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The Steelers 2021 NFL Draft class grading extravaganza

You want grades on the Steelers 2021 draft class? I got’em.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama Mickey Welsh-USA TODAY Sports

I’m usually not one to jump in on the Internet traffic bonanza known as grading things, but if I don’t do it now, right after the Steelers just selected their entire 2021 NFL Draft class, I’m doing a disservice to the click-bait gods in the sky.

I had so much fun doing this last year, I figured, why not go for those clicks again?

I only have two grades for this process: Jump for Joy and Smashed Remote.

Obviously, a Jump for joy, as in “When they called his name, I was jumping for joy!” is a positive grade (or plus). I can’t really picture grown adults jumping for joy over the thought of a football player getting drafted by their favorite team, but many often describe this as their reaction to it. Therefore, it must happen a lot.

And if a Jump for Joy is a positive grade, that can only mean a Smashed Remote, as in “If they take that guy, I’m going to smash my remote!” is a negative (or minus). It seems counterproductive to smash something like a remote over a draft choice, but I’ve seen enough people break their flat-screen TVs over a missed tackle to know that it probably happens quite a bit.

OK, let’s dive right into the grades, shall we?

First Round (24th, overall), Najee Harris, running back, Alabama

It wasn’t much of a surprise when the Steelers quickly and decisively turned in the card for Harris on Thursday night in Cleveland, Ohio. Obviously, the Steelers, a team that finished last in rushing in 2020, needed to fix their ground game. Would they start with the line, or would they start with the back? It was a decision Steelers fans and media members struggled with for months. It didn’t seem like Pittsburgh’s brass struggled to make the decision, however.

There was the very legit belief that drafting a running back in the first round was a horrible idea. But there was also the sentiment that, if you needed a back, you might as well get the best one when you could, right? The Steelers went with the second option. As a friend said to me the other day, didn’t it make sense to take the best back in a shallow pool of talent, considering tackle was a deeper position?

Not only was Harris productive at Alabama—he was the school’s all-time rushing leader with 3,843 yards—he was a team leader who had a penchant for rallying his teammates for worthy causes both on and off the field.

On the field, Harris was a two-time National Champion (2017 and 2020). He won the Doak Walker Award (2020). He was voted a unanimous All-American (2020).

The tread on Harris’s tires may be worn a bit due to 638 total carries for the Tide. Then again, Anthony McFarland only had 145 rushing attempts at Maryland, so who’s to say if that truly matters until we know that it matters?

As for the off-the-field intangibles, Harris hosted a draft-night pizza party at the homeless shelter where he and his family were forced to stay years earlier while living in Antioch, California. He has already stated he wants to make a difference in the Pittsburgh community—including working with the local food bank. When his flight was canceled right before Alabama’s Pro Day, Harris drove nine hours just to be there...and he didn’t even work out; he just wanted to be around to support his teammates. Damn!

There is the matter of Harris’s connection to soccer star {redacted} which could one day lead to a Smashed Remote or two. But that would just be you. For me, that would lead to a few Jumps for Joy (I like controversy).

Speaking of which, I was a little disappointed in the overall positive reaction to the Harris pick. Sure, the ones that didn’t like it, really didn’t like it. But there wasn’t the uproar I expected there would be no matter who the Steelers ultimately drafted. I was hoping the seemingly never-ending anti-running back tirade by F.S. “Flip” Fisher on BTSC in the hours after the Harris selection would lead to a more heated group discussion thanks to so many anonymous folks turning his posts green (you know who you are). But that never quite got going.

One thing I have already found annoying about Harris is his name, as in “I seem to recall the Steelers getting quite lucky the last time they chose a running back named Harris in the first round.” That’s the kind of smug take that older people usually have. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The people that call radio talk shows and say things like, “Maybe you’ve heard of a little play called the Immaculate Reception” or “I guess you must have watched a different game than me” and are immediately mocked by the millennial host—or Mark Madden. Oh well, I guess you can say that I’m getting old, so I'm allowed to say stuff like that, too. The last time the Steelers drafted a running back named Harris in the first round (Franco) was 1972, the year I was born. Maybe you’ve heard of it. I seem to recall that year working out quite well for Franco and the Steelers.

To summarize, the Steelers needed to improve the ground game and decided to draft the best running back, a player who was productive at a big-time program and is a great dude.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-seven (as in Seventh Heaven).


Second Round (55th, overall), Pat Freiermuth, tight end, Penn State

Admit it, when the Steelers selected Freiermuth instead of Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey in the second round on Friday, you smashed your remote, right? I know I almost did. Freiermuth can play the Y position, as in why a tight end? Why, God, why? The Steelers needed a center, and Humphrey, who was considered too risky to take in the first round, was sitting right there in the second. Three Smashed Remotes. But, let’s be honest, wasn’t the depth at tight end the elephant in the corner of the room nobody wanted to talk about? (No offense to Zach Gentry.) In Freiermuth, the Steelers now have a player who was considered by many to be the second-best tight end in the draft. Two Jumps for Joy. Freiermuth is a more traditional in-line tight end in the mold of a Heath Miller. Another Jump for Joy. Make no mistake, though, Freiermuth is a damn-good weapon who won’t be content with just blocking all day long. In fact, judging by his athleticism, the Steelers would be doing everyone involved a disservice by trying to turn him into the next Mark Bruener. I doubt the Steelers will go back in time and make that same mistake. Two Jumps for Joy.

