The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: At least four rookies from the 2021 class will be full-time starters for the Steelers at some point during their career.
Explanation: The Steelers drafted nine players over the final weekend of April and into May, which included five picks in the top four rounds. Najee Harris projects as an immediate starter. Third-round pick Kendrick Green will compete at center as the favorite. Beyond that, nothing is guaranteed. In Pat Freiermuth’s case, I would argue that he has to have a bigger role than Eric Ebron to be considered a starter unless the Steelers suddenly run a lot more 12 personnel and he sees at least 50 percent of the team’s snaps. This discussion does include specialists, e.g. Pressley Harvin III.
I think this topic merits optimism. I could see at least six starters emerging from this class, including each of their top five picks and their final pick. Even Tre Norwood has a shot at earning a nickel role down the line.
Najee Harris is a given. As for Freiermuth, Ebron isn’t going to be here much longer, perhaps as early as 2022, and almost surely before the end of the former’s rookie deal. Green doesn’t have much competition, and I think Dan Moore Jr. will eventually win a starting tackle job. Remember, Chukwuma Okorafor is also a free agent after this season.
Then there’s Buddy Johnson, who looks like the next buck after Vince Williams. Robert Spillane could take that spot for a year, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2023. And they already cut Jordan Berry once, so they’ll do it again to give Harvin a chance.
The first weeks following a draft class are the easiest time to be optimistic about their long-term projections, but look at the history. The 2016 class, for example, didn’t turn out to be nearly as good as it looked at first. Out of the 2012 class, only David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum emerged.
Simply put, nobody drafted by the fourth round is ever guaranteed to start at any point. Even a specialist (just ask Colin Holba). Harris is obviously going to get an opportunity, but that’s the only guarantee. Everybody else will have to earn a chance, and we can’t even safely assume Green will beat out B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer to start right away. I think Harris, Green, and Harvin ultimately start, and that’s it. Freiermuth may always be a sidekick if he doesn’t prove himself before Ebron is gone.