Steel City Underground presents our 2019 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.
A recurring theme in my recall column has been “what a difference a year makes”.
Going back to the post-free agency period in 2019, the Steelers had set themselves up nicely by signing a number of players at positions of need: an M.O. for the organization, as they add a veteran and a rookie when they feel there’s a spot of weakness on the team.
Last year’s weaknesses were quite glaring too. The long shadow cast over losing Ryan Shazier still loomed and after missing out on top prospects such as Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans in the 2018 NFL Draft, it was apparent the Steelers would have to do something drastic in order to secure one of 2019’s top two prospects.
Only one problem: their first-round pick was 20th overall. However, the Steelers had a total of ten draft picks, due to compensatory selections and trades; one of which saw Antonio Brown shipped off to Oakland for a third and a fifth-round pick.
Many critics scoffed at that trade, saying the Steelers got practically nothing in return. To pile on the problems, not only was Pittsburgh looking at replacing an All-Pro wide receiver now too, but they were also being criticized for lack of depth at running back, with Le’Veon Bell signing with the Jets and James Conner showing how little depth there was on the roster when he was hurt late in the 2018 season.
That’s in addition to the chatter that the Steelers still hadn’t addressed the aforementioned hole Shazier left.
The only thing that was working in their favor was free agency, as the team signed cornerback Steven Nelson, linebacker Mark Barron, and wide receiver Donte Moncrief. Each was figured to have a role, though no one was quite sure of Barron’s just yet. (Barron had played both safety and linebacker in the league; each a position of need for the Steelers in 2019.)
If you’re keeping score at home, cornerback was addressed with the Nelson signing, but others weren’t sure he would pan out. Many still felt the Steelers needed to draft both a cornerback and a safety, if only for depth purposes.
That left Pittsburgh with as many as five critical needs: ILB, CB, S, RB, and WR.
Those needs would be fulfilled early in the draft, as Steelers Nation sat in awe when it was announced that the Denver Broncos would be trading out of the tenth overall pick and television sets and Twitter quickly updated fans with news that the Steelers had in fact used some of their extra picks to help maneuver into a higher spot.
The next move was obvious but still wasn’t official until Roger Goodell handed a Black and Gold uniform to Michigan linebacker Devin Bush: the Steelers had made a huge move for what could be a generational player.
In order to facilitate the trade, the Steelers gave up a second-round pick as well, and would sit tight until the third round where they would find both a receiver (Toledo’s Diontae Johnson) and cornerback (Justin Layne from Michigan State).
They would add more pieces in the final day of the draft on both sides of the ball, addressing running back, tight end, and the linebacker depth charts accordingly, among others.
Even with a final haul of nine picks, it appeared that most of the prospects Pittsburgh picked would have a legitimate shot at making the final 53-man roster, despite the Steelers having one of the deepest depth charts in all of pro football.
As it would play out, obviously some of the draft picks had to be released. However, the 2019 NFL Draft may end up as a deep one for the Steelers, as several of their picks played right away, with others serving different roles throughout the season.
Here is a recap of the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class:
- Round One Pick 10: Devin Bush - LB - Michigan
- Round Three Pick 66: Diontae Johnson - WR - Toledo
- Round Three Pick 83: Justin Layne - CB - Michigan State
- Round Four Pick 122: Benny Snell - RB - Kentucky
- Round Five Pick 141: Zach Gentry - TE - Michigan
- Round Six Pick 175: Sutton Smith - LB - Northern Illinois
- Round Six Pick 192: Isaiah Buggs - DT - Alabama
- Round Six Pick 207: Ulysees Gilbert - LB - Akron
- Round Seven Pick 219: Derwin Gray - OT - Maryland