Unfortunately, we could have a potential diva in the making. According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Freiermuth is a “Two-year team captain who does not lack in self-confidence.” Reading between the lines, that could mean that he’s cocky and/or arrogant. Will Freiermuth be one of those jerk-wad tight ends who conditions his facial hair and has elaborate touchdown celebrations similar to someone whose name shall not be spoken but rhymes with Kelce? Two Smashed Remotes for all the arguments I’m going to have to get into with people who will just want him to “hand the ball to the ref like Heath.” Having said that, the Steelers need that kind of cocky and arrogant tight end to be on their side for a change. Did you know his nickname is “Baby Gronk”? Five Jumps for Joy. Besides that, if he is more cocky than confident, perhaps Freiermuth can get inside Myles Garrett’s head with a series of “Your mama” jokes as he’s busy in-line blocking him. Six Jumps for Joy.

But did you also know Freiermuth is from the New England area and is a huge Patriots fan, hence the name, “Baby Gronk”? I wouldn’t put it past Bill Belichick to trick the Steelers into drafting Freiermuth. Belichick has cheated before. Maybe you’ve heard of a little thing called Spygate? What better way to learn the Steelers playbook than by planting a loyal, young Pats fan right in the middle of their team meetings? Two Smashed Remotes.

There’s also the matter of the youngster’s last name. I mean, there’s no chance in heck that Freiermuth will be spelled right consistently. Freermouth. Freewood. The possibilities are endless. It’s like Rocky’s last name developed an infection. And don’t even get me started on how many times people will mispronounce it—“Friarmouth, or whatever his name is”—because, you know, it’s so damn hard to pronounce a name correctly after you’ve only heard it a zillion times. I still have trouble with the word chair. Two Smashed Remotes.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-seven


Third Round (87th, overall), Kendrick Green, center/guard, Illinois

Green was that selection that had many Steelers fans thinking, “Just how deep is this center class, anyway?" And "What’s that I just stepped in at the bottom of this pool?” I know I was thinking similar things when I first heard this unfamiliar name on Saturday morning. One Smashed Remote.

But it was only a temporary feeling. After I studied Green’s college career and found out how well-thought-of he was at Illinois, I was impressed. Two Jumps for Joy.

For starters, Green is an exceptional athlete who was timed at 4.85 in the 40 at his Pro Day in March. That’s pretty darn fast for someone who is 6’2” and weighs 315 pounds. Two Jumps for Joy. Green is versatile and can play both guard and center. He’s slated to be the Steelers’ center, though; you can take that to the bank.

Below is a quote from new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, courtesy of Steelers.com:

“We love the way that he plays ... in terms of changing our demeanor and the attitude that we want to carry onto the field. He embodies all of that. He has great leadership qualities. He was the alpha in that program. He is just a tremendous player. He can do it all. The pulls, physical in the run game, pass protect. All of those things.”

Again, damn! Two Jumps for Joy.

Physical. Intense. Nasty.

I love it.

Speaking of physical, intense and nasty, did you see how Green celebrated when he got the call from the Steelers on Friday night? I think he was ready to scrimmage right then and there. Two Jumps for Joy. Also, did you see how intensely his family celebrated right along with him? I’ll bet he could get everyone in that living room to scrimmage the Browns’ front seven if he asked them to. Five Jumps for Joy.

I have a pretty good feeling Green will do just fine as the Steelers’ next starting center. Pittsburgh has a rich history at the position: Mike Webster; Dermontti Dawson; Maurkice Pouncey. Maybe you’ve heard of them.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-12


Fourth Round (128th, overall), Dan Moore Jr., tackle, Texas A&M

The Steelers really couldn’t address all of their needs with premium draft choices; if the sentiment was that the tackle class was deep, perhaps they could find a fine prospect in the fourth round. One Jump for Joy. According to the folks at NFL.com, Moore was a great value pick and may have been a second or third-round choice in a year when the position wasn’t so deep. Two Jumps for Joy. And by PFF’s count, Moore allowed two sacks in 327 pass-block snaps in 2020. One Jump for Joy. Unfortunately, I’ve also read that Moore was a reach who could have been taken in the sixth round. Two Smashed Remotes.

Moore appears to be a pure left tackle who, like Green, enjoys blocking for the run. (Is this a theme?) Maybe Klemm can develop Moore like he helped to develop Kevin Dotson, a fellow fourth-round pick, last year. One Final Jump for Joy.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-three


Fourth Round (140th, overall), Buddy Johnson, inside linebacker, Texas A&M

That’s right, the Steelers stayed in Aggie Country to make their second selection in the fourth round.

Johnson was a player I recently “picked” in the sixth round with the help of the Pro Football Network mock draft simulator. Two Smashed Remotes for horrible draft value.

