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The 2021 NFL Draft looms large, but there’s no reason to worry

The Steelers have found a number of quality players beyond the first round of the NFL draft in recent years.

NFL: APR 25 2019 NFL Draft Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The NFL Draft is basically Christmas in April for NFL fans and pundits. And while some fans fear for the selections from their respective front offices, Steelers’ fans should rest easy knowing Kevin Colbert and company are still around.

Take 2020 for example, the most disorganized draft processes in modern NFL history... for one more cycle, the Steelers entered the long weekend without a pick until midway through the second round. Colbert and co. only came away with Chase Claypool, Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson in the second, third and fourth rounds, respectively.

And 24-year-old back-to-back All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick served as the de facto first rounder, so... yeah.

T.J. Watt at No. 30 in 2017 was one of the best selections of the 2010s and the rare draft day trade for Devin Bush in 2019 has already paid dividends shown from his on-field performance and his injury fallout this season. Terrell Edmunds has turned into a 16-game starter across from Fitzpatrick from the 28th pick, but the jury is out on how he’ll be remembered. And we’d all do well to just forget about Artie Burns in 2016.

Since that 2016 Draft, the Steelers have hit on quite a few mid-round selections. JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round in 2017 and Diontae Johnson in the third round in 2019 were slam dunk selections, but that’s just the standard for the Steelers when it comes to selecting wide receivers.

In 2019, the Steelers hit on possible 2021 Week 1 halfback starter Benny Snell in the fourth round, and uber-talented yet little-used cornerback Justin Layne in the third. In 2018, the best wide receiver on the Steelers’ roster in 2019, James Washington, was selected in the second round and starting tackle Chukwuma Okorafor was selected in the third. In 2017, the draft produced James Conner, the mercurial running back who probably doesn't need much explanation, and Cameron Sutton, the man tabbed to replace Joe Haden at cornerback, in the third round. While Javon Hargrave and Tyler Matakevich have left Pittsburgh, the third and seventh round selections in 2016, it certainly wasn't for a lack of interest.

With a penchant for finding wide receivers and offensive linemen, especially over the last two drafts, the Steelers have navigated recent drafts better than most.

Watt, Claypool, Dotson, Highsmith, Bush and Johnson are strong bets to impact the Steelers for years to come. Edmunds, Okorafor, Sutton, Layne, Washington and Snell are at least expected to impact next season. and the jury is out on whether Smith-Schuster or Conner will play in Pittsburgh or elsewhere next season.

The Steelers have never — and will never — be a team to build through free agency. In the past couple of seasons, the Steelers have made some very shrewd trades that have been extremely successful, but history says that will not be the norm.

The Pittsburgh Steelers build through the draft, always have and always will. With so much undecided and undetermined for next season, there really cannot be a “favorite” for the first round selection — and there shouldn't be for the second or third round picks either.

In 2021, with the 24th pick — the highest naturally acquired pick since the Steelers selected Bud Dupree 22nd in 2015 — the Steelers have a multitude of needs but only so many picks.

After watching Alabama’s Najee Harris dominate college football this season, only to be snubbed of a Heisman Trophy finalist honor, the thought of him in Black and Gold is extreamely tempting. But with so many other pressing needs, drafting a running back so high would probably be a mistake, especially with this offensive line.

My dream first round selection all season had been Florida tight end Kyle Pitts. But with his meteoric rise, there’s no chance he’ll still be around in the mid-20s.

Besides, if I’ve learned anything in my years of watching NFL Drafts, other than trusting in the Steelers’ scouting department to make the best choice, it’s that you can’t come into the draft deadset on any single player. The motto is, and should always be, ‘draft the best player available.’

Depending on how the draft unfolds and what decisions the Steelers/Steelers’ players make between now and April 29, the Steelers’ original big board could and will be changed repeatedly.

The hope is the Steelers draft an impact offensive lineman, running back, cornerback and defensive lineman with a strong developmental quarterback spread somewhere in there. But I’m just saying, it would be fun to see Najee Harris as Steeler next season.

Bring on the draft! What are your early thoughts on the impending Steelers’ draft class?