The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2021 NFL Draft with more holes on the roster than they have draft picks to fill them. Though it’s no easy task, we will knock those needs down to five to determine the most important positions that need addressed. With eight picks in the draft, Pittsburgh will be able to fill many important holes if they hit a home run. But their margin for error is small given their needs. Here are the Steelers draft needs ranked in order of importance.
Top Five Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Draft Needs
Though another position is generating more buzz for the Steelers first pick, make no mistake: center is the biggest need on their roster. Following the retirement of long-time center Maurkice Pouncey, there are two players left at the position. Neither B.J. Finney or J.C. Hassenauer are good enough players to be full-time starters at center. There is no doubt that the Steelers will be drafting a center at some point in the draft. However, just because it is the most important need, there’s a decent chance Pittsburgh doesn’t select a center with the 24th overall pick.
There are a few names that have commonly been mocked to the Steelers. These players include Landon Dickerson, Creed Humphrey, and Quinn Meinerz. Dickerson and Humphrey sit in a weird spot for Pittsburgh. Both players will almost certainly be available at 24, but both could be off the board by the time the 55th pick rolls around. So, if the Steelers want to address the center position first, trading back would be the way to go. Moving into the earlier part of the second round would provide Pittsburgh with more picks, and they could still almost certainly get one of those two centers. If they want to wait until the third round, Meinerz could be the pick. That said, most analysts aren’t expecting Pittsburgh to trade out of the 24th spot, because…
2) Running Back
The overwhelming majority of pundits have the Steelers taking Najee Harris at 24. A selection of Harris would align perfectly with the team’s first round selection history under GM Kevin Colbert. This is not a mock draft, though. Despite Harris being the most likely pick, running back is not a bigger need on the Steelers than center. As Pittsburgh showed last year, a strong offensive line is more important to a rushing offense’s success than a running back. Make no mistakes, though, the Steelers current running back room is not good enough. Benny Snell, Anthony McFarland Jr., and Jaylen Samuels won’t cut it.
There are some options other than Harris for Pittsburgh. Assuming they don’t make any trades, Harris and Travis Etienne will both almost certainly be selected by the time pick 55 comes around. Javonte Williams of North Carolina will probably be gone, too. After those three, there is a small drop-off in the quality of running backs, but there are some potential middle round options. Names like Trey Sermon, Michael Carter, and Kenneth Gainwell could be valuable in rounds 2-4.
This is one of the Steelers draft needs that come out of nowhere. During the 2020 season, it was the best overall position group on the roster. That changed fast this off-season, though. Steven Nelson was released, Mike Hilton signed with the Bengals, and Justin Layne was arrested for felony gun charges. While Layne is still on the roster, his status is up in the air. So, the only guarantees in the position group for 2021 are Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, and James Pierre.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, this is not a good year to be in need of a cornerback. There is some talent at the top, but not much depth. If one of the top prospects like Jaycee Horn, Patrick Surtain, or Caleb Farley fall to 24, the Steelers might be tempted to make the pick. Asante Samuel Jr. is a common name in the second round for the Steelers in mock drafts. For 2021, they are only in need of a nickel cornerback, as Sutton will replace Nelson on the outside. 2021 is likely Haden’s last year in Pittsburgh, though, so the team is also drafting his potential replacement. It’s a glaring need for this year and years beyond, so the Steelers need to buck their recent trend of struggling to draft cornerbacks.
4) Tight End
With the current construction of their roster, Pittsburgh will add a tight end in some capacity this off-season. Their current room of Eric Ebron and Zach Gentry will not get the job done. Ebron is the team’s starter at tight end, but he is not the typical well-rounded tight end we expect from Pittsburgh. So, there are two routes the team could go. They could wait until the later rounds and draft a tight end with the main focus being blocking abilities. Tight ends that don’t offer much in the passing game won’t be in high demand, and that’s all Pittsburgh needs in 2021. They could instead select a tight end in the middle rounds, one who is more well-rounded in all aspects of the position. With 2021 potentially being Ebron’s last year in the black and gold, they might be looking for a full-time starter. Whichever way you slice it, though, tight end is one of the Steelers main draft needs.
Devin Bush returns in 2021, so that offers much-needed stability at the position. After Bush, though, the depth is weak at inside linebacker. Robert Spillane will be the starter opposite Bush. Solid against the run, Spillane was steady replacing Bush in 2021 but does not have a very high ceiling. Then there is veteran Vince Williams, who is elite against the run but offers little in the passing game. Pittsburgh should draft a linebacker at some point, and they should emphasize coverage abilities. They will needed an overall linebacker at some point in the somewhat-near future, but right now, there are bigger needs. Instead, they should look to add a coverage backer in the later rounds who they can pair alongside Bush in passing situations.
Steelers draft needs honorable mentions: Edge, Offensive Tackle, Punter
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