By Jeremy Hritz
The 2021 NFL Draft is complete, and 9 picks later, the many areas of need of the Steelers have been addressed, and the team is in better shape than they were at the conclusion of the 2020 season. What’s interesting is that the team expended a 2022 4th round pick to move into this year’s 5th round to acquire their 9th pick, mildly mortgaging the future on a prospect whom they must believe will make enough of a contribution to be worth such a move.
With that said, let’s take quick look at the overall draft class and the newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Also, please note that Andrew and I are hard at work on individual, comprehensive profiles on all of the Steelers selections, and we will be doing the same for the undrafted free agents as well. Lots of content coming your way, in addition to a full-length podcast later in the week.
Round 1: No. 24 – Najee Harris, RB,
The decorated running back out of Alabama fell to the Steelers at pick #24 in the first round and immediately boosted the quality of the running game. Superb vision, physicality, and sure-hands, Harris is expected to be the starter and provide 25-30 touches per game. It will be interesting to see how his addition to the depth chart impacts the other ball carriers in terms of division of labor and who makes the team.
Round 2: No. 55 – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Tight end has been a position of need ever since Heath Miller retired, and despite attempts to address it through free agency, they have never achieved the stability they were seeking through Ladarius Green, Vance McDonald, and Eric Ebron. Freiermuth, or “Baby Gronk,” brings toughness to the position, and while he is not a stellar blocker, he is willing, and has the coachability to be able to grown and transform into a better one. In terms of pass catching, he is a reliable target, but does not offer much in terms of stretching the field. Freiermuth will be more of the steady first-down target on a third and medium/long down, and will produce the occasional big play reminiscent of our beloved Heath. “Muuuuuuttth??????” I guess that is kind of close to Heath.
Round 3: No. 87 – Kendrick Green, C, Illinois
Nasty. Ferocious. Physical. Will punch you right in the face. This is just the type of offensive lineman the Steelers need, and they got him in Green in the third round. While he hasn’t had much experience at the Center position, he is a converted defensive lineman with the athleticism to pull and to make second level blocks to spring big gains in the running game which has been absent the last two seasons. A bit undersized, his attitude and technique will have to overcome his limitations, but based on the commentary by Steelers’ brass, they see Green as someone who can compete for the starting job right away.
Round 4: No. 128 – Dan Moore Jr., OT, Texas A&M
6’5 1/2 , 311 pounds, Moore is a large man who played tackle at Texas A&M. Moore brings experience at the position, being a 3-year starter, and has been told by the coaching staff that he will be in the mix for a starting position this year in camp. Whether or not that is true, or just motivation for Moore, will be answered in camp. While he possesses the athleticism to mirror edge rushers in pass protection and can climb to second level blocks, he must work on developing his strength and power to handle more physical rushers and to be an earth mover in the running game.
Round 4: No. 140 – Buddy Johnson, ILB, Texas A&M
6, 229 pounds, Johnson is undersized for the inside backer position, but he possesses a high-level of athleticism, at least as indicated by his testing, posting an RAS (Relative Athletic Score) of 9.22; however, such athleticism translating to the football field has not consistently occurred, making the Johnson selection one in which the Steelers believe their coaching and scheme can develop and strengthen the intangibles and gifts Johnson brings to the field. If Johnson’s play on the field ever catches up to his athleticism, he will be a dangerous player.
Round 5: No. 156 (From DAL through PHI and MIA) – Isaiahh Loudermilk, DT, Wisconsin
The player the Steelers traded a 2022 pick to acquire, Loudermilk is being projected as a depth player to back up Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. At 6’6, 274, Loudermilk needs to add a bit more mass to be able to provide the type of depth needed on the defensive line. Loudermilk has powerful hands and is a gritty player, but must develop his ability to be more of an anchor on the line to hold the point of attack against the run.
Round 6: No. 216 – Quincy Roche, LB, Miami
6’3, 245 pounds, and a former Ravens fan–yes, a Ravens fan! Since being drafted, his allegiance has shifted to the black and gold, but how is that for irony? Originally played at Temple before transferring to Miami, Roche lit up the stat sheet, racking up 30.5 sacks in his collegiate career. The question surrounding is Roche is whether or not his production was the result of an unyielding motor, not athleticism, and can that approach work in the NFL. If he can recreate his production in the NFL, then this will be a pick that pays major dividends for the Steelers. Will work into the rotation to spell Watt and Highsmith this season.
Round 7: No. 245 – Tre Norwood, CB, Oklahoma
6, 192 pounds, Norwood has the versatility to play both corner and safety, and has demonstrated the ability to make plays on the ball, with 5 interceptions this past season. Can diagnose and play the run, but is questionable in coverage, and there are doubts as to whether or not he can hold up against NFL receivers. Norwood is a developmental player who should contribute on special teams, and his ceiling is filling a role similar to that of Mike Hilton.
Round 7: No. 254 – Pressley Harvin III, P, Georgia Tech
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette called this one in a Tweet earlier last week, so props to Dulac! Harvin is a horse of a body at 260 pounds and has a live-leg with the ability to place punts and pin opponents downfield. Harvin has also demonstrated the acumen to produce a fake-special teams splash play, which I’m sure reverberated with Coach Tomlin and the coaching staff. Described as somewhat inconsistent, he should compete with Jordan Berry, and possibly be the starter come opening day. Going to be fun watching Harvin’s progression.