The jury remains out on whether B.J. Finney or Eli Rogers can carve out an NFL career for himself… but barring that, the past two crops of Steelers undrafted free agents has largely been a dud.
Of the 22 players the Steelers signed immediately after the drafts in 2014 and 2015, none have appeared in an NFL regular-season game for the Steelers. Just Finney, a guard, and Rogers, a wide receiver, remain property of the Steelers. (Though one could argue that receiver Shakim Phillips also qualifies – his signing was announced 10 days following the completion of the draft last season).
THAT SAID… the Steelers under Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have a rich history of collecting talent immediately after the draft ends. Colbert signed an eventual starter among five of his first six drafts in Dan Kreider (2000), Chris Hoke (2001), James Harrison (2002), Willie Parker (2004) and Nate Washington (2005) – something of a remarkable achievement.
Since Tomlin arrived in 2007, the Steelers have unearthed seven starting-caliber players (of varying degrees) as rookies after the draft ended: Darnell Stapleton (OK, it wasn’t even a full season he started… but it was for a Super Bowl-winning team he was starting), Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Corbin Bryant (although not for the Steelers; Bryant started 10 games for Buffalo last season) and Robert Golden (pegged to start at strong safety in 2016).
Over the seven (after-)drafts of 2007-13, the Steelers found 15 players who contributed in some way to their team (OK, OK, I went back and forth on whether to include John Clay and his 10 carries in 2011… fine – make it 14 players. Still, that’s an average of two per year): RB Gary Russel, LS Jared Retskofsky, LB Patrick Bailey (the 2008 Steelers rookie of the year), TE Weslye Saunders, P Drew Butler, LB Adrian Robinson, G Chris Hubbard and the seven listed above.
Three players signed by the Steelers undrafted free agents were starters last season (McLendon, Harrison and Foster), and three project to be this season (Harrison, Foster and Golden).
This all brings us to the current crop of undrafted free agents the Steelers signed Saturday night following the completion of Round 7. In that group of 10 players are three defensive linemen and two players from Duke. A quick look half of at the newest Steelers (five undrafted free agents profiled today, the other five tomorrow), and their potential impacts:
JOHNNY MAXEY, DL, Mars Hill Univ.
What to know: Maxey was listed at 305 pounds by Mars Hill (but this is also the sports information department that announced he signed with the “Pittsburg” Steelers, so take their words with a grain of proverbial salt; the Steelers list him at 283) – and he reportedly has 4.9 speed in the 40.
Quotable from scouting report: “Johnny has the size, talent, and work ethic to be successful at the next level.” – Mars Hill coach Tim Clifton (OK, he’s not a scout… but it’s hard to find info on this guy he’s so far off the radar)
Chances of making the team: He has the size, and there’s a roster spot to be made by SOMEBODY on the defensive line… but, at very best, Maxey is probably more of a project whose best chance to make the 53-man roster is in 2017. Or 2018. Or never.
TYRIQ MCCORD, OLB, Miami (Fla.)
What to know: The Steelers love to stockpile edge rushers, and McCord is a high-pedigree athlete (four-star recruit) who has plenty of experience (appeared in 51 games over four years) at a big-time program. He posted 3-4 sacks each season.
Quotable from scouting report: “McCord’s stats dropped from his junior year to his senior year but he still made the big plays on tape. McCord is a durable player who has flexibility in regard to his position.” – NFLmocks.com
Chances of making the team: From the mostly-forgettable likes of Howard Jones and Shawn Lemon in recent years to the success story of Harrison in the past, the Steelers seem to always have an outside linebacker on their practice squad – although this year, that would figure to be sixth-round pick Travis Feeney’s domain.
WILL MONDAY, P, Duke
What to know: Monday was first-, second- or third-team ACC during all four of his seasons with the Blue Devils, averaging 43.5 yards on 260 punts in 53 games. None were blocked, and 34 percent resulted in the opponent taking over inside its 20.
Quotable from scouting report: “Long-limbed punter who showed off more consistent power in his foot earlier in his career than later. Monday can get the ball out quickly and has improved with consistency of his hang time.” – NFL.com
Chances of making the team: Normally, I’d say that incumbent Jordan Berry’s job is relatively safe… but the Tomlin’s cursed history at the position makes you wonder if the revolving door of punters continues. Monday was considered one of the top five punters in this draft class, so he presumably has a shot at making a roster.
GIORGIO NEWBERRY, DL, Florida State
What to know: It wasn’t until his fourth year on campus that the former four-star recruit made any impact on the Seminoles’ defensive line (a redshirt, a year spent at tight end and strong competition stood in his way). He never started a game on defense – but his length and pure athleticism are of NFL quality.
Quotable from scouting report: “Gives up leverage off the snap with high pads and doesn’t understand how to use his hands to shed or free himself from blockers – long-term NFL project.” – CBS’ NFLdraftscout.com
Chances of making the team: John Mitchell has his work cut out for him, but the veteran respected defensive line coach has what Tomlin would call “good clay to work with.” Newberry will need to impress just to be a practice-squad candidate.
CHRISTIAN POWELL, FB, Colorado
Quotable from scouting report: “Coming straight from fullback, that’s all you know to do is run downhill. I can’t let that leave my game, but at the same time trying to learn different fundamentals as a running back and develop a little more. It’s just a different game to learn, from being a blocker to being a ball carrier. Each and every year I’ve been able to develop.” – Powell on himself, courtesy of the Denver Post
Chances of making the team: The Steelers always have a fullback – and they’re never players they draft. And with Will Johnson a free agency departure, at first glance Powell has a chance to succeed him. But there’s The Roosevelt Nix Phenomenon standing in his way, making it seem to be a longshot.
We’ll break down the other five undrafted free agents tomorrow…