The Pittsburgh Steelers are coming off a wild weekend where they added nine new players to their roster via the 2021 NFL Draft. Of course, right after the draft experts and pundits like to head to their keyboards and give out grades for teams’ selections.
I understand why people do draft grades the day after the pick, but it truly depends what they are grading. If they want to criticize the team for taking a player at a specific point, that is fair, but grading the player who has yet to step foot on an NFL field as a professional is a little much.
In fact, most would argue you should wait at least 2-3 years before actually grading players on their performances. You know, giving them a chance to establish themselves before calling them a bust.
With that said, I decided to go through some of the major websites and find the draft grades they gave the Steelers’ 2021 draft class. You will see some experts are nicer than others.
Take a look at the experts and their grades below:
Pittsburgh Steelers: C+
Top needs: RB, OL (2), QB
This one is tough for me because I’m a big fan of Najee Harris (24) but am almost always against taking a running back in the first round. Round 1 is too valuable, and we’ve seen over the past decade that good running backs can be found in any round — or even as undrafted free agents. And when I look at this Pittsburgh roster, I see bigger holes. Offensive line, corner, edge rusher — could the team have gotten better value at another position?
Yes, Steelers fans, you’re probably going to say that they started 11-0 last season. I get it. But they also lost five of their last six games, and they were so up against the salary cap this offseason that they couldn’t make roster improvements. That’s why I have to question this pick, even if I love the player. Harris needs to be a superstar, every-down back for this to work out.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth (55) won’t give them much as a blocker, but he has good hands and can be a red zone threat. Eric Ebron had six drops last season, tied for second most among all tight ends. Kendrick Green (87) has played both guard and center, but I don’t think he’ll be an upgrade at either spot as a rookie. Outside linebacker Quincy Roche (216) is the only Day 3 pick I really like, as the Steelers reached for a few guys by my board.
I just don’t see much value in Pittsburgh’s class, and the offensive linemen they did take were picked too high. I haven’t even mentioned that the Steelers still don’t have a plan for life after Ben Roethlisberger. This class gets a grade in the C range.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A
Day 1 grade: A
Day 2 grade: A
Day 3 grade: B+
Analysis: Harris’ game so resembles that of Le’Veon Bell that no one was surprised the Steelers turned in the virtual card to inject his talents into their offense. His playmaking ability was difficult to pass up, even if it meant ignoring the offensive line. The team eventually addressed their issues up front by selecting Green, an athletic and powerful center, in Round 3. GM Kevin Colbert made the correct decision selecting a top-50 talent like Freiermuth late in Round 2 instead of simply taking a lineman because of need.
Colbert made another smart pick (what’s new?) in Moore, a steady player and underrated athlete who could be the starter they need at tackle. The Steelers doubled up on A&M stars, drafting Johnson with their next pick. He’ll be a starter at inside ‘backer sooner than later, which is huge for a team that endured so many injuries at the spot last season. Pittsburgh went off-script a bit when it traded a 2022 fourth-rounder to Miami to select Loudermilk, who could be a Stephen Tuitt clone. But there were a lot of quality defensive linemen available in that round that they could’ve landed without giving up assets. Roche is a productive edge player who was an excellent value in the sixth round. The team clearly didn’t want Harvin to hit the open market, snagging him with one of the last picks in the draft.
Draft picks: Alabama RB Najee Harris, Penn State TE Pat Freiermuth, Illinois G/C Kendrick Green, Texas A&M OT Dan Moore Jr., Texas A&M ILB Buddy Johnson, Wisconsin DT Isiahh Loudermilk, Miami EDGE Quincy Roche, Oklahoma CB Tre Norwood, Georgia Tech P Pressley Harvin III
GM Kevin Colbert had a solid draft starting with needed offensive skill cogs Harris and Freiermuth to lift up aging Ben Roethlisberger. Moore and Green are potential starters down the line. Roche and Norwood were great values for situational pass defense support late. Harvin can also be a sneaky good weapon for special teams.
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
Pittsburgh Steelers: C
Best pick: Third-round pick Kendrick Green will keep up a long-standing Steelers tradition: Dominant centers. Green played guard in college, but will be an outstanding center.
Worst pick: I don’t like taking running backs in the first round. Najee Harris is a good player, but backs don’t decide titles.
The skinny: They wanted to improve the run game, so they picked a back early. They did balance it out by taking two offensive linemen in the next three rounds, which was smart. Sixth-round pass rusher Quincy Roche is a perfect Steelers pick.
Favorite pick: Green
His Round 3 selection helped, in a strange way, even though the first two picks make more sense. Granted, Harris is our favorite pick of theirs strictly from a talent perspective, but landing a potential starting center near the end of Round 3 at least filled a major vacancy at center (unless you believe in J.C. Hassenauer or B.J. Finney there). Green worked at left guard and center, and was good at both spots in college, a very good run blocker who has developed very quickly for a player who started his college career at defensive tackle. He’s not big or long but has the athletic traits and a wrestler’s mentality inside to be an above-average starter in time.
Least-favorite pick: Freiermuth
With some Day 3 ammo at their disposal, the Steelers could have swung a trade up into the first part of Round 2 to snag one of the higher-graded tackles still on the board. They didn’t, and that means Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner are your starters at left and right tackle, respectively, folks. We don’t love it. Freiermuth has the looks of a very solid tight end — shades of Heath Miller, even. But the missed OT opportunity hurts.
Overall: A pretty blue-collar haul here, led by Harris, a central-casting Steeler. Will the blocking be better up front? We hope so. Only Green figures to be a new starter from last year’s unit, so the Steelers need to hope he’s ready to step in and the other four are prepared to play better. We thought they might grab an edge rusher or a linebacker (higher than Buddy Johnson in Round 5), but for the most part this is a respectable group. Harris could be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but he had great blocking at Bama. We are unsure he’ll be afforded that luxury as a rookie in Pittsburgh. Roche and Norwood, a Swiss Army knife defender, were better than their draft slots. And taking the hulking Pressley — biggest NFL punter ever at 5-foot-11, 263 pounds? — was our favorite punter pick. Massive punters are just a lot of fun.
The Steelers are clearly looking to maximize the last season (or two?) of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, as both Harris and Freiermuth should be able to contribute immediately. But Pittsburgh’s decision to take a running back and tight end with its top two picks seems less than ideal as a long-term strategy for a roster that has several pressing needs. I did like the team’s addition of Roche in the sixth round, though; he could bring value as a rotational player on the defensive line.
What do you think of these grades? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black and gold as they prepare for the release of the 2021 regular season schedule and mandatory minicamp.