The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the NFL draft with one obvious goal: improve their running game. Three of their top four picks (and arguably all four) should help accomplish that goal. However, there is more to the draft class beyond Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and Kendrick Green. In the later rounds, Pittsburgh addressed more issues than just the run game, and added depth in key positions of need. These three Steelers rookies haven’t gotten as much attention, but they will potentially be key players right away in their first season.
Three Pittsburgh Steelers Rookies Flying Under the Radar
When value is considered, Quincy Roche very likely could be the Steelers best draft selection. The pass-rusher from Miami was expected to be a early-t0-middle round pick but fell all the way to the sixth round where Pittsburgh snagged him. After losing Bud Dupree to the Tennessee Titans, the Steelers were in desperate need of edge depth entering the draft. Behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, there was not much depth. Through five rounds, the Steelers inability to address the position became a concern. Drafting Roche in the sixth, however, more than made up for that. The value was great.
In Roche, the Steelers are getting a pass rusher who can come in and provide depth right away. He almost certainly will begin the season as the primary substitute for both Watt and Highsmith. While he’s ready to be an NFL-caliber pass rusher, Roche won’t offer much against the run as a rookie. It’s the biggest area of improvement for the rookie. Playing alongside an elite run-stopping defensive line should help Roche’s development in that department. Dupree was elite against the run, as is Watt. It’s a skill the Steelers expect of their outside linebackers, so they will invest heavily into Roche’s development.
Buddy Johnson was an intriguing fourth round pick for the Steelers. After spending their first four picks on offensive players, defense was the obvious selection with this pick. While cornerback or outside linebacker were likely bigger needs, Pittsburgh went the inside linebacker route. Despite being labeled a “thumper,” Johnson can be an all-around linebacker for the Steelers. He flashed signs of solid pass coverage numerous times at Texas A&M. Most importantly, Johnson has the athletic ability to develop his pass coverage skills. Being a top-level athlete and hitting like a truck is a perfect combination of skills for a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker.
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A bit undersized, Johnson will likely do most of his work on special teams in his rookie season. He undoubtedly will be a key special teams contributor right out of the gate. Defensively, he won’t get many reps beyond being a typical depth piece. If his coverage skills develop, he might get in alongside Devin Bush in some passing situations. Playing behind Bush and Vince Williams will do wonders for Johnson’s development. With 2021 likely being Williams’ last year in Pittsburgh, Johnson might be on the fast track to a starting role by 2022.
Pressley Harvin III
Of all the Steelers rookies, Harvin is one of the most interesting. First, there’s the fact that Harvin is the first punter drafted by the Steelers in 10 years, and the second in almost 40 years. Next, he is a 250-pound punter with a rocket for a leg. That is enough to get people excited. The 2020 Ray Guy Award winner will have a chance to enter the starting lineup as a rookie. In fact, it’s hard to justify spending draft capital on a punter if the plan is not for him to be an instant starter.
For years now, punter has been a weakness for the Steelers. 2020 was more of the same, when off-season signing Dustin Colquitt did not pan out. He was cut during the season, with Jordan Berry being brought back. After punting for the Steelers from 2015-2019, Berry returned and looked better than ever in 2020. The solid performance of Berry in 2020 is what causes uncertainty for Harvin in 2021. At this point, we can probably expect a position battle between the two. Given Harvin’s pedigree, he’ll likely win the battle, but crazier things have happened.
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