The 2021 NFL Draft is now in the books. A lot is said about this draft. Some say the Pittsburgh Steelers prioritized at some positions way too early, and others say that they drafted as expected of them.
So let's dive in.
1st Round Pick, 24th Overall - Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
This pick has been the big talking point for every talking head from National to right here in good ol’ Pittsburgh. Harris has the opportunity to become the next big-time Alabama HB, and visions of Derrick Henry are in Steelers fan’s heads. The problem people have with this pick is that it’s in the 1st Round.
The Steelers’ hard luck in mid-round running backs created this situation where a first-round pick was made for a running back. If you're going to pull that off, it must be for the consensus-best RB in the draft. Regardless of where he was drafted, he is the best in this class. A fifth-year option will have his second contract at 29, and that’s a bit troublesome. However, he may get that contract if the Steelers successor to Ben is a bridge or rookie franchise pick.
2nd Round Pick, 55th Overall - Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Many Steelers fans and myself included were calling for the offensive line to be the next two picks on day two of the draft. So it’s safe to say the Steelers surprised (and disappointed) many by selecting Freiermuth. Unlike Harris, he was the second-best in his position, a distant 2nd behind now Falcons TE Kyle Pitts. With the nickname “Baby Gronk and the all-around ability he possesses. He could have Steeler fans chanting “HEEEAAATHH!” in a force of habit once again.
I’m not disappointed by this pick. Unlike many, I’m not on the Eric Ebron hate train (Despite the drops, he had the best tight end season receiving-wise since Heath Miller retired. If you say anyone has been better IN THAT FACET, you're playing yourself.). He lacked the impact in the run blocking game, and that didn’t help in those 3rd/4th and short situations. The Steelers have always done better with versatile tight ends. Freiermuth is one of the best to play his position at PSU and is a quintessential Steelers pick. He’ll take the TE2 spot, and if it works out, he could play into the starting role by the season’s end.
3rd Round Pick, 87th Overall - Kendrick Green OG/C, Illinois
Many thought that the Steelers would take an offensive lineman with their first-round selection. If Harris were the first selection, then they would spend the next two picks on a lineman. If you claimed the Steelers would select their first in round three, you probably should have hit the casino. Green has gotten a lot of buzz (especially from notorious Steeler critic Pro Football Focus) for being a scheme fit for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada and a tremendous all-around selection.
The first thing that we were told about this man is that he is nasty. The man has a branding of the Omega symbol from the Omega Psi Phi fraternity on his arm. Not a tattoo, a brand, people. That man is tough. Every bit of that film proves that he will be a dog and replace Maurkice Pouncey just fine. Imagine Dotson and Green creating runways that rival Pittsburgh International Airport for running backs like Najee Harris over the next ten years. I hope the Heinz Field DJ queues up “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton before every possession.
4th Round Pick, 128th Overall - Dan Moore, OT, Texas Tech
Moore fits the Steelers’ new scheme under Matt Canada. He’ll fight Zach Banner and Chuks Okarafor for a spot but may end up as depth for now. I think a good training camp from Moore, ranked as the 12th best offensive tackle in the class by ESPN, will help thoughts out on this pick. Duke Mayweather, an offensive line scout, and developer called his technique above average and said his hand usage is good.
4th Round Pick, 140th Overall - Buddy Johnson, MLB, Texas Tech
At least the Steelers still have a bud on defense with Buddy Johnson coming in the fourth round. He could be the future at MLB after Vince Williams retires. Many people view him as a promising sideline-to-sideline guy, and to pair him with Devin Bush coming off knee surgery could be an interesting combo. He’ll challenge Robert Spillane’s spot, and it will be fun to see.
5th Round Pick, 156th Overall (via Miami) - Isaiah Loudermilk, DE, Wisconsin
Acquired for a fourth-round pick in 2022, with the Steelers in comp pick heaven next week, he must be a guy that the Steelers plan on developing to be on the Steelers’ defensive line. At 6-8 and 283 pounds, he’s got some good size that could make him attractive for a future replacement for anyone currently starting. If they get anything out of him similar to what Tyson Alualu got last season in the future, look out.
6th Round Pick, 216th Overall - Quincy Roche, OLB, Miami
Another project, but he’s expected to be a backup for T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. He’s described as a skilled pass rusher, which is always nice on a team losing one-half of a strong duo like Watt and Dupree were.
7th Round Pick, 245th Overall - Tre Norwood, S, Oklahoma
He’ll be challenging for the backup free safety job as a rookie. His interception total (5) was tied for the lead in the pass-happy Big-12. He played primarily as a slot corner in the final five games of last season. So if things go south there, he could be tried there. The Steelers are showing trust in names like James Pierre and Justin Layne in the slot. But they also signed a couple of undrafted free agents that could steal that spot as well.
7th Round Pick, 254th Overall. - Pressley Harvin III, P, Georgia Tech
Drafting a punter is probably the most prominent warning signal that a change is about to be made at the position. With the failed signing of Dustin Colquitt last year, forcing them to bring back “on-again, off-again” Jordan Berry, there was thought that the job would be a serious training camp competition. The Steelers more than confirmed it by bringing in the 2021 Ray Guy award winner for college football’s best punter (the first-ever for an African American player). He’s big at 5-11, 256 lbs, and that raises concerns in terms of conditioning. Bonus: He’s got an arm solid enough for trick plays….
Grade: C (I want to give this an A+++, but I’m trying to be realistic)
Final Thoughts: Would I have liked a more offensive line-heavy approach in the first two rounds? Yes, especially as the tea leaves say, this is the last ride for Ben Roethlisberger. Overall, it hit enough of that balance of going for it now while handling needs and getting depth for the future, in my opinion. Like every draft, time will tell.
Final Grade: B