits into the NFL he’ll have a chance to become a finished product.

Grade: B

Round 2 (No. 62)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Not surprisingly, the Steelers make a “We don’t trust Martavis Bryant” pick. It is a little surprising, however, that they drafted a receiver this early. Even though Bryant’s been reinstated, the Steelers keep the supply lines moving at wide receiver with JuJu Smith-Schuster. It’s the fifth year in a row the Steelers have drafted a receiver, but the first time they’ve taken one in the second round since Limas Sweed in 2008. How’d that go? The Steelers must really like Smith-Schuster if they put their need for a cornerback on hold to take him. He has the potential to be a bigger, more physical version of Eli Rogers.

Grade: B

Round 3 (No. 94)

Cameron Sutton, CB, Tennessee

The Steelers had to get a cornerback in an early round. They need cornerbacks who can cover man-to-man, and Sutton can do that. He intercepted seven passes and broke up 30 in four years at Tennessee. He also made 13 tackles for loss even though he’s not the most physical tackler. Run support isn’t his strength. Then again, Artie Burns wasn’t strong against the run and his career is off to a nice start. Sutton was durable in his first three years at Tennessee then missed six games with an ankle injury last season. He recovered enough to impress at the Senior Bowl.’s comparison to B.W. Webb is a little bothersome. Webb has played for four teams in four seasons. Sutton had career highs in interceptions (three) and passes defended (13) in 2014. The Steelers better hope that wasn’t his peak.

Grade: C-plus

Round 3 (No. 105)

James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

James Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in December of 2015, overcame it and returned to rush for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. The 6’1″, 233-pound Conner broke Tony Dorsett‘s school record for touchdowns in a single season with 26 in 2014. Conner ran for 1,765 yards that year. The first player the Steelers have drafted out of Pittsburgh since Hank Poteat in the third round of the 2000 draft, Conner is a physical runner who’s hard to bring down. He has a chance to fill the Steelers’ need for a productive backup to Le’Veon Bell or be part of a committee behind him.

Grade: A-minus

Round 4 (No. 135)

Joshua Dobbs, QB, Tennessee

The Steelers need to start investing in quarterbacks, because whether or not Ben Roethlisberger retires will be the hot topic every February and March until he actually does retire. The 6’3″, 216-pound Dobbs has the huddle presence and intelligence (he majored in aerospace engineering) that teams want in a quarterback, and he can work through his progressions. Not every rookie quarterback can do that. Dobbs threw 42 touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in his two years as a starter. His yards per attempt went from 6.7 in 2015 to 8.3 last season. He also ran for 1,502 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016. Dobbs uses his feet fine when he runs with the ball, but his footwork and passing technique are the reason he’s pegged as a developmental quarterback with a ceiling as a backup in the NFL.

Grade: B-minus

Round 5 (No. 173)

Brian Allen, CB, Utah

This is the sixth time the Steelers have drafted a cornerback in the fifth round since Mike Tomlin became head coach in 2007. The only one that has worked out is William Gay, who was drafted in 2007. Will Brad Allen be the latest in a long line of fifth-round busts that includes Joe Burnett, Crezdon Butler, Terry Hawthorne and Shaquille Richardson? The 215-pound Brian Allen is one of just four 6’3″ cornerbacks in the draft class. He had four interceptions and six passes defended last year, but he only started playing defense in 2014 and is still raw.

Grade: C

Round 6 (No. 213)

Colin Holba, LS, Louisville

Colin Holba must be a damn good long snapper if the Steelers drafted him. But he is just a long snapper. How about a tight end? How about some offensive line depth? How about another cornerback dart throw? For this pick to be worth it, Holba will need to be a reliable long snapper for the next decade after Greg Warren retires.

Grade: D

Round 7 (No. 248)

Keion Adams, OLB, Western Michigan

The Steelers double up on their two biggest needs, taking two cornerbacks and two outside linebackers. The 6’2″, 245-pound Adams had 7.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2016. He’s a seventh-round pick for a reason, however, and he’ll have to make an impression on special teams to make the Steelers as a rookie. The grading curve gets a little easier for late-round picks.

Grade: B


The Steelers covered a lot of bases in this draft. Half of their picks were used on their biggest need, outside linebacker and cornerback. They drafted a wide receiver because even though they have Martavis Bryant back, the depth chart consists of Antonio Brown, Bryant and a bunch of fourth and fifth receivers trying to fill the No. 3 role.

James Conner can compete with Knile Davis as Le’Veon Bell’s relief pitcher. If the Steelers get for an entire season what they got from Bell in the second half of last season, they can think about a first-round playoff bye. But Bell needs to be healthy for the playoffs and needs a breather every now and then.

Joshua Dobbs is the fourth quarterback the Steelers have drafted since they drafted Ben Roethlisberger and the first since Landry Jones, who was also taken in the fourth round in 2013. The best the Steelers can hope for in 2016 is that Dobbs turns out to be a better No. 3 quarterback than Zach Mettenberger.

It would have been nice to see a cornerback drafted a little earlier and someone who plays offense or defense drafted instead of a long snapper.

Grade: B-minus

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