Spring is in the air and rookie minicamp has come and gone for the Pittsburgh Steelers. That means their rookies are finally getting their first experience as professionals. The question on many minds is which of the new rookies are going to make an impact. Many expect first-round pick Devin Bush to make an immediate impact for the team’s defense. What about the other eight rookies drafted in the 2019 NFL Draft? Which of the other Pittsburgh Steelers rookies will have an impact?
Who Among the Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Will Have the Most Impact?
The Obvious Choices
The rookie many expect to have the largest impact this year is Bush. The Michigan product is intended to be the new leader and face of the defense. Since Ryan Shazier was injured with a spinal injury, there has been a glaring hole at the linebacker position. Shazier was a true quarterback of the defense and would make plays all over the field. Bush has all the makeup of someone who can do the same. Both Bush and Shazier achieved All-American and All-Big Ten honors. Shazier had 36 tackles in an injury-shortened rookie season. Provided he stays healthy, Bush could tally close to 50 tackles as a rookie.
Pittsburgh managed to steal cornerback Justin Layne in the third round when many considered him a second-round talent. A former wide receiver, Layne has excellent ball skills and has a natural feel for routes that receivers are running. His length and physicality lead many to believe he will fit into any coverage scheme. That will absolutely be the case, as he is only going to improve with more experience at the position. Layne has only started 17 games as a cornerback. He will get plenty of work at a position lacking depth for the Steelers.
Benny Snell is a hard, tough running back and the perfect compliment to James Conner. Whereas Conner is athletic and used much like Le’Veon Bell was, Snell is the hammer Pittsburgh has been missing. In his career at Kentucky, Snell rushed for nearly 4,000 yards and almost 50 touchdowns. He averaged over five yards a carry despite not having great top-end speed. His ability to shake off tackles and levy some punishment on would-be tacklers is reminiscent of Jerome Bettis. Conner’s fragility is a concern, but Snell can offset that along with fellow backup Jaylen Samuels.
Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Who Will Surprise
One of the new Steelers rookies that might surprise people is Derwin Gray. Seventh-round picks don’t normally make many NFL rosters, but Gray has a good chance to. Gray is an offensive tackle that could also play guard, making him a bit of a utility lineman. His size alone would be enough to keep him in the league in some capacity. With some improvement in his technical skills and better consistency at run blocking, Gray could hang around as a solid backup on Pittsburgh’s great offensive line.
When the Steelers drafted Diontae Johnson in the third round the pick was met with skepticism. Would this undersized receiver really be able to produce enough to lessen the loss of Antonio Brown? Those skeptics should be pleasantly surprised in due time. Johnson is indeed undersized, but he has great speed and elusiveness. Johnson can line up in the slot or on the outside and break defenses wide open. If he can shore up his hands and fine-tune his route running, the Steelers will have a highly productive receiver. If there is one position Pittsburgh drafts and develops well in recent years it’s at wide receiver. Johnson has the ability to be like Brown or another former Steeler Emmanuel Sanders.
Wait and See
For the remaining rookies, there needs to be time to see how they will fit playing in the NFL. Linebackers Sutton Smith and Ulysees Gilbert III were both highly productive players from the Mid-American Conference last season. However, both are undersized and were not always playing top tier talent. That doesn’t mean they won’t be successful, but it is hard to gauge exactly how productive they will be. Both could end up being serviceable backups in the future. It’s just to early to determine their futures right now.
Isaiah Buggs and Zach Gentry both possess size that would make them successful in their positions. And yet, in the case of Buggs, his lack of effort appears to be the question. He sometimes lacks the effort needed to finish or make plays. Gentry has the length and athleticism to be an effective tight end. But he lacks the strength to sustain run blocks and drops far too many passes. Both are going to need a lot of work in order to have lasting impacts for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh had a sizable draft class this year and there is potential abounding within it. Some players like Bush, Layne, and Snell are going to have noticeable impacts on the team relatively quickly. Gray and Johnson are going to surprise people with the impact they will make. Smith, Gilbert, Buggs, and Gentry are going to need time before their impact on the team can be measured. For Smith and Gilbert, it’s a question of if their size will hurt their ability to make an impact. As for Buggs and Gentry, it’s a matter of improving their skills in order to make an impact. For these Pittsburgh Steelers rookies and fans alike, this is an exciting time as we continue the march towards fall.