The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 rookies were a good group that showed promise in their rookie seasons. Several players were key contributors, some of whom started at various points throughout the season. Entering 2021, multiple second-year players will see even bigger roles than they saw in 2020. Some will be full-time starters; others will be key rotational depth. Here’s what to expect from the Steelers 2020 rookies as they enter their sophomore seasons.
Steelers 2020 Rookies to See Bigger Roles in 2021
Claypool’s rookie season showcased a very promising start for his young career. Numerous times throughout the season, Claypool seemed to be the Steelers most consistent source of offense. He is their best deep ball threat, an area in which their offense needs to improve in 2021. Beyond his straight-line speed, Claypool is a dependable route runner for a guy his size. Even without top-level acceleration and agility, he finds ways to get open. Finally, his physicality is great to have. Combine that with his size and leaping ability, and covering Claypool is a tough ask of many cornerbacks.
Despite the wide receiver room looking the same as last year, Claypool should see more of a role on the offense. Remember, there was no real off-season prior to the 2020 season. Claypool and Ben Roethlisberger were essentially building chemistry as the season went on. Their connection should be stronger to start this season. Further, the receiver will be better-adjusted to life in the NFL. Towards the end of last season, Claypool’s snap counts decreased and his production slowed. The Steelers shouldn’t have to worry about a “rookie wall” with him this year. All signs point towards Chase Claypool having a strong second season.
Unlike Claypool, Highsmith will play a drastically different role in 2021. After starting his rookie season as a depth piece at outside linebacker, Highsmith took over as a full-time starter when Bud Dupree tore his ACL. Dupree was phenomenal in 2020, so it was absurd to expect a rookie to come in and maintain his production. Highsmith more than held his own, though. He was good against the run, steady as a pass rusher, and clearly has a high football IQ. He has all the tools to do what the Steelers ask of their outside linebackers.
Pittsburgh will need Highsmith to step up to the plate and perform as a full-time starter for 17 games. There is minimal depth behind him and T.J. Watt at the outside linebacker position. Based on his rookie campaign, fans are right to have confidence in Highsmith’s abilities as a full-time starter. However, we all know by now that there are no guarantees in the NFL. Whether he successfully replaces Dupree or not, Alex Highsmith will have a lot more on his plate in 2021.
Of all the Steelers 2020 rookies, fans might be most excited about Dotson heading into the 2021 season. There are many question marks along the Steelers offensive line, with Dotson’s left guard position being the spot with the most stability. Despite 2020 being a challenging season across the league for rookies, Dotson was impressive in limited action. Though it’s not saying much, he was the best lineman on the Steelers at points throughout the season. For some reason, he didn’t remain in the starting lineup. That won’t be the same in his second season.
Maurkice Pouncey is gone. The expected starting tackle on both sides of the line each have question marks. David DeCastro should be solid if he can remain healthy, but that is no guarantee at this stage in his career. Dotson is the only projected starter along the line that doesn’t really have question marks. He is strong in both the run and pass games. Looking to the future, Dotson will be a good piece for the Steelers to build their offensive line around as they get younger.
Some of the other Steelers 2020 rookies will provide key depth at multiple positions. Anthony McFarland could see an expanded role in the Steelers offense under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Though Najee Harris will get the bulk of the snaps at running back, McFarland’s speed and big play ability will be depended upon at times. Carlos Davis will likely see a fair share of snaps along the Steelers defensive line. While the starting unit is among the best in the league, they are also getting older fast. Davis can provide depth at both defensive end and defensive tackle; that versatility will get him on the field enough to make a difference.
An undrafted rookie in 2020, James Pierre will be an important rotational piece in the Steelers cornerback room. After losing two starters this past off-season, Pittsburgh’s depth at the position has been thrashed. Pierre showed promise in limited time as a rookie and will likely be in a battle with Justin Layne for the number three cornerback spot. Sticking in the secondary, Antoine Brooks is an interesting player to monitor heading into 2021. Last year as a rookie, he got some snaps as at safety and dime backer. This year, he might be competing for the starting nickel cornerback spot. It’s a position the Steelers value greatly, so whoever ends up the starter will play a healthy portion of snaps.
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