According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Johnson is a “Blue-collar inside linebacker with good size and a forceful demeanor to stake his claim inside the box.” Also, according to his profile, Johnson was a team leader at A&M (speaking of themes). Two Jumps for Joy.

Unfortunately, despite his sub-4.6 speed, Johnson is a liability in pass coverage. One Smashed Remote. But the way Johnson is being described—leader; blue-collar; forceful—he sounds an awful lot like Vince Williams. Two Jumps for Joy even with the familiar inability to cover people. Buddy—real name, Devodrick—got his nickname because his mom thought he looked like the Buddy Lee doll from some blue jeans commercial. That’s nice and all, but I think Johnson may soon be given a new nickname: “Baby Bince.” Three Jumps for Joy.

Speaking of Buddy, I seem to recall the Steelers having some success the last time they had a Buddy on the roster. I’m talking about Alvin “Bud” Dupree. Maybe you’ve heard of him.

Something tells me we’re about to be flooded with many “Why Buddy Johnson could be the perfect complement to Devin Bush” articles.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-four


Fifth Round (156th, overall), Isaiahh Loudermilk, defensive lineman, Wisconsin

The Steelers originally didn’t have a fifth-round pick, but for some reason, they felt it necessary to trade away a 2022 fourth-round choice to Miami to be in a position to nab Loudermilk, a player that many felt could have been had much, much later. NFL.com graded Loudermilk at a 5.55—or just .15 higher than Carlos Davis, last year’s seventh-round pick out of Nebraska. Yes, apparently, the Steelers were all, “We’ll start the bidding at a seven.” The Dolphins were all, “How about a six?” And the Steelers countered with, “Make it a four, and you got yourself a deal!” Five Smashed Remotes.

It’s hard to see what’s so special about Loudermilk, other than a name that will surely make him an early favorite for the Isaac Redman Award. One Tempered Jump for Joy.

I suppose Loudermilk could put himself in the mix for one of the backup spots along the defensive line. Isaiah Buggs, the team’s seventh-round pick from two years ago, and Davis provided unproven depth in 2020. Could Loudermilk possibly do the same or more in 2021? I get the feeling Loudermilk will wind up on the practice squad—a spot befitting his draft grade—and ultimately cause many fans to carry on about that fourth-round pick as if the Steelers signed away their firstborn children. Four Smashed Remotes.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Minus-eight


Sixth Round (216th, overall), Quincy Roche, outside linebacker, Miami

The Steelers certainly entered the 2021 draft in need of some depth at outside linebacker.

Roche is an intriguing prospect who spent his first three years at Temple and was named the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Two Jumps for Joy. Roche transferred to Miami in 2020 and was voted Third-Team All-ACC. One Jump for Joy for being recognized in a much tougher conference. Roche displayed good-to-great pass-rushing ability in college, tallying 26 sacks at Temple and another 4.5 with the Hurricanes. According to Pro Football Focus, Roche had more quarterback pressures (104) than any defensive player in the country the past two years. That’s the kind of advanced stat that makes you wonder if Roche can be that proverbial diamond in the rough. Three Jumps for Joy. At the very least, Roche should become the latest late-round or undrafted outside linebacker who goes nuts in the preseason. Two Jumps for Joy.

It’s paramount that teams develop players that weren’t drafted with premium picks. Maybe Roche can be one of those guys. Nothing to hate about this pick, in my opinion.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-eight


Seventh Round (245th, overall), Tre Norwood, cornerback, Oklahoma

The Steelers drafted a cornerback in the seventh round? He might as well retire, right now. One Smashed Remote. Fortunately for Norwood, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin described him as a “Swiss Army Knife” while announcing the selection, thus distancing his new defensive back from the stigma of being a cornerback drafted by him. One Jump for Joy.

Norwood, who posted five interceptions in 2020, certainly looks the part. But I guess he doesn’t always play the part and struggled to cover receivers in college; in other words, versatility may have to be his bag, baby. Nothing wrong with that. There’s certainly room on the Steelers’ depth chart at safety behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds. And, hey, the world needs special-teamers, right?

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Even


Seventh Round (254th, overall), Pressley Harvin III, punter, Georgia Tech

Step back, you mean to tell me the Steelers drafted a punter? One Smashed Remote. At least it wasn’t in the fourth round. One Jump for Joy.

Harvin was pretty darn good at Georgia Tech, averaging 44.7 yards per punt over four years and winning the coveted (for punters) Ray Guy Award in 2020. Two Jumps for Joy.

Also, step back, Harvin is 260 pounds. I mean, a chubby punter with a strong leg—you gotta love it! Three Jumps for Joy.

It looks like the Steelers—and, most importantly, their fans—will finally be able to rid themselves of Jordan Berry. Two Jumps for Joy. Forget Loudermilk; I think we may have our top Redman Award candidate. One Jump for Joy.

I wouldn’t be so sure of that, though. Berry is Australian, and he always brings the bigger knife to training camp every year to battle younger punters trying to take his job. One Smashed Remote.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-seven