Steelers’ First Round Defensive Streak Finally Comes To An End

All streaks are meant to be broken. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, one came to an end Thursday night. For the first time since 2012, the Steelers took an offensive player in the first round, selecting RB Najee Harris at #24. The past seven first round selections, eight if you want to include Minkah Fitzpatrick, had been on the defensive side of the football. Here’s the list.

2013 — Jarvis Jones/EDGE
2014 — Ryan Shazier/LB
2015 — Bud Dupree/EDGE
2016 — Artie Burns/CB
2017 — TJ Watt/EDGE
2018 — Terrell Edmunds/S
2019 — Devin Bush/LB
2020 — N/A (1st rounder used to acquire S Minkah Fitzpatrick)

In the Mike Tomlin era, Harris is only the fourth draft pick on offense the team has taken in the first round. The others: RB Rashard Mendenhall, C Maurkice Pouncey, and OG David DeCastro.

DeCastro was a unique situation of falling into the Steelers’ laps. It’s doubtful the team thought he would tumble to pick 24, but he did, and the Steelers scooped him up. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that string of defenders. It’s all about need and up until 2019, addressing defense had normally been of greater urgency. But it’s refreshing to see the team invest on the other side of the football.

That was the team’s focus for the first four picks: Offense. For the first time since 1984, the team began a draft with four consecutive players on the offensive side of the football.

As to the streak Pittsburgh broke, it was an all-timer. Nothing even comes close to this run of eight in a row. Since 1960, here are the team’s longest streaks of taking a first-rounder on either side of the football.

2013-2019 (defense) – 7
1965-1968 (offense) – 4
1970-1972 (offense) – 3
1994-1996 (offense) – 3
1998-2000 (offense) – 3
2004-2006 (offense) – 3

Lots of mini-runs on offense. One big run on defense.

A far-too-early look at 2022 potential needs suggests the team could look towards offense again. Quarterback will be a major talking point assuming Ben Roethlisberger retires. Offensive line help could still be required if Chukwuma Okorafor doesn’t play well enough and/or hits free agency. The team will have two expiring contracts at wide receiver in JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington. But that’s a conversation for nine months from now. Plenty can and will change by then.

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