Now that we have a full season in the books, it’s time to grade the Steelers 2021 draft. This was not one of Kevin Colbert’s shining moments as general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He did however pull out a starting running back, tight end, and left tackle from this class. Let’s take a look pick by pick, then give our overall grade for the class.
Round 1: Najee Harris
Most of you know by now our feeling on drafting running backs in the first round. You don’t do it. Having said that Najee Harris had a fairly good rookie season. He more or less carried the Steelers putrid offense in 2021. Here’s the problem. Harris ran for 1,200 yards, but at a less than four yard per rush average. His success was largely due to volume, not explosiveness. The Steelers could have gotten a large portion of that production much lower in the draft. Elijah Mitchell for example was a sixth round pick in 2021, and rushed for 970 yards with 100 less attempts. The running back position, like no other, is one where you can find real value in the later rounds. Selecting one in the first round is an awful strategy.
Round 2: Pat Freiermuth
This player was the hit of the draft for Kevin Colbert. It seems Pat Freiermuth has finally filled a black hole at tight end that this team has been unable to fix since the retirement Heath Miller. We ding the selection a little because once again this team ignored the glaring weakness at offensive line to prop up the skill positions for Ben Roethlisberger. This decision would essentially kill the 2021 season for the team as the line failed miserably. Will the Steelers offensive line be their undoing in 2021?
Round 3: Kendrick Green
What happens when you over draft a player, then force him into a position he barely played in college? Unmitigated disaster, and that’s what best describes Kendrick Green’s season in 2021. Green played mostly guard at Illinois over his college career. He was considered on the small side as a guard, and projected as a center in the NFL. If Green were say a fifth round pick, and was allowed to develop as a backup maybe this pick becomes a hit years down the roads. Pittsburgh decided to get clever and ignore offensive line, then doubled down on its bad decision making by forcing a player into a role he clearly wasn’t ready for. This gets Fs all around for an overall terrible selection.
Round 4a: Dan Moore Jr.
Getting a starting left tackle in the fourth round usually earns you an A in most draft classes. The fact that Dan Moore Jr. was a full time starter was more a commentary on the state of the Steelers offensive line, and less on his overall talent. Moore struggled mightily at times in 2021, but he showed enough where he might actually pan out as a tackle in this league. If he indeed makes a leap in 2022, this grade goes way up.
Round 4b: Buddy Johnson
As far as the first five rounds of the Steelers 2021 draft go, Buddy Johnson made the least impact despite the team’s desperate needs at inside linebacker. Pittsburgh rotated in and out several players trying to find a solution to this position. All the while Pittsburgh’s second fourth round pick only managed to get into four games, with only two tackles the entire season. The team signed Myles Jack and drafted Marc Robison cluing us in on their overall feeling of Buddy Johnson. It’s still early, but this one is looking more and more like a complete miss for the Steelers.
Round 5: Isaiahh Loudermilk
Unlike Buddy Johnson, Isaiahh Loudermilk made a significant impact on the Steelers defense last season. Playing in all but one game, Loudermilk was a solid contributor for the beleaguered defensive line. There is a lot to like going forward here, not bad for a fifth round pick.
Round 6: Quincy Roche
Quincy Roche the player was actually a pretty good pick as a sixth rounder. He managed 2.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss in his rookie season. Unfortunately that was all in a New York Giants uniform. The Steelers waived Roche hoping to get him to their practice squad, only to have the Giants scoop him up on waivers. This was a good selection, but we can not apply it to the overall grade due to the decision making that allowed him to leave.
Round 7a: Tre Norwood
Anytime a seventh round pick plays in all 17 games, and is somewhat productive, that’s a hit in our book. Norwood played reasonably well for the Steelers despite his limitations. He will have a role again in 2022 as a rotational slot corner/safety. Usually a team looks for a solid special teamer with a seventh round pick. The Steelers got a bit more with Tre Norwood.
Round 7b: Pressley Harvin III
We are generally against drafting kickers, or punters at all. If you must waste a pick on one, that player should be outstanding at his trade. Pressley Harvin was anything but that in 2021. He struggled early on in the season, then had to deal with the tragic death of his father. During his time away, undrafted free agent Corliss Waitman clearly out played the Steelers rookie. Harvin came back and took over the punting duties with mixed results. Despite all the hype, this is an easily replaceable player.
Overall Grade: C-
The 2021 draft will not go down as one of Kevin Colbert’s finest hours as general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It all stems from the team refusing to admit that Ben Roethlisberger’s time had past. Rather than focusing on drafting their next quarterback, or solidifying a decrepit offensive line, they chose to instead prop up the skill positions. All in the hope they could squeeze one more decent year out of their Hall of Fame quarterback.
What ensued was a series of questionable selections, with some nice hits sprinkled in. By the time this team is ready to compete at a high level with Kenny Picket at quarterback, Mike Tomlin will have run the wheels off Najee Harris. Kendrick Green sinks this draft grade down, although it’s nit entirely his fault. Dan Moore could ultimately save this class if he were to become a solid starter at left tackle. The Steelers 2021 draft was very average by their standards, with little room for it to improve in the future.