With the 156th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Wisconsin defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk. Loudermilk and the Steelers’ other eight picks could be packaged up into one quick, overall grade. But why not take a detailed look at each individual pick from a number of different viewpoints, before determining a final grade for the player, and later on the entire class?
I designed this exercise to look at and give letter grades based on six specific ways to view the pick (listed below), before taking all that analysis and combining it into a final letter grade. Those five viewpoints comprise much of what goes into draft grades consumed by so many every year after the draft.
Team Need: Does the player fill a weaker spot on the roster?
Team Fit: Does this player and his skillset fit what the team likes to do offensively and defensively?
Immediate Contributor: Will the player be able to play a big role as a rookie?
Long-Term Contributor: Will the player be a significant part of the team’s future in some capacity?
Pick Value: Did the team reach on this player? Did they pick up a steal who should have gone earlier?
Other Options: Who were the other players still available at that selection, both overall and at that specific position?
Overall Grade: A final mark to denote whether the selection was an overall positive one, or one better spent elsewhere.
Each factor doesn’t apply evenly to every pick made. For example, teams expect immediate contributions from a first round selection, while a seventh-rounder is fortunate to just make the roster.
Some factors do, though. Whether picked first overall or 259th, there will always be other options on the board to compare the player to. Steals and reaches can come from any place in the draft.
Round 5, Pick 12: Isaiahh Loudermilk, DL, Wisconsin
TEAM NEED: D
If there was a spot on defense where the Pittsburgh Steelers were secure entering the draft, it was along the line. The trio of Stephon Tuitt, Tyson Alualu, and Cameron Heyward is one of the best and most productive in the NFL. All are under contract for a season following this one, barring a surprise release. Even beyond the locked-in starters, Pittsburgh is comfortable. Carlos Davis and Isaiah Buggs are promising late-round picks from recent drafts. The Steelers just gave Chris Wormley a two-year contract. Henry Mondeaux may have forced the team to keep seven linemen with his play on special teams. The Steelers were stacked three-deep on the depth chart at every spot.
TEAM FIT: A-
Loudermilk’s size is imposing, and even missing some weight dropped during the pre-draft process (Pittsburgh wants him to add it back), he has a similar build to Heyward. Watching his Wisconsin film, the way he tries to force his way into gaps and disrupt plays is also similar to what Heyward the Steelers’ other linemen like to do. His similarities to Heyward in size and play style are a main driver of this grade. Coming from Wisconsin playing a 3-4, Loudermilk won’t need much adjustment lining up on the inside or the outside of the line, because of the similarities of what the Badgers and Steelers do on defense. As far as size/scheme fits, Loudermilk is one of the best matches for the Steelers throughout their entire class.
IMMEDIATE CONTRIBUTOR: D
Buggs, Wormley, Davis, and Mondeaux all played between just 50-150 snaps on defense last season behind Tuitt, Alualu, and Heyward. Mondeaux is the only one who saw more than 23 special teams snaps, and he would likely take up all of them again if he makes the team again this season. Unless Pittsburgh specifically prioritizes getting Loudermilk on the field or he has the type of camp that pushes him to the top of a deep position group, he is going to be part of the shuffle with three of four other players for limited backup snaps. Even trading a fourth round pick for him, Loudermilk is the first 2021 pick that doesn’t seem like a lock to make the roster given the depth at the position.
LONG-TERM CONTRIBUTOR: C
This is very much a projection, but a number of factors indicate Loudermilk could be the name out of the depth along the line that sticks and is able to contribute for a few seasons. His similarity to current Steeler linemen, Heyward specifically. His college scheme from Wisconsin, and versatility to play multiple spots along the line. The fourth round pick traded to acquire him. His youth in league-years, and that Pittsburgh is just starting to develop him, as compared to players like Wormley and Buggs who they have already had time to work with.
Like much of his competition, I think Loudermilk’s ceiling is as one of the main backups to Tuitt, Heyward, Alualu, and whomever Pittsburgh brings in to replace them when they leave or retire. Loudermilk’s versatility and the faith Pittsburgh had to trade into the fifth round to get him indicate that the team likes him. I think he gets a chance to see the field, even in limited reps, sometime during his rookie deal. If he can be a backup for a couple years, that returns some value.
PICK VALUE: C-
This pick was a reach. Loudermilk was a projected priority undrafted free agent who was a round away from even being on the radar. Taking him in the fifth round was poor value, and it only gets worse when you consider that Pittsburgh traded a fourth round pick in next year’s class to get into the fifth this year to make the selection. The lone factor saving this grade is that, as many have mentioned, there was little depth remaining to this class along the defensive line. Edge rushers remained, as did some who are purely defensive/nose tackles. Players able to line up on the inside and outside were almost gone entirely. But even given that fact, it doesn’t change that this was a pick better made (or traded for) later.
OTHER OPTIONS: F
Day 3 should be almost entirely about best player available, not about having every pick fill an absolute team need. But this selection doesn’t work for BPA or need. In terms of need and who could contribute to the Steelers, Shaun Wade (CB), Jamar Johnson (S), Nate Hobbs (CB), Jason Pinnock (CB), and Depot favorite Avery Williams (CB) remained as secondary prospects. Tommy Doyle and Deonte Brown could have been further re-stocking of a weakened offensive line.
Looking more at BPA, most positions had someone left with some major upside for a Day 3 pick. Along the D-Line specifically, Daviyon Nixon, Tedarrell Slaton, Marlon Tuipulotu, and Tarron Jackson were still around when the pick was made. A deep receiver class had plenty of options left led by Cornell Powell, Frank Darby, and Shi Smith.
OVERALL GRADE: D+
When you spend a fourth round pick, by trade or actually taking a player in the round, and that pick isn’t a lock to make the roster, it’s not a great pick. Pittsburgh had better options on the board and other areas to focus on rather than adding to a loaded defensive line.
The Steelers could be entirely correct — this was a weaker class for players like Loudermilk, who were all but gone by this point in the draft. Perhaps Pittsburgh jumped a team planning to take him a short bit later. He fits so well with the team and has enough similarity to Cameron Heyward that it would not be a major surprise to see him on the roster four years from now, or even filling the role as the primary backup at every position along the line. But for now, it’s a trade worth being questioned.