The 2020 NFL Draft was like no other, done virtually for the first time ever with teams working from home because of the impact of COVID-19.
But it went off without a hitch, and for the Steelers, it meant finding a new crop of players that will eventually be worked into the mix.
"We're excited about the young men that we were able to acquire, and now it's our job as a coaching staff to get these guys assimilated into the program, and not only them but all of our guys as we get into the virtual off-season starting on Monday," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "We're excited about that."
Below is a look at the Steelers rookie class, which includes the six draft picks and 10 undrafted free agents.
The Steelers went to the offensive side of the ball for their second round pick, their first of the draft, and selected Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool with the 49th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Claypool had 66 receptions for 1,037 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season while playing in 13 games. He finished his Notre Dame career with 150 receptions, seventh in Notre Dame history.
"I am very excited about this opportunity to work with him," said offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner. "He is one of those rare types of a combination of size and speed. His production this past season was off the charts. He finds ways to average a touchdown in every game he plays. He is a point scorer.
"There is no job too small. He will block. He volunteers for special teams. This guy is a football player. He has a lot of unique traits for the position. A lot of things to be really excited about. Gives you a potential red zone threat. He is an outside position player first and gives you the option of playing in the slot as well.
"He wins an awful lot of one-on-ones. I have never seen him not win a one-on-one type play."
That combination of size and speed, with Claypool being a big-body receiver at 6-4, 238 pounds and running a 4.42 at the Combine, gives the Steelers a nice weapon in the passing game.
"I think that is something a lot of teams talked about with me, the combination of size and speed," said Claypool. "It allows offenses to do a lot of different things. I am excited to bring that to the table. I think there are a lot of things I can do. We will have to see how it plays out."
Claypool said part of the reason for his breakout season in 2019 was gaining confidence, something you can never underestimate.
"A big part of that was confidence," said Claypool. "Being in the situation and knowing you can make the play helps you do it again and again. That came with hard work and practice. And once I got that confidence it was something that really helped. That was pretty big and also just putting in extra work before and after practice."
Claypool, who is from British Columbia, is the first Canadian player who ever played for Notre Dame.
The Steelers took a wide receiver in the second round in both 2017 with JuJu Smith-Schuster and 2018 with James Washington. They selected receiver Diontae Johnson in the third round in 2019.
With their third round pick the Steelers selected Alex Highsmith, an outside linebacker who is a pass rush specialist. Highsmith played at Charlotte where he had 15 sacks his senior season, finishing his career with a school-record 20 sacks. He also had 22 tackles for a loss in 2019.
Highsmith was an Associated Press All-American, the first one from Charlotte.
Highsmith said he spoke with Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert and Coach Mike Tomlin a few weeks ago and they expressed an interest in him and told him the role they would like him to play as a young player, which would be outside linebacker after playing defensive end at Charlotte the last two years.
"They talked to me about being a special teams guy this year and being the guy backing up (Bud) Dupree and T.J. (Watt)," said Highsmith. "I am just so excited to learn from those two guys, two of the best pass rushers in this league. I am ready to soak up everything like a sponge, learn so much and do everything I can to help the team get back to the Super Bowl.
"I am ready for the challenge. I am excited for the transition. I am going to do whatever I can, be the hardest worker on the team. I can't wait to get to work."
The Steelers scouted Highsmith in the fall and Colbert said the first time he saw him in person was at practice at the East-West Shrine Game where he stood out.
"A long, fast, athletic guy," said Colbert. "He continued to impress us athletically at the Combine. When you look at his history of what he did as a walk-on and a special teams standout as a young player to put up the stats he had this season, we don't think this kid is anywhere near where he might be down the road."
With Highsmith coming from a smaller college there will be some adjustments to be made, but Tomlin is confident that won't be an issue with the way he approaches the game.
