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From Peter Diana, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Pittsburgh Steelers Rookie X-Factors

The Steelers entered the 2020 NFL Draft with limited draft capital due to moving them in other deals (moving up for Devin Bush in 2019 and trading their 2020 first during the 2019 season for Minkah Fitzpatrick). They left the draft with three guys who would contribute in a big way this season. Given the lack of resources they had, the Steelers had to hit on their picks, and boy did they ever. Here’s a rundown of each Steelers rookie contributing in 2020.

Instant Contributors

Wide receiver Chase Claypool, guard Kevin Dotson and edge rusher Alex Highsmith have all made a huge impact this season. They, along with several key contributors, are set to make their playoff debuts vs the Browns this weekend. They’ve been thrown into the fire of a very weird 2020 season and have passed each test with flying colors. Will they be able to rise to the occasion again this weekend? They’ve given me no reason to think the answer is anything other than a resounding yes. Not only will they be contributors, but I think they’ll be x-factors for this playoff run. Let’s dive into it.

Kevin Dotson

From the Pittsburgh Steelers

The league has long not really valued the guard position. It’s why the Colts were deemed stupid for taking Quenton Nelson with the 6th selection of the 2018 NFL Draft. He was considered a generational talent, yet it was met with criticism due to positional value. I would like to thank the folks in front offices who had this mindset for letting Kevin Dotson slip to the Steelers in the 4th round.

Despite being named an All-American at Louisiana, he wasn’t invited to the combine. That could have played into a draft day slide, which helped the Steelers tremendously. Dotson has been their best offensive lineman for over a month now and due to injuries has finally been put in his rightful spot as the starting left guard. Whether it be in the run game or in pass protection, Dotson wins his matchup. It is uncertain if Kevin Dotson will remain in the starting lineup with Matt Feiler coming off injury. What is certain is that it would be absolutely foolish to take Dotson out of the lineup. The line is aging and their play is declining. This Steelers rookie guard is young and his play is improving each week. This isn’t a tough call.

Alex Highsmith

Edge rusher Alex Highsmith saw his role increase from a rotational pass rusher and special teamer to THE guy opposite T.J. Watt. When Bud Dupree tore his ACL in Week 12, it was next man up. That man was 2020 3rd round pick Alex Highsmith.

A walk on out of Charlotte, he plays with a chip on his shoulder. Still out to prove his doubters wrong, he is doing just that. As his snaps have increased, his play has ascended. The Steelers are being rewarded for taking a relatively unknown, because within one season, he is showing he can play at the highest level.

Highsmith isn’t just playing the position though. He has excelled in his new role. We know what we have in TJ Watt. Teams are going to give the soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year (yes I said it) a ton of attention. This opens the door for a guy like Highsmith to excel. With all the talent on the Steelers defense, Highsmith remains the one that isn’t a household name. He isn’t done fine tuning his game, yet he is already this good. That’s a scary thought for opponents as his development continues. I think this upcoming playoff run is where Highsmith puts a stamp on a solid rookie season and gives us an even better idea of the player we are getting in years to come.

Chase Claypool

The Steelers spent their first selection (Round 2, Pick 49) on wide receiver Chase Claypool out of Notre Dame. A product of Canada, Claypool was the 11th receiver taken in the 2020 NFL Draft. Much of the fanbase didn’t see wide receiver as a glaring need, so the pick was met with it’s fair share of criticism. The majority of the fanbase wanted a running back and some even argued it was time to find the franchise’s next quarterback. Claypool rewarded them by tying the team record for receptions by a rookie with 62 and set a new team record with nine touchdown receptions. He also added two more touchdowns on the ground.

Claypool stands at 6’4 and weighs about 240. He is a physical specimen. People have drawn physical comparisons between Claypool and Detroit Lions great Calvin Johnson, and on top of that he had nearly identical combine numbers. I feel like we are just scratching the surface when it comes to Claypool’s potential. He did have a stretch of games where he was relatively quiet. However, it was largely due to his usage and poor offensive play all around.

The Steelers over the last six quarters have shown a willingness to push the ball down the field. That is what they need to do in order to get the most out of Chase. This Steelers rookie is the x-factor on offense simply because of the rare blend of speed and size he offers. He has a skillset that nobody else in the wide receiver room has. If the Steelers are going to make a deep playoff run, it’s going to be because Chase Claypool was heavily involved in the offensive game plan.

A Bright Spot in 2020

A lot of terrible things happened in 2020. The Steelers draft class wasn’t one of them, as each Steelers rookie will be a key contributor in the upcoming playoff run. The future is still bright in the Steel City.