There is an implicit understanding with the Pittsburgh Steelers that the defense is the priority side of the ball; that history shows teams have had their most success when they are strong on the defensive side of the ball. So when the defense fell apart shortly after the 2010 season, it’s not much of a surprise that they spent so much trying to build it back up.
From 2013 through 2020, for example, they invested every one of their first-round draft picks on a defensive player. That includes their 2020 selection, which they traded away in order to acquire safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“I told Coach [Mike] Tomlin: ‘finally, you draft the first offensive player since I’ve been here’”, Smith-Schuster told CNN in a recent article. “Even signing a tight end in the second round, it’s also super exciting, offensive players, more weapons for us to use and just can’t wait to get back and to dominate the season”.
The Steelers didn’t ignore the offense on Day 2, admittedly; over that same span, they drafted four offensive players in the second round compared to three defensive, and seven offensive players in the third compared to four defensive. But the first-round slant was an enormous one.
Literally, only Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, and David DeCastro were on the Steelers’ roster the last time they used a first-round pick on an offensive player — and DeCastro himself was that player — at least, of course, before the selection of running back Najee Harris this year.
Which wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was very excited about, as well as the subsequent offensive selections. After the first round, they drafted tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second. Linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore Jr. came in the third and fourth, respectively.
Smith-Schuster was actually the beginning of a run at the wide receiver position in the second (or near-second round) for the Steelers, beginning in 2017. A year later, they drafted James Washington, followed by Diontae Johnson (66th overall, the fourth selection of the third round when they traded away their second-round pick to move up for Devin Bush), and most recently, Chase Claypool in 2020.
But this draft marked the first time that the Steelers used two picks during the first two days of the draft on offensive skill-position players since 2017. That year they also used a third-round pick on running back James Conner. The previous instance was in 2013, with running back Le’Veon Bell in the second and wide receiver Markus Wheaton in the third.
If you want to find the last time they used their top two picks on skill positions, you have to go back to Tomlin’s second season in Pittsburgh. He drafted running back Rashard Mendenall in the first round and wide receiver Limas Sweed in the second back in 2008. That’s actually something that Bill Cowher never did even once.