The Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 draft class comprised of some real talent in the top four rounds with the selections of TJ Watt, JuJu Smith Schuster, James Conner, and Josh Dobbs.
As the group now enters their fourth NFL season with the Steelers, Watt appears to be on a Hall of Fame pace. Dobbs has been traded out of town and is no longer a part of the equation and Smith Schuster and Conner, both who had very promising second seasons and very down third seasons are more than likely on their way out of town after this season.
Let’s examine why. I’ll first start with Conner as if only one were to leave, I think he’s the more likely candidate. His beast season, albeit a Pro Bowl year for the Steelers, saw him finish below the 1,000-yard rushing mark. He’s been injured each season, missing significant time and his body does not appear to be durable. Last season, in his 10 games played, he only put up 46 yards per game on the ground. That is not number one running back material and it’s not second contract material; at least not at the money, he’ll probably request.
To top it off, the team won’t miss a beat without him, if he leaves. Anthony McFarland was just brought into the mix this year and could be poised to be the number one back in 2021. Benny Snell was brought in last season and is a guy who shows a lot of upside and runs with power and if the team chooses to, they may hang on to Jaylen Samuels, who has talent catching the ball out of the backfield. There’s just no need to keep a guy like Conner to only get 10 games out of him and pay him millions to sit on the sideline.
As far as Smith-Schuster. I’d like to see him stay and I do think the could but I think it’s likelier he’ll be headed out of town after 2020 along with Conner.
A lot may depend on the numbers he puts up this season. With Ben Roethlisberger back at the helm, perhaps he’ll look like a number one receiver again but without him, in 2019, he sure didn’t. With the emergence of Diontae Johnson, the drafting of Chase Claypool, the upside of James Washington, and the Steeler’s front office ability to draft and develop top-flight wide receivers, the odds of Smith-Schuster getting a second, big, long term contract may be less than 50%.
This upcoming season will determine quite a bit. Big statistics, lots of wins, and playoff appearances change a lot of minds but that’s what it’s going to take for the black and gold to bring these two guys back into the mix for 2021.