In theory, the Pittsburgh Steelers boosted their offense in the first two picks with running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth. Their next two picks arguably follow similar suit with a center and offensive tackle to support Ben Roethlisberger’s last days at the helm of the offense. The Steelers targeted the right positions, they just may have done it in the wrong order. A solid offensive line was imperative for the Steelers to select, and instead they opted to bolster their skill positions. Harris and Freiermuth both have potential to be key players in the offense, but the pressure will be on the Steelers front office if Roethlisberger cannot stand up straight. Here are the players in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL Draft Review:
- First Round, 24th overall, Najee Harris, Running Back, Alabama
- Second Round, 55th overall, Pat Freiermuth, Tight End, Penn State
- Third Round, 87th overall, Kendrick Green, Center, Illinois
- Fourth Round, 128th overall, Dan Moore Jr., Offensive Tackle, Texas A&M
- Fourth Round, 140th overall, Buddy Johnson, Inside Linebacker, Texas A&M
- Fifth Round, 156th overall, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Defensive Tackle, Wisconsin
- Sixth Round, 216th overall, Quincy Roche, Outside Linebacker, Miami
- Seventh Round, 245th overall, Tre Norwood, Cornerback, Oklahoma
- Seventh Round, 254th overall, Pressley Harvin III, Punter, Georgia Tech
Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 NFL Draft Grade: 7.3/10
2021 NFL Draft Review: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Best Player: Najee Harris, Running back, Alabama
Six years ago, Harris may have been a top-ten selection. Since running backs have fallen from first-round priority positions, Harris is considered by some as a reach in the first round. The Steelers may have been able to find another running back to bolster their offense later in the draft, but finding a back as refined as Harris would have been difficult. He will be reliable on day one and is not prone to simple mistakes a less refined, mid to late-round back might have made.
The biggest knock-on Harris is his lack of big-play cuts. He is occasionally slow when escaping the box, which may limit his appearance on the highlight reel. There may be initial frustration over this, but over time productivity and consistency should be a net positive for the Steelers offense.
The Head-Scratcher: No plan for Roethlisberger
The most confusing aspect of the Steelers draft process was two-fold: No quarterback nor a star pass-protector taken. In an off-season where Roethlisberger and the Steelers signed what may have been his last deal, no quarterback being taken may be an over-commitment to Ben Roethlisberger. Hence, the Pat Freiermuth pick at 55 overall may be the most confusing. The reason he is not a head-scratcher, and is instead a surprise, is that his skill set makes perfect sense for the Steelers. However, at pick 55, four decent quarterbacks were still on the board. While the Steelers may have a candidate in next year’s draft or believe Freiermuth is just that productive in the passing game to be a difference this season, not drafting a quarterback this year leaves the team with limited options and that daunted word in media: uncertainty.
The other part of the plan or missing plan, that is confusing is no offensive lineman in round one or two. There was value in round two for decent pass protectors. Instead, the Steelers waited to select Kendrick Green – a guard/center hybrid best at run blocking – and Dan Moore Jr. – who is a project tackle. The Steelers are not necessarily wrong for their selection – both linemen have upside – but not drafting a strong pass protector might be the most haunting part of this draft.
Then again, the selection of Harris and a strong run blocker in Green may be a sign of a slight change in offensive philosophy and priority.
The Surprise: Pat Freiermuth, Tight end, Penn State
A pass-catching tight end is now a commonly inquired upon commodity in the NFL. Freiermuth fits the mould of a pass-receiver who can do damage in the red zone or on key third-down plays. He is, however, a surprise at number 55 as the Steelers had more demanding needs this high in the draft. The reasoning for using a high-pick is the front office believes he can turn into a difference make the way Travis Kelce et al. have across the NFL. In a vacuum, this selection is very good. In the Steelers decision-making, he was likely the highest valued player and there was an urgency to select him, regardless of other needs.
The Steal: Quincy Roche, Defensive end, Miami
Roche is not flashy. He will not turn eyes at camp or even be notable in year one. He does, however, have a high upside for simple, reliable productivity. Roche provides great value because he is unlikely to bust or be an early cut. His fundamentals are solid and after adapting to the NFL he will be a consistent player; the type of blue-chip player teams need to make Super Bowl rosters. While other teams were drafting for high upside, the Steelers got a player that will undoubtedly add to their roster in a meaningful manner over time.
Most Likely to Turn Heads During Training Camp: Pat Freiermuth
Back to Freiermurth. He is, literally, going to be a big surprise. The image of a 6’5” and 251 lbs target catching red zone passes from Roethlisberger can write headlines. A red-zone tight end adds a sense of security to any offense and that will be particularly eye-catching in a training camp following an uncertain off-season. He can haul in most passes and be an immediate asset. Even Harris, the less flashy rookie, may not make as many photo-ops as Freiermuth will this training camp.
Honourable mention for ‘surprise’ goes to punter Pressley Harvin III at pick 254. Punters can change the field, and if Harvin III is a Steelers for several years, this is a nice pick.
Buddy Johnson, a linebacker out of Texas A&M, might be an answer to the Steelers defensive depth problems. He will likely be a backup before either moving on or becoming a reliable role player.
Even for ‘no first-round running back’ puritans, defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk is the biggest reach of this draft. At pick 156 in round 5, the skills he still needs to develop are questionable. This may be more of a schematic choice by the Steelers front office than a perfect fit.
Tre Norwood, cornerback chosen at pick 245 in round 7, is also a major project likely to change positions to find a backup role. That is, however, what the seventh round is for: players such as Norwood who are no guarantee but have upside to fit a specific supporting role.