The 24 hours after every NFL Draft concludes is the season for draft grades from league-wide analysts, and none are more influential than those awarded by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., the father of the modern NFL Draft. Kiper released his grades for the 2021 draft Sunday morning, and the results for the Pittsburgh Steelers were far from good.
Kiper ranked the Steelers last in the NFL, awarding them his worst grade of the season, a C+. That placed Pittsburgh in a tie with the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts for the worst performance over the last three days. Kiper’s reasoning for the low mark was this:
“I just don’t see much value in Pittsburgh’s class, and the offensive linemen they did take were picked too high. I haven’t even mentioned that the Steelers still don’t have a plan for life after Ben Roethlisberger. This class gets a grade in the C range.”
Kiper immediately addressed the dilemma Steeler fans faced on night one with the selection of Najee Harris, stating that he loves the player, but is part of the group that hates using Day 1 picks on a running back. Particularly when the Steelers had more pressing needs to address, in his opinion. He concluded by stating, “Harris needs to be a superstar, every-down back for this to work out.”
The second-round selection of Pat Freiermuth was also criticized for Freiermuth’s lack of blocking ability, though Kiper noted his abilities as a receiver and better hands than incumbent Eric Ebron. Kiper summarized Rounds 3-7 by stating that Kendrick Green was not an upgrade at guard or center for the Steelers, and that the only Day 3 selection he approved of was Miami (FL) edge rusher Quincy Roche.
Kiper’s analysis is echoes a common refrain from many draft writers, as you would expect from an analyst with over 40 years of covering the draft. The selection of Harris addressed a need, but left the team scrambling from lower tiers of the draft pool for starters at cornerback and on the line, while running backs with starting upside such as Trey Sermon (Round 3) and Kenneth Gainwell (Round 4) fell to the Steelers’ picks in later rounds.
Similarly, the pick of Freiermuth helps the offense, but led to the team reaching on linemen in Green and Dan Moore Jr. in the next two rounds, and failing to draft a player who is a guaranteed starter at tackle or center, the team’s biggest area of need coming into the draft.
Kiper was a little harsher on Day 3. Pittsburgh did bring in versatile DB Tre Norwood in the seventh along with Roche in the sixth, a pick lauded by most in the draft community. But the reach of Moore Jr. and his teammate Buddy Johnson at linebacker, as well as trading a future fourth round pick to reach on defensive end Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth, were all of questionable value with better players at every position on the board at the time.
Pittsburgh was also the lone franchise to spend a pick on a punter, taking Pressley Harvin III in the seventh. Harvin does come with a cannon for a leg and a favorable chance of unseating Jordan Berry as the team’s starter there.
Draft grades are a very in-the-moment topic. Classes ranked as an A can drop fast, and those at the bottom can skyrocket with one late-rounder outplaying his draft slot. But for now, the Steelers have settled in at the bottom of the league with one of the most questionable hauls from the 2021 NFL Draft, and one of the lowest grades from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. as a result.