Skip to main content

Class acts

The state of the defensive line was such that seventh-round draft pick Carlos Davis was forced into action at nose tackle in Dallas.

"Thank God for Mike Tomlin and (Kevin) Colbert," Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar offered. "They did a great job of getting us guys here."

Davis ended up playing 16 snaps on defense (22 percent) and one on special teams in his NFL debut, a 24-19 victory over the Cowboys last Sunday.

Sixth-round defensive back Antoine Brooks (five snaps on special teams) also played for the first time with the Steelers.

Brooks and Davis were the fifth and sixth members of the six-man draft class assembled by head coach Mike Tomlin, General Manager Kevin Colbert and the personnel department to see the field this season. All six were on display in the Dallas game for the undefeated Steelers (8-0).

Sunday's opponent, the 2-5-1 Cincinnati Bengals had a similar scenario play out the previous week against Tennessee.

All seven members of the Bengals' 2020 draft class were in action in a 31-20 victory over the Titans on Nov. 1. Two of them started (first-round quarterback Joe Burrow and sixth-round offensive tackle Hakeem Adeniji).

All seven continue to make an impression on second-year head coach Zac Taylor.

"We knew we were drafting a mature class," Taylor said. "Six of those seven guys were captains on their college teams, most of them multi-year starters. They were leaders in their programs, so in that way it doesn't shock you that they were able to handle a lack of preseason and offseason and come in and play. We've also had a lot of injuries that have forced those guys into playing.

"I've really been proud of that group. They've approached it the right way and they've only gotten better as every week has passed."

Second-round wide receiver Tee Higgins leads the Bengals in average yards per catch (14.8) and is tied for the team lead in receiving touchdowns (three).

Third- and fourth-round linebackers Logan Wilson (48 percent of the snaps) and Akeem Davis-Gaither (35 percent of the snaps) rotated in with regularity against Tennessee.

Fifth-round defensive end Khalid Kareem was on the field the majority of the time (69 percent of the snaps) against the Titans.

Seventh-round linebacker Markus Bailey contributed on special teams.

For the Steelers, second-round wide receiver Chase Claypool leads the team in touchdowns (seven) and receiving touchdowns (five).

Third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith relieves starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Highsmith has an interception and a sack and was even incorporated as part of a three-outside linebackers package on Nov. 1 at Baltimore.

Fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland has played in the last six games and fourth-round guard Kevin Dotson has started two games and played the majority of the snaps at right guard in a third.

The Steelers prepare for the Week 10 matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals

"That just speaks highly of those guys in the back (in the personnel department)," offensive line coach Sean Sarrett said. "Identifying these guys early in the process, getting them in front of us as coaches, allowing us to evaluate them, sitting there as a group and doing the evaluation process, even the scouts, the GM, the head coach, everybody's involved.

"They just did a good job. You see the class, these guys, they've come in, they've played early. They've done a great job for us."

The unquestioned headliner of Cincinnati's class is Burrow, who has played beyond his years and at a level befitting his first-overall status.

"The first month we met with him over the offseason program you had a sense that he was further ahead than most rookies would be, he'd be able to handle this," Taylor said. "But you don't really know until you get a chance to coach him in a game and get a chance to play in this division against some of the teams that we play against.

"He's handled it really well. It doesn't feel like you're coaching a rookie. It doesn't feel like you're talking to a rookie. It feels like you're talking to a quarterback who's been in this league for several years."