The Steelers have drafted a few rookies who could see the field early in their NFL careers. Which one will have the biggest impact on the team right away?
With the dust finally settling on the NFL Draft, it’s time to take a look ahead to see which rookies could offer the Steelers something in this closing Super Bowl window. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a lot of time left with Ben Roethlisberger, and with Ben’s cap hit going over $41 million next season, 2020 may be their best shot at a Super Bowl.
To make a legitimate run, the Steelers are going to need all hands on deck – that includes several of the rookies Pittsburgh drafted this April. But which ones can provide the biggest impact from the gate?
Chase Claypool is the obvious choice for this, as he Pittsburgh’s highest draft choice this offseason. Claypool will immediately slide in as the team’s 4th receiver and will do a lot of his damage on special teams to begin his career.
If an injury occurs to JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, or even Eric Ebron, Claypool is sure to see an immediate uptick in usage. He gives Ben a massive target with some downfield ability who can win at the catch point.
However, there is another player who may be able to touch the ball more as a rookie. Running back Anthony McFarland has legitimate speed at the position and is a threat to go the distance any time he gets a crease. There is a noticeable difference in speed between him and every other running back currently on the Steelers roster.
If McFarland can bust a few big runs early, he could be in line for respectable usage as early as the start of his rookie season.
As expected, James Conner will resume the role of the primary back for the Steelers while Benny Snell probably ends up being second on the team in carries. In addition, there is a solid chance Jaylen Samuels will stick around due to his ability to help out in the passing game. If this is the case, there could be four running backs fighting for snaps, and Pittsburgh could look to use a committee approach – something they haven’t done much in recent years.
If Snell proves to be inefficient on the ground, it won’t take long for McFarland to leapfrog him on the roster. McFarland doesn’t play with the same power as Snell, but he’s got a sneaky-good ability to run through arm tackles and maintain balance.
As far as the other rookies go, Alex Highsmith won’t see the field a lot in year one unless a serious injury occurs to either Bud Dupree or T.J. Watt, and Kevin Dotson will likely be a reserve interior offensive lineman in his first season. Both Highsmith and Dotson will have to make a massive leap in competition and could probably use a redshirt year.
While Claypool may be the frontrunner to see a bulk of the rookie action, don’t be surprised if Anthony McFarland has a bigger impact in year one. Running backs are a position that historically rookies have been able to come in and give a team a boost. With McFarland’s speed, it may be hard to keep him off the field.