"I enjoyed getting to know him through the process and having football conversations with him," said Tomlin. "He is a technician. He studies the rush element of play. He took a significant step in 2019 in terms of developing his rush repertoire and I think it was beneficial to him in terms of his production and it's reasonable to expect that growth and understanding in analyzing what he does and how it produces plays to continue even as he takes a step to this level of play.
"We were impressed by his resume, the development of his skills over the time there. It was a fluid and fun process getting to know him because he is a football junkie in terms of how he develops skill relative to his position."
The Steelers began Day 3 of the NFL Draft by selecting running back Anthony McFarland with the first of their two fourth round picks, the 124th pick overall in the draft.
"I am really excited to add a guy like Anthony McFarland," said running backs coach Eddie Faulkner. "A good fit to the room, a good complement to what is already on our roster. We have some familiarity with him. People speak very highly of him. You look at the tape he offers a change of pace to our room. I think he will be a great addition. I am excited to get him in the fold."
McFarland, who played at the University of Maryland, had 114 rushing attempts for 614 yards last season, scoring eight touchdowns. His season was hampered by an ankle injury he suffered Week 2 against Temple that didn't let up as the season went on, even though he missed only one game.
"I am 100 percent now," said McFarland. "My ankle injury during the season, I was injured the whole season. It happened Week 2 against Temple and I didn't get 100 percent until the end of the season. I dealt with that the whole season. I played on it. I only missed one game, against Indiana. Now I am 100 percent and ready to go."
McFarland finished his Maryland career with 1,648 rushing yards in just two seasons, ranking 21st overall in school history. He ranks ninth in school history with six 100-yard games.
In 2018 he broke the Maryland freshman rushing record with 1,034 yards, an average of 7.9 yards per carry.
The Steelers are familiar with McFarland as he is a teammate of Dino Tomlin, son of Coach Mike Tomlin, and new quarterbacks coach Matt Canada was the offensive coordinator in 2018 at Maryland and they already have a strong relationship.
"He is like a father-figure to me," said McFarland of Canada. "Every time I see him, I am going to pick his brain. I am glad I am going to be around him."
The Steelers stayed on the offensive side of the ball with their second pick in the fourth round, the 135th pick overall, by selecting guard Kevin Dotson from Louisiana.
Dotson was a 2019 Associated Press, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and Pro Football Focus first-team All-American who made 52 starts in his college career.
"Watching him on tape he is a really big man with great lift," said offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett. "He is a very good athlete. What really shows up on his tape is he is a people mover. I really like that. This guy can move. He can do all of the stuff we were looking for. The second level stuff is good. He is the type of guy we look at that old school run game stuff like back in the day when you would run through guys. This really flashes on his tape and jumped out at us.
"We like the off the field stuff too. Nobody every said anything bad about him. He is a self-made guy looking for the next step. We are looking forward to getting him in a Steelers uniform and getting him rolling."
According to Sarrett, Dotson is an interior player who has the flexibility to move to tackle and has the ability to come in and compete for the left guard spot that was vacated by the retirement of Ramon Foster.
"He has all of the intangibles," said Sarrett. "When you watch this guy, he runs through people. He can run through the point of attack. It brings flexibility to the room. It gives us options. At the end of the day the best five will start, but I think realistically that is a guy who can go in and compete for the spot."
Dotson, the first non-Combine player to be selected in the 2020 NFL Draft, grew up a Steelers fan and said coming to the black and gold is a dream.
"The craziest thing about it is they are legit my family's favorite team," said Dotson. "To get this pick is ridiculous. It's crazy.
"They have always been my number one team. I have followed them since I was five. Even in my house, we have a big old man cave and it's all Steelers decked out. I have been following them forever. My favorite player used to be 'The Bus' (Jerome Bettis). All of my passwords had the number 36 at the end of them just because of that. Now that this is happening, it's ridiculous. I couldn't even imagine it happening."
The other thing that has his mind blown is the reality that he will be playing with Ben Roethlisberger and blocking for the quarterback he grew up watching.
