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AFC North

Steelers 2020 Draft Review

Chase Claypool. Photo by MGoBlog.. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Pittsburgh Steelers were left without a first round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft (After trading it to the Dolphins for Pro Bowl Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick). That trade with Miami proved to be more beneficial than the Steelers could have hoped. Fitzpatrick provided the spark that ignited the defense to turn things around last season. That allowed Steelers’ General Manager Kevin Colbert to focus on offense in round 2, investing the 49th pick overall in a much needed red zone presence by snagging WR Chase Claypool out of Notre Dame.  

The British Columbia native led the Fighting Irish in receiving last year with 66 catches for 1037 yards and 13 TDs. With his skills on full display at the NFL combine, Claypool proved he is a rare combination of size and explosiveness with an expansive catch radius. His 6’4” frame and physical gameplay should enable him to outmuscle opposing defensive backs, creating mismatches near the goal line. 

In a bit of a surprise at pick 102, The Steelers added some depth with the selection of Alex Highsmith, LB from UNC Charlotte. The 3rd Team All- American racked up 21 ½ tackles for a loss and 14 sacks in 13 games. 

With TJ Watt and Bud Dupree comprising one of the best edge rushing duos in the NFL, it would seem that Highsmith is a long shot to see much playing time on defense. Dupree is only signed to the Franchise Tag through 2020, so it is likely that Mike Tomlin and company have landed his replacement. 

Colbert said that the Steelers expect Highsmith to contribute right away as a four-phase player on Special Teams. Adding that he will get his chance to fill in for T.J. Watt or Bud Dupree when the situation arises. Highsmith was essentially a walk on in 2015 for the Conference USA program. Before earning a scholarship for the 49ers in 2017.  

Perhaps the most intriguing pick of this draft was RB Anthony McFarland. A 4th round selection out of the University of Maryland. Running back coach Eddie Faulkner said that the former 4 star recruit was an electric player and was “excited to get him on the field.”

McFarland brings something to the Steelers backfield that has been lacking for the past few seasons, explosiveness. In 2018, the 5’8 208 lb back erupted for 210 yards against Indiana before ripping off rushes of 75 and 81 yards in a 298 yard performance against Ohio State. His 1034 yards set a new Freshman rushing record for the Terrapins. McFarland showcased his speed at the NFL Combine, where his 4.44 time in the 40 yard dash ranked fourth among Running Backs. Steelers QB Coach Matt Canada was McFarland’s OC in Maryland during his 2018 season.

Later in the 4th round, the Steelers added yet another huge body to one of the best offensive lines in the NFL by snagging Lousiana Guard Kevin Dotson. 

Offensive Line Coach Shaun Sarrett is having a hard time finding anything negative to say about Dotson. The 6’4 310 lb consensus All American was a four year starter for the Ragin Cajuns. 

The Steelers have enormous shoes to fill with the retirement G Ramon Foster. While it is assumed that the newly signed Stefan Wiesnewski or converted tackle Matt Fieler will replace the departed Foster, Sarrett will not rule out the possibility of Dotson winning the job. 

With pick 198, The Steelers added a bit more depth in their secondary with the addition of S Antoine Brooks Jr. out of Maryland. A second team AL- American during his junior year, Brooks finished the season with 68 tackles, 9 ½ of those for a loss. As a senior, he led the Terps in tackles with 87 (67 solo) and tied for second on the squad with 5 defensive breakups. 

At 5’11 and 211 lbs, it is unclear if the physical Brooks can fill the hybrid linebacker position vacated with the release of Mark Barron.  Senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin may also consider moving Terrell Edmunds into that role, allowing Brooks to serve as the primary backup to starting SS Minkah Fitzpatrick. 

With their final pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Steelers grabbed Carlos Davis DT from Nebraska. Standing 6’2 and weighing in at 313 lbs, the redshirt senior totaled 125 tackles and 9 ½ sacks in his 46 games as a Cornhusker. The addition of Davis adds yet another big body to the interior of this defensive line 

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