The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first round draft pick in 2021, 24th overall, on running back Najee Harris. In doing so, they bucked a trend that had stood nearly a decade. It marks the first time since 2012 that they have actually used a first round draft choice on an offensive player.
The last pick that they have used that high on that side of the ball was on right guard David DeCastro, who is excited about the addition of Harris to their backfield. Starting in 2013 with outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, the Steelers used seven consecutive first round picks on defenders — and then traded their 2020 first round draft pick in order to acquire another.
It is by far the longest streak in team history to so consistently use their most premium resource on one side of the ball. Prior to that, they had a pretty steady modern pattern of alternating between offense and defense roughly every other year.
The Steelers needed it at that time, and it consistently made sense. Inside linebacker Ryan Shazier was the pick in 2014, followed by outside linebacker Bud Dupree in 2015, cornerback Artie Burns in 2016, outside linebacker T.J. Watt in 2017, safety Terrell Edmunds in 2018, and then inside linebacker Devin Bush, whom they traded up for, in 2019. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, a 2018 first-round pick, was acquired in 2019 via trade in exchange for their 2020 first-round pick.
Obviously, not all of those selections worked out. Jones and Burns were essentially busts who didn’t even have their fifth-year options exercised. A couple of others did work out, but those players are no longer with the team. Those being Shazier, who was a Pro Bowler before suffering a career-ending spinal injury, and Dupree, who just departed on a major deal in free agency after six seasons with the club.
Those selections helped build the foundation of the strong defense the Steelers now have, even with some notable departures this offseason. The offense has fallen behind as a result, particularly now with the stalwart offensive line aging.
It was certainly due for the Steelers to add a premium offensive player in the first round this year. We’re sure to see at least one more offensive player added today. They did find two starters on offense in last year’s draft. Wide receiver Chase Claypool was the selection in the second round, and guard Kevin Dotson in the fourth.
Pittsburgh is still on the lookout for offensive line help. I think the odds are very good that they draft a center today following the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey after 11 seasons. A tackle could still be in the cards, but don’t be shocked if they still re-sign Alejandro Villanueva for one more year after the draft.