Sammie Coates vs DEN

The Steelers 2015-16 season has been seen by some as a success due to the circumstances facing the team, whether it be injuries or the bounces that actually went their way and sent a literal truckload of sandwiches to western New York.

It is also widely shared that they could’ve done better. They could’ve won more games in the regular season — putting them in better playoff position and possibly even winning the AFC North Division title — and they had ample opportunity to advance past the Denver Broncos into the AFC Championship Game.

We saw the roster get unlikely contributions from a 37-year-old James Harrison, a former practice squad running back in Fitzgerald Toussaint, an unexperienced tackle-turned-commodity in Alejandro Villanueva and a fourth placekicker in Chris Boswell who was signed off the street mid-season.

But where did the least impact come from in terms of talent? Look no further than the 2015 draft class. And with their fifth round (to Philadelphia for Brandon Boykin) and sixth round (to Jacksonville for Josh Scobee) draft picks for this year already traded away, the Steelers’ margin for error is now even smaller than it was a year ago.

But in the spirit of hindsight and with the 2016 NFL Draft Combine soon approaching, it’s time to review all eight of last year’s draft picks and see just how useful they were.

1st Round – Bud Dupree, OLB, 22nd overall: Dupree was as good as could be expected in the first half of the season, collecting 11 tackles and four sacks in his first eight games. But the last eight games were a virtual disappearing act, collecting only six tackles the rest of the way.

Dupree has since admitted he “hit the rookie wall” and has already vowed to be in better shape next season. The division of snaps with Arthur Moats probably didn’t do much for Dupree’s production and makes us question how much more he can produce in 2016, but there is still much to look forward to from him. THUMBS UP

Other players available: LB Shane Ray (Denver), CB Byron Jones (Dallas), CB Damarious Randall (Green Bay)

2nd Round – Senquez Golson, CB, 56th overall: It’s hard to really call this pick one way or another since we never saw much of him between mini-camp and training camp. Head coach Mike Tomlin says Golson has been rehabbing his shoulder injury, working out at the Rooney UPMC facility all season and learning the defense from coordinator Keith Butler. But we won’t know just how much he’s learned or just how much he can do until he gets to Latrobe next summer.

If you put stock in the Baltimore Ravens trading up to get tight end Maxx Williams one spot before Golson, perhaps this pick could be one of the big “what-if’s” that we speculate about until Tomlin’s time in Pittsburgh is done. But otherwise the jury is still out. INCOMPLETE

Other players available: LB Markus Golden (Arizona), LB Randy Gregory (Dallas), CB Quinten Rollins (Green Bay)

3rd Round – Sammie Coates, WR, 87th overall: It took injuries for Martavis Bryant and Antonio Brown for Coates to even get a helmet this season, but the small glimpses we saw from him were promising. Coates was targeted five times and caught three of those passes for 72 yards, one of them going for a 37-yard gain in the playoff loss to Denver.

This was one of the two picks from this draft class that I actually predicted correctly (albeit I mocked him as a fourth-rounder instead). But considering some of the other players that were available at that time, and other wide receivers that were more productive as returners while working their way up the depth chart, this is a pick that might have been useful in terms of talent, but wasted with better short-term options available. THUMBS DOWN

Other players available: WR Ty Montgomery (Green Bay), RB Matt Jones (Washington), WR Jamison Crowder (Washington)

4th Round – Doran Grant, CB, 121st overall: This pick probably doesn’t look as bad if Golson is healthy going into the regular season, giving the Steelers another option at cornerback — possibly eliminating the need to trade a draft pick for Brandon Boykin — and giving Grant more time to develop, but things don’t always go as planned.

Grant eventually got on the roster, but third on the depth chart at either corner position. It’s tough to predict if Grant even sticks around long-term, and this pick is even harder to swallow knowing there was another defensive back who played just a couple hours away at Penn State and a wide receiver at Maryland that made an impact on the field right away. THUMBS DOWN

Other players available: S Adrian Amos (Chicago), WR Stefon Diggs (Minnesota), RB Javorius Allen (Baltimore)

5th Round – Jesse James, TE, 160th overall: This is the one pick I nailed in my final mock draft, and I’d do it all over again. I truly believed at the time James could be an eventual replacement for Heath Miller, and he showed flashes of that potential in his first NFL game against Oakland, catching his first career touchdown and throwing a big block to spring Martavis Bryant on a 14-yard screen for another score.

Regular season and playoffs combined, James caught nine of the 12 passes thrown to him for 78 yards. It’s not starter production just yet, but it’s a huge jump for a guy who had problems catching the ball and blocking during the preseason. THUMBS UP

Other players available: RB Cameron Artis-Payne (Carolina), LB Max Valles (Oakland), CB Tevin Mitchel (Washington)

6th Round (A) – DT Leterrius Walton, 199th overall: The Steelers were hoping for a late-round defensive lineman that might be able to work into a rotation with Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Cam Thomas. To say that desired rotation never took shape is an understatement. Thomas played in 15 games and recorded only nine tackles, but somehow found himself in the right place at the right time to recover a fumble. Meanwhile, Walton’s six games played is the only number on his stat sheet that isn’t a zero.

There weren’t many better defensive line options at that point in the draft, but there were chances to get better value for that pick. Perhaps his worth could improve in the next year or two, but as of right now, Walton has provided little. THUMBS DOWN

Other players available: DT Darius Kilgo (Denver), TE Ben Koyack (Jacksonville), RB Josh Robinson (Indianapolis)

6th Round (B) – LB Anthony Chickillo, 212th overall: Finally, a draft pick with special teams value! Once this guy got a hat, he instantly became one of their best coverage unit guys. He and undrafted free agent fullback Roosevelt Nix brought efficiency and physicality to a special teams unit that sorely lacked it. That alone should earn both of them jobs next season.

Even if Chickillo never pans out to be a full-time starter or contributor, at least he shows some fire in the belly and potential to follow the Orpheus Roye/Keyaron Fox route of being a serviceable backup and a special teams ace. THUMBS UP

Other players available: TE Kennard Backman (Green Bay), RB Kenny Hilliard (Houston), WR Mario Alford (Cincinnati)

7th Round – S Gerod Holliman, 239th overall: Perhaps the Steelers got too superficial with this pick, taking the 2014 Jim Thorpe Award winner who tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions in his first season as a starter at Louisville. But he never did enough to stand out in training camp and was lost in the final roster cuts. He was eventually signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad and might have a shot at a futures contract in the off-season.

There wasn’t much from his measurables or his tape (other than the crazy number of picks) that made him a good fit for the Steelers, but the fact that he couldn’t crack this roster with already questionable talent in the secondary probably tells us all we needed to know. THUMBS DOWN

Other players available: CB Dexter McDonald (Oakland), CB Darryl Roberts (New England), LB Xzavier Dickson (New England)

Posted in Pittsburgh Steelers