The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2021 NFL Draft process with eight selections, and ended up drafting nine players. They then signed eight as college free agents, bringing 17 new rookies in total. But they had already signed about half a dozen first-year players to fill out the roster during the pre-draft process. That was certainly a mindful effort, as general manager Kevin Colbert explained on SiriusXM Radio last week.
When asked about one of their rookie free agents, wide receiver Isaiah McCoy, he said of the MAC product, “McCoy did a nice job in the time that he was allotted. It wasn’t as big a year for that conference, and really, the free agents with the opt-outs, the kids that opted out of the draft and returned to their schools. Usually, you’re dealing with about 800 names, and that was pretty much cut in half.”
“What we tried to do in addition to signing some of those college free agents, we tried to sign more of the one-year-type players that were showing up at Pro Days,” he added, “where they’d usually be your future signings in January. We made a conscious effort to try to sign those players, because we knew the free agent group would be tight, and it really was a tight group.”
This is not all that dissimilar in actuality from the past two offseasons when the Steelers were adding ‘veterans’ of the AAF in 2019 and the XFL a year ago. Some of those players are even still here, most notably J.C. Hassenauer, who kicked off the 2020 season as the ninth lineman and ultimately started four games.
The majority of the Pro Day signings were of players who were actually not picked up last year, though a couple of them actually spent some time on offseason rosters, even if they didn’t make it into training camp as rosters were trimmed.
Pittsburgh is not wholly unfamiliar with even this concept. Will Johnson was a player whom they originally signed in 2012 after a West Virginia Pro Day. He went unsigned in 2011 coming out, during a lockout in which teams were not permitted to sign college free agents until a new CBA was struck in the summer.
Will any of these players stick? That remains to be seen. They did add some depth at need positions, like wide receiver Mathew Sexton and edge rusher Jarvis Miller. You can’t find diamonds in the rough if you don’t look, after all.