Seems like it went by in the blink of an eye after we talked about it for months, but the 2021 NFL Draft has come and gone. The Pittsburgh Steelers definitely gave us some surprises along the way, and they definitely gave us some names to talk about leading into the the offseason program.
I waited a couple days to put this out as I wanted to digest the draft this year and not give an initial gut reaction that may be more of an emotional reaction. I also like to grade based on who would’ve been available at later picks. No one truly knows who will be available in what rounds, but being able to select players at positions that will be dried up by your later picks is always a plus.
With that said, lets dive into it.
Round 1, #24 Overall – Najee Harris, RB, Alabama: B-
I like Harris. I really do. I think he is going to have a successful career in Pittsburgh and probably make it to a couple Pro Bowls. However, they could’ve found much better value at the position later in the draft and that makes this look not as good. I had Harris with an early 2nd round grade, so taking him at the back end of the first isn’t a bad reach by any means. But they could’ve gotten someone like Michael Carter or Trey Sermon in the 3rd round, Kenneth Gainwell in the 4th, or even Khalil Herbert in the 6th.
I will state again, I like Harris and think he will be a very good running back for the Steelers. However, they likely could’ve gotten a very good talent much later with how the draft went and a lot of people were saying that from the beginning. Since I do like Harris and he should have a good career, I can’t rate this lower than a B-.
Round 2, #55 Overall – Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State: A-
When this selection was made, my first reaction was happy but concerned about value. The Steelers desperately needed to add to their tight end room and this was good value as I expected Freiermuth to be gone by #55. However, I liked a lot of mid round guys that could make an early impact as well.
As it turns out, most of those mid round guys went a lot earlier than I expected and the Steelers would’ve missed out on them. That made this pick look like one of their best in this draft. Freiermuth is a good blocker who can immediately come in and give the Steelers confidence when running two tight end sets. He also gives them a long term solution at the position if they decide not to resign Eric Ebron after this season. Also, you thought the typos were bad with Ben Roethlisberger’s name? This is another doozy.
Round 3, #87 Overall – Kendrick Green, C/OG, Illinois: B
And the Steelers select their center. I had Green rated as the 107th player overall on my big board, so this is decent value since he likely would be gone by their next pick. I also figured most would consider Green a guard, but with the Steelers announcing him as a center, I think that boosts him a bit since he profiles better there from a size perspective.
Green has a mean streak and burst off of the football that the Steelers are definitely looking for. He is also an incredibly explosive athlete testing in the 90th percentile or higher in the majority of the explosive tests. Green has the potential to step in quickly and take over the Steelers vacancy at center. This is a solid pick, even though many wanted some of the higher rated platers in the 2nd round.
Round 4, #128 Overall – Dan Moore Jr., OT, Texas A&M: B
Similarly to the player taken before him, Moore Jr. is an intense blocker in the run game that definitely brings physicality to the gridiron. He started his past three seasons at left tackle and continued to improve each season as he became more experienced. He has held his own against some of the best edge rushers in the SEC. I had Moore rated as my 117th overall player making this good value.
Moore Jr. likely needs a year or two to truly develop into a player a team would feel comfortable starting. He needs to improve his hand usage, footwork, and his leg strength, but those are all things that being with an NFL staff can help with. Moore should be a solid option to be the Steelers 6th offensive lineman and swing tackle this season while he develops.
Round 4, #140 Overall – Buddy Johnson, LB, Texas A&M: C+
Johnson reminds me so much of Vince Williams with the way he plays. He is a downhill, physical, run defender that can make anyone from linemen to power running backs jump back once they’re hit. He is also a much more explosive athlete coming out of college than Williams, as he was one of the best testing off-ball linebackers in this draft class.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he for the most part looks lost in coverage. Right now he doesn’t project as more than a two-down linebacker that can work sideline to sideline with his athleticism. If he can use that athleticism to become a true three down linebacker, this pick could definitely turn around, but right now Johnson hasn’t shown much in that regard. I had Johnson outside my top 150 ranking, but he would’ve likely fell in the 160-180 range making this a little bit of a reach.
Round 5, #156 Overall – Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE, Wisconsin: D-
This pick would likely be in the C+/B- range if the Steelers already had this pick. However, they traded a 2022 4th round pick to pick up this one and draft Loudermilk. Most years that isn’t that bad of a trade and actually pretty common. However, due to the extra year of eligibility in college football and so many more players returning to school, the 2022 NFL Draft class is anticipated to be incredibly deep and one of the best in a while. That means draft capitol next season is going to be extra valuable because teams can likely get immediate impact players even on day 3.
Just to talk about Loudermilk, I like him as a player but he lacks some upside. He has solid size and power you’d like to see at the position, but there is a lack of explosion and burst off the line. He can be a solid block eater early on to provide solid depth early in his career, but he has a far way to go to becoming a starter.
