By: Noah Nichols
The Pittsburgh Steelers came into the 2021 NFL draft looking to do one thing: improve the run game. The Steelers were dead last in the NFL in 2020 at running the football. To remedy that, they selected a running back, tight end, center, and offensive tackle, with their first four picks in the draft. This 2021 NFL draft class will certainly do something for the Steelers in the running game. Will it make it a top five rushing attack? Probably not. But it certainly has the potential to. With that said, here are the draft grades for the Steelers 2021 NFL draft class.
Probably the best running back in the 2021 NFL draft class, the Steelers immediately upgraded their run game with this pick. Harris is also an accomplished route runner and Steelers offensive coordinator will use Harris’s route running abilities to their full potential. The only knock on Harris is his age. At 23 years old Harris will probably age out of the league quicker then most, but the Steelers don’t seem concerned by that here. Harris gives the Steelers a patient running style reminiscent of Le’Veon Bell, something they have sorely missed over the past three years.
This was a surprise pick, but not because the Steelers didn’t need a tight end. They did. It was simply a surprise because of who else was available. Creed Humphrey and Quinn Meinerz were both still on the board and the center position was seen as a bigger need then tight end. However the Steelers elected to take the second best tight end in the 2021 NFL draft class, and massively upgraded their tight end room. Freiermuth will be a future tight end one, with his strong receiving hands, contested catch ability, and blocking frame. This 6″5 270 pound prospect won’t impact the Steelers this year as much as he does in future years.
The Steelers seemed to have their eye on him all along. The Steelers offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm said this about Green; “He was a guy we had our eye on. We love the way that he plays in terms of what we’ve been talking about and in terms of changing our demeanor. I feel like the attitude we want to carry onto the field, he embodies all of that.” Green is a nasty, physical run blocker. He has limited experience at center with only four games played there, but the Steelers have told him that he will transition to center. Green is a perfect pick for what Matt Canada wants to have in the center position. He is quick, smart, physical, and overall a great prospect for a zone run game scheme.
Another nasty, physical blocker, Moore has a lot of room to grow. He is athletic and long armed, a rare thing in the 2021 NFL draft class for tackles. He will probably redshirt this upcoming season, but the Steelers expect him to compete for the day one job. Moore probably wont win it, not because he lacks the talent, but he lacks the experience. He will probably be a year two or three starter, depending on how the starters in front of him play. He was a good selection to begin the fourth round of the 2021 NFL draft.
For Steelers fans, Johnson is a faster, more athletic version of Vince Williams. Coming in at 6″2 Johnson put up some pretty good numbers at his pro day. His 4.57 40-yard dash and 128-inch broad jump both ranked fifth among 2021 linebackers, his 38.5-inch vertical jump ranked sixth, and his 4.03 shuttle time ranked second. The Texas A&M product should be an immediate special teams contributor and could push Vince Williams or Robert Spillane for playing time. A solid pick here, but nothing glamorous.
This one did not make a lot of sense at the time. The Steelers gave up a future fourth round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for their fifth round pick. The Steelers then selected Loudermilk with that pick. Loudermilk will be a defensive tackle, and back up Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt on the defensive line. However, Loudermilk could probably have been picked later, and Shaun Wade was still on the board. This pick could have been used for something else, and trading a future pick is risky.
Now this pick was the opposite of the prior. Roche was projected to go as high as the first round, and defensive coordinator Keith Butler admitted after the Steelers picked Roche: “We had a late third, fourth, fifth round grade on him, so we were surprised when he was still there in the sixth.” Roche will contribute on special teams and backup T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Roche does not have a lot of upside, but he is a very polished player that wont need much time to grow and coach.
A corner/safety/slot, Norwood is a “swiss army knife” as Mike Tomlin called him. Norwood will compete for a spot to backup starters Cameron Sutton and Joe Haden. Norwood will also probably play in Dime packages, and might push Marcus Allen off the roster. A player with upside, nevertheless Norwood is not guaranteed a roster spot and will have to compete for it in camp.
Interesting pick here. The Steelers take Danny Smith‘s, their special teams coordinator, guy. Smith was at Harvins pro day and reportedly loved him. Harvin is a huge punter at 5″11 253 pounds. He also has proven himself adept at running fake punts so the Steelers get themselves a punter with a lot of upside here. He should be a day one starter. His average punt was 44 yards, one of the best in the country, and he has potential to improve that average. He will have to get his big leg under control however, as he has had a tendency to shank a punt every now and then.
The Steelers added to every position of need in this draft. They didn’t do it in the order most people expected, but they were not looking to meet draft nicks expectations. They took a running back in the first round because they knew one would not be available later. They added a center and tackle. The only position that is surprising is how early they added a tight end. But they did need one and so they addressed the position. This draft was more about next year than it is today, but it looks to be a great group that the Steelers are bringing into camp.