Welcome to the bye week edition of the 2021 Steelers Rookie Review article. Since the Steelers rookies had no performances this week in need of review, I have decided to shake things up for this week's article. I am giving a letter grade for each rookies performance thus far this season who is still on the roster and contributing.
Grades will be determined by the following parameters: level of contributions vs. incoming expectations due to draft positioning. For example, most first round draft picks are expected to be an early contributor and eventual starter. Therefore a first round selection who happens to be a marginal starter might receive a average letter grade of C, while a late round contributor would obviously receive a higher grade.
Please keep in mind this article is intended to be a fun conversation starter coming off the Steelers bye week. Share your own opinions in the comments section on the grades you feel I got right or wrong. Please be sure to explain the thought process behind your conclusions.
RB Najee Harris
Many armchair draft pundits, myself included, openly questioned the rational behind drafting a first round running back considering that the Steelers offensive line was in complete disarray. Talk about putting the proverbial cart before the horse. In hindsight, the Steelers obviously had a higher draft grade on Harris than they did any of the remaining offensive linemen. The Steelers stuck to their draft board, and for good reason.
Harris was unofficially annointed the starter the moment his name was announced on draft night, only because the Steelers don't hand anybody a starting position. It has to be earned. Harris expected no less, and showed up with a workaholic mindset. To the point that the Steelers coaches had to instruct the young man to go home and get some rest. Nobody is going to expect more from Harris than he demands from himself. A superstar characteristic.
Many have compared Harris to All Pro RB Derrick Henry, but that is an unfair comparison for any RB in NFL history not named Jim Brown. He remains me of a more powerful Edgerrin James. Thus far in his professional career he has been limited as much by the capabilities of his inexperienced offensive line than the effectiveness of the opposition. As the offensive line continues to gel, Harris will continue to grow in his role as the focal point of the offense.
TE Pat Freiermuth
Another selection that created great angst for yours truly and other exasperated Steelers fans, especially considering stud prospect C Creed Humphrey was still available at the time of Freiermuth's selection. Freiermuth was the second highest rated tight end in the draft class by most scouts, and had been given a late first/early second round grade. Although he appeared to be a good value where selected, it was still a shock to many.
Freiermuth has exceeded expectations, as he is already the Steelers TE1 for all intents and purposes. A much more effective blocker than many pre-draft evaluations would have led one to believe, mainly due to his non-stop effort. His renowned intensity and work ethic have been as advertised.
The talented young man catches everything within reach, and arguably has the best hands on the team. It is imperative that Ben Roethlisberger continues to develop the chemistry with Freiermuth necessary to take the Steelers passing attack to the next level. In the mold of the New Age tight ends, ‘Muth’ is a walking mismatch and weapon over the middle and up the seams. Throw him the ball, and he will catch anything in the vicinity.
C Kendrick Green
To be totally honest, this old Steelers fan breathed a huge sigh of relief when the Steelers selected Green in the third round. He was in my Top 3 center prospects, my wishlist if you will. I had him graded that highly because his mobility, athleticism, and nasty demeanor reminded me of Steelers greats at center from yesteryear. I fully realized he would be making a position switch, and that the Steelers needed a guy capable of coming in and competing for the starting spot sooner rather than later, but I have always believed he possesses the capabilities and competitiveness to get the job done.
A starter since Game 1, he has taken his lumps during his on the job training at the highest level. He struggled with missed assignments and to anchor against size early in the season, but has improved dramatically in both regards as the season has progressed. As his knowledge and comfort level grows, so does his confidence. This development has provided the occasional glimpse at his immense potential far more frequently. He is most impressive in the running game, either pulling or leading Harris into the second level.
LT Dan Moore Jr.
I recently stated that Moore is my biggest surprise of the season thus far in my BTSC Bye Week Bonanza. The 2021 NFL Draft class at offensive tackle was abnormally loaded with talent. So much so that Moore lasted until the fourth round. Many scouts surmised that he would have been selected much earlier in a normal draft class at the position. Regardless, his evaluations screamed talented, but not ready for primetime, left tackle prospect. He was a candidate for the swing tackle spot in my early estimation, but nothing more.
He had the fluidity and nimbleness of a LT, but lacked functional strength and physicality. In other words, he lacked optimal intensity. My initial thoughts were that the Steelers already had one of those type tackles on the roster in Chukwuma Okorafor. Then a interesting thing happened in the early stages of training camp, as he was regularly being abused. He started fighting back.
He is still fighting, week in and week out. Still struggling at times, but also showing improvement in the process. Not only has he exceeded all expectations, but he is the Steelers best offensive tackle already.
ILB Buddy Johnson
Johnson has yet to make an impact for the Steelers, which hasn't been much of a surprise. He showed intriguing potential during the preseason, but was considered somewhat of a project coming out. Ironically, he maybe the only true Buck inside linebacker currently on the roster. Think Vince Williams; with better athleticism and speed, therefore potentially better in coverage. This year is basically a redshirt season, unless injuries or subpar play from others deem his usage necessary.
DE Isaiahh Loudermilk
Loudermilk was the only real disappointment for me personally in the Steelers draft class. I have written about the reasoning behind those feelings at length, so I digress. Based on the potential he has displayed thus far, I recognize what intrigued the Steelers enough to trade future draft capital to select him.
He fits the mold of a Steelers 3-4 DEs; legends like Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel, plus current Steelers Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. The length and strength necessary to excel against the running game, and the underrated athleticism needed to disrupt the passing game. Loudermilk is currently a project, needing improved technique to better disengage from blockers and develop some semblance of a pass rush.
In the meantime, he is contributing by spelling the starters for short stretches, and utilizing his extremely large frame to tie up blockers and limit the opposition's running game. If Tuitt is unable to return this season, Loudermilk may be required to be a valuable member of the defensive line rotation. His grade would be higher without the draft capital used to acquire him.
DB Tre Norwood
What's left to be said about Norwood? A absolute steal of a seventh round selection, at a position where the Steelers have notoriously struggled to identify and develop NFL level talent. That narrative may be coming to an end actually. James Pierre seemingly came out of nowhere to make the roster last season, and has become a regular contributor on defense and special teams. Norwood has been even more impactful in his rookie season. Alot of the credit for their success can be traced back to Teryl Austin and Tom Bradley.
Scouts were enamored with Norwood's versatility, instincts, and football IQ during pre-draft evaluations, but openly questioned his physicality and overall athleticism. While he isn't elite in either ability, he has been better than advertised. As so often happens, his evaluations failed to adequately consider where he was in his rehab process following knee surgery. Excellent job by the Steelers coaches and scouting department.
P Pressley Harvin lll
Harvin has been the most difficult rookie for me to accurately grade to be honest. On one hand, he was drafted in the seventh round, and most seventh round selections don't even make the roster. However, his circumstances are far different from your average seventh round pick. He was the only punter drafted in the 2021 NFL Draft, and he was brought in by Danny Smith and the coaching staff to unseat Jordan Berry and take over starting duties.
Therefore I am compelled to grade him based more on those heightened expectations than I would your average seventh rounder. Basically, he has been as advertised. Blessed with a huge leg, he has the ability to achieve both distance and hangtime on many kicks, and has done a solid job with directional kicks and avoiding touchbacks. He has Pro Bowl caliber abilities once he finds the necessary consistency that alludes him on occasion.