I have a friend who constantly reminds me that the Steelers should have drafted JK Dobbins of Ohio State with the 49th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
While Dobbins brings plenty of potential to AFC North, unfortunately for the Baltimore Ravens, there is always logic behind a Steelers draft. You can̵
It’s about the future. Dobbins is not a running back who would come to Pittsburgh and have a huge workload during year one. The beginner would sit behind James Conner and work with Benny Snell Jr. as backups to the function back.
So ignore 2020 and look ahead.
Next season, the Steelers have a decision to make. With Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton and Zach Banner in need of new contracts, and James Conner, TJ Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cameron Sutton ending their rookie deals, Pittsburgh must decide who they are to hold and who they are not.
The two that will be considered first in the open market are Smith-Schuster and Conner. Offensive stars who will be well-deserved over their rookie contracts may not fit into Steeler’s salary capability.
Here are the NFL’s highest-paid receivers and what they do per year:
Julio Jones: $ 22 million
Amari Cooper: $ 20 million
Michael Thomas: $ 19.25 million
AJ Green: $ 18,171
Tyreek Hill: $ 18 million
Odell Beckham Jr.: $ 18 million
Maybe Smith-Schuster doesn’t make Beckham Jr. money, but if he returns for another season at 1,400 yards he won’t go away with a much smaller check.
That number could be as low as $ 15 million – which it won’t be – and he still comes at a too high price for the Steelers.
That’s why they drafted Chase Claypool.
Claypool has very high expectations of a beginner with no idea what his role will be. No one has seen him on a practice field since the Senior Bowl, and Randy Fitchner doesn’t even know if he’s NFL ready until the end of July.
But from everything we’ve done before, he’s a player who can fit well into the Steelers offense. He is also another great body width that reminds you something of Smith-Schuster.
If the Steelers have to move on from No. 19 next spring, they already have a backup to go into his role with Diontae Johnson and James Washington.
Conner doesn’t need all the security behind him. Snell Jr., Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland will compete for playing time. If we guess, Snell and McFarland are the two or three punches if Conner misses more time in 2020.
But even if Conner comes back for the season and earns himself a second Pro Bowl, he won’t claim Smith-Schuster’s contract.
Unlike its corresponding recipient, Conner will enter a market that is already filled with talented runners looking for offers. You can rarely have too many wide receivers, but most teams already have two backs that they feel comfortable with.
Does that mean he won’t do what he’s worth? No. But it helps keep that price reasonable.
He won’t make $ 13,125 million a year that Le’Veon Bell made when he left Pittsburgh. Instead, he will be more suited to a $ 8 million Melvin Gordon deal, and sees a pay rise over a few seasons before taking the next step financially.
There are problems with the injury history, yes. You can’t deny that Conner is a question mark until he plays 16 games, when over 200 plays. Still, considering the future, it wasn’t challenging to decide for Claypool over a backhand.
There is now security at the wide receiver position. Claypool gets at least one season to learn from Smith-Schuster. And at the end of it, if it works, Conner gets a second contract in Pittsburgh at a reasonable price, and the Steelers don’t miss a beat in the passing game.
Noah Strackbein is a senior writer with AllSteelers. Follow Noah on Twitter @NoahStrack and AllSteelers @si_steelers.