Matt Williamson is co-host of the SNR Drive program on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here.
The 2021 NFL Draft is now in the books. After the dust settled and the Steelers sent a fourth round pick from next year's draft to Miami for the 12th pick in the fifth round this year, Pittsburgh ended the three day process by adding nine draftees to their roster. Here is that haul:
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, 24th Pick in Round 1
Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State, 23rd Pick in Round 2
Kendrick Green, OC, Illinois, 24th Pick in Round 3
Dan Moore Jr., OT, Texas A&M, 23rd Pick in Round 4
Buddy Johnson, LB, Texas A&M, 35th Pick in Round 4
Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, Wisconsin, 12th Pick in Round 5
Quincy Roche, OLB, Miami, 32nd Pick in Round 6
Tre Norwood, DB, Oklahoma, 18th Pick in Round 7
Pressley Harvin III, P, Georgia Tech, 27th Pick in Round 7
There are several themes with this draft and those nine players. Let's examine those themes here:
Big schools: Last year, Pittsburgh selected players from Charlotte and Louisiana-Lafayette. In the 2019 draft, the Steelers used picks to acquire young talent from Toledo, Northern Illinois and Akron. The year before they selected Chukwuma Okorafor from Western Michigan. In 2017 the Steelers selected players from Utah and Western Michigan and in 2016 they went to South Carolina State and Houston to acquire talent. This trend continues if we keep going back year after year, but you get the idea. This year was different though. The draft process was obviously different because of COVID protocols, but the Steelers didn't select one player that wasn't from a major college football conference. From the ACC, the Steelers snagged Roche and Harvin. Norwood comes out of the Big 12. From the Big 10, Pittsburgh added Freiermuth, Green and Loudermilk and finally, from the SEC, the Steelers added three of their first five picks in Harris, Moore and Johnson.
Versatility: The ability to do a lot of different things-regardless of what a player's listed position is-is more important in the NFL than ever right now. One trick ponies have a tough time succeeding unless that one trick is really special. The Steelers draft selections obviously show us that Pittsburgh recognizes this. Let's start with Harris. Sure, he is a supremely talented ball carrier, but he is also an excellent and improving receiver that can run routes out of the backfield or detached from the formation. Few running backs his size can say the same thing. As for Freiermuth, few tight ends with his size and physicality lined up detached from the formation as much as this young man. Much of his production came as a slot receiver as Freiermuth was the focal point of Penn State's passing game. Green and Moore will come into the NFL at center and offensive tackle respectively, but both linemen have experience at guard as well which could prove very useful to the Steelers if their line is forced to reshuffle due to injuries or other obstacles. Johnson is a do-it-all second level defender, but also has a nearly perfect profile to become a massive contributor on special teams. Loudermilk profiles as a big defender that can line up anywhere on the defensive interior. Roche will play outside linebacker in Pittsburgh's 3-4 front but was a more traditional defensive end in college. And as for Norwood, special teams will be crucial to his NFL future, but it is still a bit unclear where in the secondary he best fits or if he can do a little bit of everything in that regard.
Tough and aggressive: This draft class has a bit of an old school feel to it. It is pretty clear that the Steelers prioritized adding tough and aggressive football players to their squad no matter what position they were drafting. Harris is a workhorse running back with a finishers mentality and an exceptional ability to find the end zone while demoralizing his opponent. Harris scored 26 rushing touchdowns last year. The Steelers as a team had just 16 in 2020. With the ball in his hands, Freiermuth is about as rugged of a player at his position as you will find at the college level. Green's get off really stands out on film and consistently looks to bury his opponent, even to the echo of the whistle. Aggression is the trait that stands out the most with Johnson-maybe even to a fault at times on the field. And by no means are Moore, Loudermilk, Roche and Norwood lacking in this area.
Potential for early playing time: Harris was obviously drafted to be "The Man" in Pittsburgh's backfield and it would be very surprising if he wasn't given just a massive workload in his rookie season. Freiermuth should slide into the second tight end spot on the Steelers depth chart and this is an offense that should feature double tight end sets a high percentage of the time. Freiermuth is also a very different type of tight end than Eric Ebron and could see quite a few snaps as Pittsburgh's lone tight end on the field in 2021. Green was drafted with the expectations that he will immediately compete for the starting center position or at least get into that mix much sooner than later in his career. Johnson, Roche and Norwood should all see a ton of action on all facets of special teams from the start. Johnson could push Vince Williams for early playing time in different defensive packages while Roche has a great opportunity to quickly establish himself as Pittsburgh's first outside linebacker off the bench in his rookie year. In a similar vein, if things go well for Loudermilk, he could spell Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt as soon as 2021 and if Harvin wins the punting job in camp, he will likely be the only punter on Pittsburgh's roster.