It’s doubtful the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 draft will be the second coming of the 1974 haul. They didn’t have a spectacular, wow draft. You could argue those in the division, Baltimore and Cleveland, came away with better talent. But the Steelers’ draft was everything they needed.
The focus heading into last Thursday was clear. Improve the offense. Better the running game, make for a more balanced attack, become a more physical bunch. Their first four picks reflected that. RB Najee Harris. TE Pat Freiermuth. OG/C Kendrick Green. OT Dan Moore Jr. Those aren’t the stars of the draft. Pittsburgh didn’t get can-you-believe-he-fell value with any of those picks. All were taken about in-line with where they were projected to go.
However, all accomplished that central mission.
That’s not to say you have to love every single pick. Freiermuth’s ceiling isn’t incredibly high. He isn’t a dynamic receiver. I compared him to Hayden Hurst or Austin Hooper, who are top 10-12 tight ends in football. I’ve been clear about my concerns regarding Green and his lack of size.
But the Steelers had their plan and stayed the course. Harris is your lead back from day one, the most talented player they’ve had in that room since Le’Veon Bell. Freiermuth is the long-term investment at tight end that’s been sorely missed. He has a chance to impact the offense, run and pass, right away. Pittsburgh desperately needed to add a tough center like Green, who is an impressive athlete. And it’s hard to fault the team selecting Moore Jr., a long, athletic, and experienced tackle against quality competition.
Anything else would’ve been a luxury. It would’ve been great to get an uber-athletic linebacker earlier. Or a corner. Or even EDGE, though having quality depth there is vital. But Pittsburgh didn’t focus on the shiny objects. The draft was the only way to upgrade this offense. To make it more balanced, efficient, and complete. Failing to do that would lead to another tough season. A one-dimensional, unsustainable approach and simply putting too much on their QBs shoulders.
They also, smartly, didn’t get too caught up in the future. Had someone like Justin Fields fallen to them at 24, he would’ve been almost impossible to pass on. But they didn’t get swept up in drafting a mid-round QB, a pitfall they’ve dealt with in the past and one that’s rarely produced much in the way of results. Taking Kyle Trask in the second round would’ve been a massive mistake.
If that’s the impact this class can make, especially in the short-term, then it’s well worth it. The front office knew Ben Roethlisberger shouldn’t throw the ball 600+ times again. That doesn’t mean this offense will travel back to 2004 and ask him to sling it 15-20 times per game, but there has to be efficiency. They have to run it when they want to and especially when they need to.
You can’t truly grade draft classes for at least 2-3 years. Some of these players will work out. Probably not all of them. But the Steelers stayed true to their pre-draft intent. Hopefully it makes them a better team in 2021.