How did the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive rookie fare in their first season?
We all know about JuJu Smith-Schuster. The second round pick propelled a big season into being a candidate for the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Smith-Schuster hauled in 58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. What is so impressive about Smith-Schuster is how he was able to contribute is a variety of ways.
Smith-Schuster started as the number four wide receiver and worked himself up to the number two man. This meant switching in and out of the slot to work. For a player who has never played in the slot until 2017, he transitioned with ease. Smith-Schuster showed reliable hands to catch passes in traffic. He showed route running to get separation. He was a tremendous blocker. JuJu Smith-Schuster even got deep multiple and ran away from defenders for the longest touchdown pass in the legendary career of Ben Roethlisberger, 97 yards. He is skilled in every facet and has brought in a ceiling higher than many imagined he had.
James Conner is a story that everyone is rooting for. In his rookie season, he was able to secure the backup running back position. However, due to the unreal usage of Le’Veon Bell, that did not necessarily mean he was playing much. Conner had 32 rushes for 144 yards. His style of straight-ahead running was a nice change of pace to Bell. It was a quick surprise to some, and it helped him get into the second level at times.
However, a big reason Conner struggled to get Bell off of the field was his passing game ability. Conner did not catch a single pass and was a liability in pass coverage every time on the field. He became an issue on passing downs, and teams knew he was only going to run the ball when on the field. Conner also ended his season with a knee injury, although that appears to be a minor issue that will not hamper him into the offseason.
Still, it will be interesting to see if the Steelers ever see a three-down back coming out of Conner. The pass game will clearly be what he is working on this offseason, but the team may end up adding more talent to the group this offseason as well.
Dobbs was inactive for the entirety of the season, and even in Week 17, the team went with Landry Jones as their starter with Ben Roethlisberger getting a game off. All we have to go on from Dobbs is his preseason tape, and his preseason tape had Steelers fans understanding that Landry Jones was not a bad backup option. Dobbs was doing a lot of thinking and not a lot of reacting out there. It is a fast transition to the NFL, and Dobbs was not drafted to blow up the preseason in year one and make noise. However, the team may be understanding that if they get a ceiling of a useful backup, that it was not a bad pick.
Without getting into special teams for a whole section, and with no undrafted free agents making it beyond camp, a brief overview of Colin Holba will be lumped with the offense. Holba lost his job to Kameron Canaday in training camp. Hardy Nickerson, an undrafted free agent at inside linebacker started two games for the Cincinnati Bengals and was not the liability that Sean Spence was. It was a waste of a pick when they made it, and it will always go down as a bad pick.