"I have always been a fan of Ben," said Dotson. "It's going to be crazy. In my mind I always thought of him as someone I would never meet. One of the legends I would never be able to block for. This is going to be a dream to be able to play with players you have looked up to your entire life."
Antoine Brooks Jr.
The Steelers selected their second player of the draft from the University of Maryland when they drafted safety Antoine Brooks Jr. in the sixth round with the 198th pick overall. Brooks joins teammate Anthony McFarland, selected in the fourth round, as the second Maryland player taken today.
"Me and him are going to ball out until we can't anymore," said Brooks of playing with McFarland again. "Me and him in the same locker room being reunited. It's the next level."
Brooks, who was voted MVP for the Terrapins last season, was a second-team All-Big Ten selection (coaches) and third-team All-Big Ten selection (media).
"He is a really good physical player," said Teryl Austin, senior defensive assistant/secondary. "He plays a little of everywhere, and he was around the ball. Wherever the ball is, he is going to show up. He has a really good feel for the game in terms of instincts and not being afraid to make a decision."
Brooks finished the season as the Terps leading tackler with 87 stops, including 69 solo stops, also had eight and a half tackles for a loss and five pass defenses.
"I take tackling very seriously," said Brooks. "That is the impact of football. I think football is tackling. It's running the ball and tackling. That is how you have fun in football. I can never lose the one-on-one battles. I won't. I would be terribly upset if I did lose that battle. I am passionate about tackling and getting the ball back and stuff like that.
"I just want to play football to the best of my ability. I am an aggressive tackler, aggressive player. I did a lot of blitzing. A lot of moving around when I was at Maryland."
Brooks considered quitting football while at Duval High in Lanham, Maryland when his senior season he suffered a compound fracture of his ankle and a wrist injury in a game against rival Wise High.
"I was pretty close to quitting," said Brooks. "I was in the hospital for a week. I was sitting there thinking what should I do? My outcome was I should keep playing. I didn't want to be the person who almost made it or could have made it. Now I am proud because I am where I am now."
The Steelers completed their 2020 NFL Draft Class by selecting Nebraska defensive tackle Carlos Davis out of Nebraska with their seventh-round pick, the 232nd overall pick in the draft.
Davis finished his Nebraska career with 125 total tackles, 18 tackles for a loss and nine and a half sacks.
"He is a strong kid. He is a talented athlete," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He is a two-sport player, was on the track and field team."
Davis, who was an All-American in track and field, played his final season as a graduate student and started 11 of 12 games as a defensive end his senior season. He had 32 tackles, ranking second among Nebraska's defensive linemen, only behind his twin brother Kahlil Davis, who was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the 194th pick overall.
The Steelers did a virtual interview with the twins together leading into the draft and General Manager Kevin Colbert was impressed.
"It was entertaining to say the least," said Colbert. "Very smart young men. They went to the Combine and he ran a 4.79 in a 300 plus body. What we are looking from him is a definite upside. We hope to continue to see how he develops. He crept onto the scene late. We doubled back to make sure we liked what we saw. The more we talked to him, the more we evaluated him, the more we liked what we saw."
The selection of Davis gives the Steelers depth on the line after the departure of Javon Hargrave via free agency.
Free agent additions
Following the 2020 NFL Draft the Steelers agreed to terms with 10 undrafted rookie free agents.
The team went heavy on defense, adding seven defensive players, two offensive players and one special teams player.
On the defensive side the team added linebackers John Houston from USC, Leo Lewis from Mississippi State and James Lockhart from Baylor. Also agreeing to terms were defensive ends Josiah Coatney from Mississippi and Calvin Taylor from Kentucky. Rounding out the defense are cornerback Trajan Brandy from Miami and James Pierre from Florida Atlantic.
On offense the team added fullback Spencer Nigh from Auburn and offensive lineman Christian Montano from Tulane. They also agreed to terms with punter Corliss Waitman, who played at South Alabama and Mississippi State.