Coach's Corner: Steelers Rookie Expectations (Pt. 1)
It is truly an honor to work for the Keystone Statement and to cover my hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers. My Name is Tyler Weimerskirch, however you will come to know me as Coach W.
A little about myself: I attended California University of PA where I achieved a degree in Sport Management. Football was always my favorite sport and I knew I had to be involved at some capacity. My background in football includes working in the front office for the Pittsburgh Power for one season followed by coaching at the minor league football level for three years. I hope to bring my readers a unique perspective in which I’ve seen football from many different vantage points, from front office personnel to coaching on the sidelines. I look forward to the upcoming NFL season and sharing with you my insight on this wonderful game while covering the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Let’s get started with breaking down the Steelers draft and how each newcomer will impact the Steelers this upcoming season.
Coming into this season we all knew we needed to get better on Defense after the AFC Championship debacle. The secondary along with poor coaching adjustments on the defensive side of the ball was what held Steelers from going to yet another Super Bowl for the ninth time. I think the Steelers had a tremendous draft and hit on some key players for this team on both sides of the ball that can potentially help the Steelers back to the Super Bowl.
1st round selection: T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin
Not only does this pick fill a need at OLB but also has tremendous value. T.J. Watt, better known as J.J. Watt’s younger brother, has all the potential to play at the same level as his pro bowl brother. I had Watt going off the board a few picks before the Steelers and if Watt had played his senior year at Wisconsin he could have been a possible top 10 talent in next year's draft. I think what hurt his stock was only one year of production at the position, but racked up 11.5 sacks in that season.
Something that is often let out when talking about Watt is that he switched from the offensive side of the ball after his freshman year. After being a back up for one year as a sophomore, he came back his junior season like a man on fire and really took ownership of his new role as a starter. This is the perfect situation for Watt and the Steelers. Watt gets to come in and sit and learn from both Harrison and Dupree for this upcoming season, which I think is best for his growth as a player and for his long-term future. Watt should not be a first day starter barring injury at the OLB position. The plan should be to rotate Watt in with Harrison early in the season with the intent for him to then limit Harrison’s snaps down the road towards playoff. This was a very successfully plan last season with Dupree in his second year.
What I love about Watt was what he accomplished in one season, some see that as a negative, but to me it shows he’s just starting to scratch the surface of what he can do. In watching some of his film, Watt embodies a Steeler linebacker, he really runs down hill pass-rusher and productive run-stuffer.
2nd round selection: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
I did not think the Steelers would go WR in round 2, but there is a lot of good with this pick. Yes, the Steelers are loaded at WR but this is still a very smart pick. Martavis Bryant is one bad drug test away from being gone for another full season, Sammi Coates took two steps backwards last season and I think Eli Rogers is only set to be a 3rd WR. JuJu is very much an insurance policy for the Steelers. His one knock, according to some scouts, is his ability to get separation due to a lack of speed. However, I think Juju’s physical play offsets the “lack of speed” and working with Antonio Brown on how to break his routes correctly will turn into better separation. That being said, he did run a 4.54, which at 6’2 216 lbs is a good speed to size ratio. If JuJu can make this very easy correction, he could be a steal at the 2nd round. I think a good thing with JuJu is he can play both the slot and on the outside for the Steelers adding to his value. The Steelers could copy some of the same things the Arizona Cardinals did with Larry Fitzgerald by putting a big body in the slot. JuJu should be able to help the Steelers in the red zone this season. In his time at USC, JuJu showed great sideline awareness, with the ability to go get the ball in the air at the highest point. I think training camp JuJu will battle to have the Steelers coaches put in in set packages, with a good camp we could see a couple 4-wide packages with JuJu lined up in the slot and quite possible take over the 3rd WR spot over Eli Rogers.
3rd Round Selection: Cameron Sutton, CB, Tenn
With their first 3rd round pick, the Steelers addressed a much-needed addition to the secondary. Sutton has some good and bad things in his scouting chart but in the 3rd round that’s what you are looking for. You’re looking for guys that can come in and might be able to start for you or be a very high quality back up.
Sutton was a 4-year starter for the Vols and showed great durability playing every game until he fractured his ankle in his senior season limiting him to just seven games. That lowered his draft stock along with the fact he is not the ideal size for CB. Sutton stands at 5’11, which is not very tall in the NFL at the CB position. The Steelers have found a way to work with smaller CBs and find success with them. I like everything Sutton can bring to the table for the Steelers. Not only is he great in man on man coverage, which the Steelers desperately need, but also he has great footwork and can play both outside and in the slot. Sutton comes into camp this year to compete for that slot role with William Gay, also for nickel and dime playing time.
Day one he will be a starter on special teams and we can finally get Antonio Brown off the field for punt returns and let Sutton take over. In college, he became a top prospect at returning punts, when he gets the ball in open space he becomes a running back. I think Sutton will win the slot job in camp and be on kickoff and punt return providing much value to the Steelers this season. Out of all rookies; Sutton might have the biggest impact due to his position and team need.
With the first three picks the Steelers added security, depth, play makers and possible rookie starters. Next week we'll cover the rest of the Steelers' draft.
- Coach W.