Updated: Jan 14
(Photo by Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)
Kevin Colbert has had another great rookie class with Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson all producing and playing at a high level for first-year players. Anthony McFarland Jr., Antoine Brooks Jr. and Carlos Davis have also seen playing time but in a much smaller capacity. I'd honestly have to give Colbert an A for his 2020 rookie class. During a season that was altered heavily due to the COVID-19 pandemic -- Claypool, Highsmith and Dotson have gone beyond my expectations for their first years in the NFL.
Pro Football Focus is also high on the Steelers' rookie class, as they named Kevin Dotson and Alex Highsmith to their 2020 NFL All-Rookie Team.
Highsmith has filled in admirably for Bud Dupree at outside linebacker, who was lost for the season after suffering an ACL tear against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 12. Highsmith was all over the field against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, leading the team in total tackles with nine, six of those being solos. He also had one sack, one tackle for a loss and one quarterback hit. Highsmith, who was drafted out of Charlotte in the third round by the Steelers had his way with left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr., who was the 10th overall pick out of Alabama in the 2020 NFL Draft. Highsmith beat Wills with a couple of speed rushes and spin moves, which has been a go-to move for him the last two weeks.
Against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 16, Highsmith had eight total tackles and two quarterback hits. His pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers led to a Mike Hilton interception in the fourth quarter and an incompletion on fourth-and-8 that turned the ball over on downs and clinched a 28-24 win for the Steelers.
Highsmith on the season in 437 defensive snaps 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.
Here's an excerpt of what PFF said about Highsmith: "His 16.5% pass-rush win rate led all rookie defenders with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps, and he joined Chase 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."
Dotson had an outstanding game against the Browns at left guard on Sunday. He recorded 46 pass-blocking snaps and allowed a 0% pressure rate. The week before against the Colts, Dotson had 50 pass-blocking snaps on the day and didn’t allow a single pressure. Dotson started four games in the regular season (two at right guard and two at left guard) and played 358 offensive snaps.
Here's a short summary of what PFF said about Dotson: "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 play a role there, but Dotson deserves his credit, as well."
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 are 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. Claypool played 692 offensive snaps and played 124 snaps on special teams this year.
Claypool should have been on PFF's 2020 All-Rookie Team. He got snubbed there. But all things considered, the Steelers' 2020 draft class was remarkable this year. Colbert landed at least three players who have the potential to be in the black and gold for many years and make Pro Bowls or be named All-Pro in the future.