PITTSBURGH- Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has expressed throughout the offseason that the team’s primary goal was to address their subpar running game through 2021 NFL Draft. They made that perfectly clear by selecting running back Najee Harris from the University of Alabama with their first round pick (24th overall).
It was the first time that Pittsburgh took a rusher in the first round since grabbing Rashard Mendenhall back in 2008. Harris is a physical, three down back who fits the mold of the Steelers’ smash mouth running attack of years passed. He amassed 3843 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground in his four seasons with the Crimson Tide. Despite his physical running style, Harris is no slouch in the passing game. He caught 80 passes for Alabama totalling 781 yards and 11 scores. His presence will immediately bolster a backfield that rushed for a league low in yards (1351) and yards per carry (3.6) in 2020.
With their second round pick (55th), the Steelers selected TE Pat Freiermuth from Penn State. This pick was surprising, given that tight end was not high on the team’s list of needs. That said, Freiermuth came into the draft ranked #2 at the position behind Kyle Pitts. At 6’5, 250 pounds, he has drawn comparisons to Rob Gronkowski with his physical play, pass catching ability and an eye for the end zone. His 16 TDs were a school record at tight end for the Nittany Lions.
He’ll need to improve on his run blocking skills, but with the retirement of Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron approaching the end of his contract, Freiermuth could provide the Pittsburgh offense with a dynamic, pass catching threat at the tight end position for years to come.
The Steelers entered the 2021 NFL with a plethora of needs. Most notably on the offensive line with the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey and the losses of Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villaneuva.
They filled the hole at center with the 3rd round selection of OL Kendrick Green from Illinois. Known for playing with a “mean streak”, Green has the versatility to play either center or guard and could take over for the retired Pouncey as the anchor of this offensive line for years to come. New offensive line coach, Adrian Klemm has expressed his desire for a more physical offensive line. Green’s aggressive style and ferocious nature should be a perfect fit in this capacity.
In the 4th round, Pittsburgh continued to add pieces in the blocking game. Dan Moore Jr. from Texas A&M was the Steelers’ next pick and could be an immediate starter at tackle for Klemm’s squad. A three-year starter for the Aggie’s, Moore also lettered in track and ran a 5:21 40-yard dash at Pro Day. While his quickness could use some improvement, his huge, physical presence that should help open up holes for Harris and the revamped running attack.
With their second 4th round pick, the Steelers added Moore’s teammate; LB Buddy Johnson. At just over six-feet tall and 229lbs, Johnson led the Aggies with 86 tackles (8 1/2 for a loss). Steelers’ inside linebackers coach Jerry Oslavsky loves the film on Johnson. Run stopping is the strength of his game and while concerns about his pass coverage led him to fall to the 4th round, Oslavsky has stated he is not worried. Vince Williams should start the year alongside Devin Bush on the interior of the linebacking corps. However, he is getting up there in age which should allow for some chances for Johnson to showcase his talents in 2021.
The Steelers did not originally have a 5th round pick heading into the draft. After trading a 4th rounder in 2022 to the Dolphins, the team added depth to it’s defensive line with the selection of DT Isiah Loudermilk (156th) out of Wisconsin. At 6’6 and 274 pounds, Loudermilk will be a huge presence on the Steelers’ defensive line. In 26 career starts for the Badgers, he racked up 63 tackles, including 11 ½ for a loss while also recording 7 ½ sacks.
In the 6th round, Pittsburgh continued the theme of adding key pieces to one of the NFL’s top rated defenses by grabbing OLB Quincy Roche from the University of Miami. Roche had 45 tackles for the Hurricanes of which 14 ½ were for a loss. He tacked on 4 ½ sacks as a senior along with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Prior to transferring to Miami as a graduate student, Roche played for Temple where he accumulated 137 tackles (39 1/2 for a loss) along with 26 sacks. In 2019, he ranked 5th in the country with 13 sacks.
With the first of two 7th round picks, the Steelers took CB Tre Norwood from Oklahoma. After missing 2019 with a knee injury, he returned to the lineup late in 2020 and had 5 interceptions in 5 starts for the Sooners, returning one of those for a touchdown in the Cotton Bowl.
Pittsburgh wrapped up their 2021 NFL Draft at pick 254 by taking punter Pressley Harvin III from Georgia Tech. The Ray Guy Award winner was the only punter selected in the draft and set a school record in 2020, by leading the nation with a 48-yard average. He was the first punter taken by the Steelers since 2007 and hopes to add a boost to a punting game that has finished near the bottom of NFL in recent years.