So what about this year’s draft?
Never fear, Steelers fans, I do have something to say about this year’s draft, but wanted to point out how ridiculous it is to try and grade these picks now. I also wanted to point out that the media draft gurus are as clueless about player evaluation as you and me. Kiper found a nice niche on ESPN and made a career out of it. Lance Zierlein was a sports radio host who for some reason ended up evaluating every combine player for the NFL network. Neither one of them is a professional scout and they both prove each year that they are far more talented at coming up with verbiage to describe a player than they are at actually projecting what a player will be.
That’s why I refuse to grade the Steelers’ draft. I have no idea how it will turn out. But I will tell you why I’m excited about what they did on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
First of all, this looks like a Steelers draft. None of the projections from the media panned out, which is par for the course if you look back at what they’ve done over the years. Secondly, I like big fast receivers who score touchdowns, and I think by this time the team’s brain trust should be trusted when it comes to drafting that position.
I am also very excited about Alex Highsmith. Why? Not because somebody on TV said he’s good. No. I’m excited because I went back and watched his film from the Clemson and Tennessee games. While Zierlein’s write up made it seem like Highsmith has been playing in Division II and that he’s never seen a quality left tackle in his life, further investigation shows he actually has. In the Clemson game, I was very pleasantly surprised by his get-off. The dude is so quick off the line I had to stop and slow down the video a couple of times to make sure he hadn’t jumped offsides. He also has several moves and when he put his spin on Clemson’s left tackle, it was only because Tee Higgins was running wide open deep that he did not net a well-earned sack on Trevor Lawrence.
That said, Highsmith had a sack against Clemson. It came from high effort, the kind of play we’ve watched Bud Dupree make consistently this past year. His Tennessee tape from 2018 was fun to watch as he notched 7 solo tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble. Again, his insanely quick first step was on display as was his constant motor.
He’s not perfect. That first step can get him in trouble on counter plays and draws and screens, but with NFL coaching, I think the guy will be a much better backup than Chickillo was in 2020, and will have a chance to be a quality starter after that.
As for Anthony McFarland Jr., game film showed me a player who resembled one of my own pre-draft favorites, Darrynton Evans. Speed on top of speed, with enough wiggle to make defenders miss. The guy played 2019 with a high ankle sprain which led draft gurus to question why he didn’t play as well as in 2018. It’s weird. I’ve had a high ankle sprain. It makes cutting and running rather difficult. The fact that he played tells me he’s tough.
Kevin Dotson plays angry and nasty and I’m excited to dig into his tape. Since I haven’t, I’m not going to say much. The same goes for the rest of the draft. I’ll be looking at each pickup the Steelers made, and once I’m educated enough to give an overview as well as some snarky and often ridiculous feedback, I’ll do so.
Until then, know this, Steelers fans. The 2019 draft has been neither great nor terrible for the team. At this point, it’s simply a collection of guys who haven’t played a down in the NFL. The first people to know whether or not these guys can play will be their teammates. If you start hearing Maurkice Pouncey or Cam Heyward chirping about any of the rookies after the third day of training camp, you’ll know they have something. Until then, we’ll just have to make it up and hope. And that’s the fun part of this time of year. Hope.