There are certain things we can count on in life. The sun rising in the east. Time constantly moving forward at the same rate. Gravity keeping everything on the planet from floating into space. Pro Football Focus hating everything the Steelers do.
Regardless of how things will turn out for the Pittsburgh Steelers, PFF would find a way to give it as low of score as possible. While sometimes their grading can be useful, other times it just leaves NFL fans scratching their heads. But when it comes to analyzing NFL team’s drafts before players even step onto a field, they have shown a knack for knowing exactly what not to do.
The latest narrative has turned the Steelers “poor draft” into the notion that the Steelers are in full-on rebuild mode.
Steelers headed towards a rebuild? https://t.co/u811K2qanZ— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) May 11, 2021
To save you the click, the final paragraph of the article pretty much sums up everything. (Remember, PFF is an outlet that refuses to draft any running back prior to Round 3.)
There were worse drafts out there than the Steelers’, but the franchise missed an opportunity to make a major impact on the team and complete significant remedial work to propel them back to the top of the NFL. Instead, they papered over cracks in the wall without investigating the cause of those faults and fixing the foundations. With that crumbling foundation supporting this entire endeavor, the Steelers may be heading toward a rebuild sooner rather than later.
First, let’s revisit what Pro Football Focus deems as such a poor draft. When grading the Steelers’ 2021 NFL draft, they, of course, were once again ranked at the very bottom of the AFC North. This time, the Steelers received a grade of “C” with the following explanation:
R1 (24): RB Najee Harris, Alabama
R2 (55): TE Pat Freiermuth, Penn State
R3 (87): C Kendrick Green, Illinois
R4 (128): OT Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M
R4 (140): LB Buddy Johnson, Texas A&M
R5 (156): DI Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin
R6 (216): EDGE Quincy Roche, Miami (FL)
R7 (245): S Tre Norwood, Oklahoma
R7 (254): P Pressley Harvin III, Georgia Tech
Day 1: This pick was not a surprise at all, and it also shouldn’t be shocking to hear that we at PFF wouldn’t pound the table for such a selection; any running back in Round 1 is a reach. Harris isn’t much of a breakaway threat, but he does bring value as a receiver, which is a requisite in today’s NFL. With the help of his massive catch radius, Harris dropped just two passes on 75 catchable targets since 2019.
Day 2: The Steelers snag the 55th-ranked player on the PFF Big Board at Pick 55. Pat Freiermuth is the clear second-best tight end in the class after Kyle Pitts, but this is a weak group of tight ends. He is an all-around player who fits a throwback style of offense that will covet his blocking every bit as much as his receiving skills. The Penn State product was also one of the few tight ends in college football who was the featured receiver in his offense.
Green is one of the most physically gifted guards to come into the NFL in the last few years. He’s fast and physical. One would think he fits more in a zone-based scheme, but he shows some strength that could make it work in a gap and pull system as well. A very good pick for a rebuilding Steelers offensive line.
Day 3: Roche is arguably the best value Pittsburgh has gotten all draft. Roche isn’t an elite athlete on the edge, but he is adept at reading and reacting to the tackles he goes up against, which is one of the reasons why he posted PFF pass-rushing grades above 85.0 in each of the past two seasons. Roche will have an opportunity to carve out a role behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in Pittsburgh.
Draft Grade: C
Of course, since PFF said it, it must be absolutely 100% true. After all, they completely knocked their analysis of the 2020 draft out of the park, didn’t they?
As usual, the Pittsburgh Steelers had the lowest draft grade in the AFC North in 2020 with a “B-”. Their perennial paper champions Cleveland Browns once again scored an A+. As we all know, this isn’t exactly how these drafts played out in 2020. The Steelers, without a first round pick, landed anywhere from 1 to 3 players in the first round in almost every re-draft following the season. It was an excellent “B-” effort.
In January, PFF looked at ranking for 2020 rookie draft classes based on their actual on-field production. We all know that Cleveland had to top the list with their A+ grade as the Steelers slipped into the 20s. Actually, it was nowhere close to this.
The Pittsburgh Steelers ranked 8th in the NFL with their rookie draft class grades, which was quite an amazing feat based on the fact they didn’t have a first round pick and only had one selection in the top 100:
Why they’re ranked here: Despite not having a first-round pick, Pittsburgh still managed to rank in the top 10 in cumulative WAR generated by their rookie class this year. Their first pick, wide receiver Chase Claypool, was actually the seventh most valuable non-first-round rookie in the NFL this season, per PFF WAR.
How their top pick fared: Claypool was a big-play threat for Pittsburgh right out of the gate. He actually saw more deep targets than anyone in the NFL, including plays nullified by penalty. He may have ranked only 11th in total deep receiving yards (347), but Claypool drew two more defensive pass interference calls on deep targets than anyone in the league (seven). The latter is the second most we have recorded in the past decade.
Best value pick: Alex Highsmith (No. 102 overall) was hot and cold this season but managed to finish the regular season with a 72.0 PFF grade. That mark is over 11 grading points higher than Bud Dupree‘s mark in 2020 before his torn ACL. It’s also nearly 30 grading points better than what we saw from Dupree as a rookie in 2015.
And where were PFF golden child Cleveland Browns? 19th.
With the Browns once again scoring an A+ grade for 2021, I’m sure it was just a fluke last season and they will end up tearing up the league on paper yet again. Or maybe, just maybe, we can actually see how things play out once more.
Draft grades are a thing that carries the NFL offseason after their biggest weekend that doesn’t involve hiking a ball. It carries us to training camp in many cases. But as we can see, we can’t really put a lot of stock into any of them as players need to produce on the field.
What is interesting is how the Pittsburgh Steelers continually show that they find a way to draft players who others may not think will work out in the NFL, but the Steelers manage to get production for many of them.
Perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers actually know what they’re doing when it comes to NFL football. Perhaps the Cleveland Browns are simply trying to use the same analytics as PFF in order to build the best team on paper.
As for Pro Football Focus, their track record of getting things right doesn’t even begin to compare to that of the Steelers. Knowing this, it is ultimately up to you who you will trust.