Round 6, #216 Overall – Quincy Roche, OLB, Miami – A+
This is by far my favorite pick in the draft. The Steelers managed to get an OLB who I had ranked as my 95th overall prospect with the 216th pick in the draft. That is insane value and this pick alone is able to bump the draft as a whole. Roche dominated the competition at Temple putting up great sack numbers before transferring to Miami. He proceeded to be very productive there and he is one of the most productive edge rushers in the draft.
While Roche has had a lot of success, there are questions about his upside. He is on the smaller side at 6’3″ and 245lbs, so he is going to struggle with the power of some NFL tackles. He is a solid athlete for his size, but not the elite athlete you would hope from someone on the smaller side. Roche wins by being an elite technician as he is likely the most NFL ready pass rusher in the draft in terms of hand usage and counter moves. That should allow him to give much needed depth to the Steelers early in his career which they desperately need.
Round 7, #245 Overall – Tre Norwood, DB, Oklahoma – B-
Norwood is a prime example of you have to look at what you see on tape and not what you see on paper. On paper you see a player that is small, an average athlete, and missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL. But on tape, you see a natural football player who has a good nose for the football that simply makes plays. He had 5 interceptions last season and could’ve had a couple more if he was there a half step sooner.
The reason I am not super high on this pick is that Norwood is a pure slot corner who is very unlikely to be able to stick outside. Now, the Steelers definitely have a hole in the slot, but what happens if Cameron Sutton struggles on the perimeter moving outside full-time? I would have liked to see the Steelers either grab a corner who could play both inside and outside without questions, or a player that could help their secondary immediately. I am not sure Norwood answers either of those.
Round 7, #254 Overall – Pressley Harvin III, P, Georgia Tech – A
Harvin is a straight UNIT as a punter. He stands in at 5’11” and 255lbs. That is a very filled out kicker. That size gives him an extremely powerful leg that lets him boom some incredible kicks down the field. I normally am not a fan of drafting special teams players when you can find them after the draft, but there were only 5 picks after this one so this is basically a guaranteed UDFA signing.
The 2020 Ray Guy award winner also has a cannon for an arm as he launched a 40-yard pass down the sideline on a fake punt. Danny Smith is definitely getting a punter with a big leg and can possibly open up the playbook.
Undrafted Free Agents: A
Shakur Brown, CB, Michigan State – Brown I thought was going to be an early day 3 pick. He has inside/outside versatility and is a physical player who isn’t afraid to tackle. This signing alone makes this group a good one.
Calvin Bundage, LB, Oklahoma State – A serious back injury forced to to move from a starting inside linebacker to a rotational edge rusher. He is too small currently to stick on the edge, but he was productive in college and could be a useful pass rusher later in his career.
Rico Bussey, WR, Hawaii – Bussey is a very sudden athlete that possesses good foot quickness and some big play ability. Hands and ball skills need some added consistency however.
Mark Gilbert, CB, Duke – Injuries really have derailed Gilbert’s career. He appeared to be a playmaking corner that would be drafted based on his play in 2017. However, that was three years ago and has barely played since due to injuries. If he can regain that form and stay healthy, he could be a steal — but that is a big if.
Isaiah McKoy, WR, Kent State – Pretty much only a deep threat throughout his career, McKoy has the size and speed to be effective, but his lack of versatility will make him a long shot to be successful.
Donovan Stiner, S, Florida – Stiner has experience playing both safety spots, in the slot in a limited capacity, as well as near the line of scrimmage. He also has good size and is a solid athlete that should be able to excel on special teams. His versatility and size profile give him a solid shot of making the team.
Lamont Wade, S, Penn State – Wade’s best position in the pros will be as a core special teams player. He simply lacks the true size and speed to play safety in the NFL, as well as being too small to transition to a box safety role.
Jamar Watson, LB, Kentucky – Watson was very productive as an edge rusher in college and is a high motor player. However, he is small for the position and did not test well. He has a chance to claim the 4th OLB spot on the roster with his motor and ability to play special teams.
As a whole the Steelers undrafted free agent group looks really good. There are some real stars in this group and I think at least one, if not two, will be on the roster Week 1. They focused on grabbing versatile secondary players and edge rushers, two positions they lack depth at and couldn’t get to early in the draft.
Overall Draft Grade: B+
The Steelers 2021 draft class has gotten some up and down reviews from the national media, but I am a fan of it. They had some immediate needs they had to address and they really did that well early in the draft. They found some solid value picks and people who should start immediately. They also found some great value late in the draft and in their undrafted free agent signings.
Let us know what you think about the Steelers 2021 NFL Draft class!