(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
The Steelers' rookie draft class had to deal with unprecedented circumstances due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There was no rookie minicamp, organized team activities, minicamp and preseason games. Any type of preparation for the season was done through meetings on Zoom. Minus a few workouts in the summer that the veterans organized at Robert Morris University, the first time the rookies met their teammates personally was when training camp started in late July.
Despite the odds stacked against them, Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson all produced and played at a high level for the Steelers as first-year players. Anthony McFarland Jr., Antoine Brooks Jr. and Carlos Davis also saw playing time but in a much smaller capacity.
Pro Football Focus had Kevin Dotson and Alex Highsmith on their 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team. Claypool surprisingly didn't make PFF's 2020 All-Rookie Team, as Justin Jefferson of Minnesota, Tee Higgins of Cincinnati and Brandon Aiyuk of San Francisco were selected instead. Claypool tied Franco Harris (1972) and Louis Lipps (1984) for the most touchdowns in franchise history during a rookie season with 11. Claypool's 62 receptions on the season were also the most ever for a Steelers rookie and his nine receiving touchdowns this year were the most among all rookies. Claypool finished the regular season with 62 receptions for 873 yards (14.1 average) and nine touchdowns. He also had two rushing touchdowns as well. In the 48-37 wild-card game loss to the Cleveland Browns, Claypool had five receptions for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Claypool played 692 offensive snaps and played 124 snaps on special teams this season.
Highsmith played 437 defensive snaps in his rookie season and had 48 total tackles, 30 of those being solos, two sacks, five tackles for a loss, six quarterback hits, one pass defended and an interception. Highsmith started the last six games of the season at outside linebacker after Bud Dupree suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 12 against the Baltimore Ravens.
Dotson started four games in the regular season (two at right guard and two at left guard) and played 358 offensive snaps. According to PFF, 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.
Mike Tomlin was asked about his rookie class at his season-ending press conference on Tuesday and he had nothing but good things to say.
"I will say this, I was really pleased with the contributions and the level of maturity displayed by the draft class given the circumstances of how they came into the season," Tomlin said. "To get the type of contributions that we got from a Chase Claypool or a Kevin Dotson and the growth and development of some of the others over the course of the season, it is a tip of the cap to them and the people that worked alongside them, coaches ... and not only the coaches, the other players and older players that mentored them. I was generally pleased with that and I'm excited about getting them in an offseason mentoring program that may be more normal and is reasonable to expect those types of contributions to continue to solidify and get better."