History tells us that making the 53-man roster for the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted free agent rookie is quite difficult. What it also tells us however is that not only is it still doable, it’s possible that these players can even become starters for the franchise — and even better, Super Bowl Champions.
The dust has finally settled from the 2022 NFL Draft and the Steelers have already signed their first 10 undrafted free agent rookies. See the full list here. Out of this group, is it possible we could be looking at someone who will find themselves in the starting rotation on Sundays?
Let’s take a look back quickly on past undrafted free agent rookies for the Steelers and why that should give hope for this latest class.
2018 – Robert Spillane
Started 11 games for the Steelers at inside linebacker and currently on the active roster.
2014 – Matt Feiler
Started 40 games for the Steelers at left guard and right tackle. He’s currently the starting left guard for the Los Angeles Chargers.
2013 – Chris Hubbard
Started 14 games for the Steelers at right tackle and 34 more for the Cleveland Browns. Hubbard is currently a reserve tackle for the Browns.
2010 – Alejandro Villanueva
Started 90 games for the Steelers at left tackle and 17 more for the Baltimore Ravens before retiring in March of 2022. Villanueva was a 2x Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018.
2008 – Doug Legursky
Started 17 games for the Steelers at guard and center, 11 more for the Buffalo Bills, and two more for the Los Angeles Chargers. Legursky was also a Super Bowl Champion (XLIII).
2004 – Willie Parker
Started 60 games for the Steelers at running back. He was 2x Pro Bowler in 2006 and 2007, and holds the longest run record in Super Bowl history.
2002 – James Harrison
Started 107 total games for the Steelers at outside linebacker after brief stints with the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals and New England Patriots. Harrison was a 2x Super Bowl Champion (XL, XLIII), NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, a 2x First Team All-Pro selection in 2008 and 2010, a 2x Second Team All-Pro selection in 2007 and 2009, and a 5x Pro Bowler from 2007-2011. Harrison retired in 2018. Not bad for an undrafted free agent.
*Other notable players are Hall of Famers Donnie Shell (162 starts all with Steelers), and Jack Butler (102 starts all with Steelers)
So what does this mean for the 2022 class?
Right now, Pittsburgh still has question marks on the offensive line and in the cornerback room.
You can look at the recent signings of James Daniels, Mason Cole, Levi Wallace, and the recent re-signings of Chukwuma Okorafor and Ahkello Witherspoon as significant upgrades for their respective positions collectively. But right now, nothing is set in stone as far as who will be the Day 1 starters for the upcoming season.
I’m looking directly at both Jordan Tucker from North Carolina, and Bryce Watts from UMass as players to keep your eyes on early in mini-camp.
Tucker stands at almost 6’7”, 340lbs — a similar build to Villanueva who was 6’9″, 320lbs. Tucker started all 13 games on the offensive line for UNC in 2021 and blocked for an offense that averaged 35.2 points per game (19th NCAA/3rd ACC), 468.2 total yards per game (10th NCAA/4th ACC), including 255.7 passing yards per game (42nd NCAA/6th ACC) and 212.5 rushing yards per game (18th NCAA/2nd ACC) according to GoHeels.com. He played 709 snaps, including a season-high 80 against Wake Forest, and graded out at 84% against Wake Forest, 83% at NC State and 81% against Miami. With 2022 being a “prove it” year for Okorafor, I see this as a chance for Tucker to show the Steelers and the league that he’s not just all size, but has the athleticism and smarts to become a starter at the next level as well if Okorafor doesn’t prove his worth.
As for Watts, standing at 6’0”, 180lbs., I see him putting on a bit more muscle at the pro level, jumping to around 190lbs. and making his size comparable to some of the top cornerbacks in the league like Jalen Ramsey (6’1″, 208lbs.), and J.C. Jackson (5’10”, 201 lbs.). Watts’ 40-yard dash time alone (4.39s) already makes him the fastest cornerback on the Steelers’ roster as well, and that includes Witherspoon, Wallace, Cam Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne, and Linden Stephens. Pittsburgh is going to need all of the help they can get at the cornerback position when it comes to dealing with the rest of the wide receivers in the AFC North, and I see this summer as a great opportunity for Watts to prove that although just a rookie, he can be the best of this bunch.
Do yinz think any of this year’s undrafted free agent rookies have a chance to become starters for Pittsburgh in the near future? Click to comment below!