The Pittsburgh Steelers navigated the 2020 NFL Draft without a first-round pick, but that didn’t stop them from coming away with at least three players who figure to be starters for years to come.
Two of those three rookies were selected for Pro Football Focus’ 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team, those being outside linebacker Alex Highsmith (the team’s third-round pick) and offensive guard Kevin Dotson (the second of two fourth-round picks).
Edge Rusher Alex Highsmith
Here’s some of what PFF’s Ben Linsey had to say about Highsmith, who was one of two edge rushers named to the team, the other being Washington’s Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 Draft.
“[Highsmith’s] 15.5% pass-rush win rate led all rookie defenders with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps, and he joined Young as one of two rookie edge defenders with more than 10 run stops—tackles that are considered ‘wins’ for the defense based on down and distance.
“Highsmith had 18 such tackles,” noted Linsey, who goes on to say that “Highsmith’s solid play as a rookie may make it easier for the Steelers to part ways with [Bud] Dupree as they stare down an offseason with plenty of cap-space questions.”
OG Kevin Dotson
“The guard position was one where finding two players deserving of first-team all-rookie honors was a bit of a struggle,” offered Linsey, noting that “no rookie guard performed well in both pass protection and in the run game.”
Dotson earned a lowly grade as a run blocker but PFF regards him as “dominant” in pass protection.
“Dotson allowed just one pressure—a hurry—the entire season in 206 pass-blocking snaps. That 0.5% pressure rate allowed is the lowest by any rookie offensive lineman with at least 150 pass-blocking snaps in the past 10 seasons. Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball out as quickly as he did played a role there, but Dotson deserves his credit, as well,” said Linsey.
What About Chase Claypool?
If you’re a Steelers fan you may be wondering why wide receiver Chase Claypool (the team’s second-round draft pick) didn’t make PFF’s team.
After all, Claypool was Pittsburgh’s most impactful rookie—and winner of the organization’s Joe Greene Great Performance Award—with a stat line that includes 62 catches for 873 yards and nine receiving touchdowns. (All three of those numbers are franchise records for a rookie.) He also played on 28 percent of the club’s special teams snaps.
Yet there was intense competition at the wide receiver position, led by Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings, who PFF regards as “… one of the best receivers in the league … period.” Jefferson, who was drafted No. 22 overall, set a new NFL record for receiving yards by a rookie with 1,400.
The other two wide receivers deemed deserving by PFF were Brandon Aiyuk of the San Francisco 49ers (first round, No. 25 overall) and Tee Higgins of the Cincinnati Bengals (second round, No. 33 overall), the latter of whom was the only other rookie from the AFC North to make PFF’s team.
For his part, Claypool was drafted No. 49 overall out of Notre Dame.