The second day of the 2021 NFL Draft is in the books, and I think we can reasonably say that the Pittsburgh Steelers have selected three players who have a very legitimate shot and a clear path toward becoming a starter at least by the end of their rookie contract.
And all of them come on the offensive side of the ball, where they also found two new offensive starters within their first four selections in wide receiver Chase Claypool and guard Kevin Dotson. This year, they started with running back Najee Harris on Friday, who is already the team’s starter, for all intents and purposes.
The draft’s second day saw the Steelers hit their two other significant needs on Ben Roethlisberger’s side of the ball, that being tight end depth and the center position [insert your complaints about tackle here]. In doing so, it marked the first time since 2016 that the team has used each of their first three selections on the same side of the ball, and the first time for it to occur on offense since 1995.
With the additions of tight end Pat Freiermuth and center Kendrick Green, Mike Tomlin’s newest three offensive players will look to have a similar impact as rookies to the three defensive players who led his 2016 class, when the team drafted cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, safety Sean Davis in the second, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third.
All three of those players emerged as starters in their rookie season. Though as we know, the career paths of the top two choices didn’t develop as projected. In contrast, this year’s Day 2 picks may start in secondary roles before working their way into full-time action.
For Green, he figures to at least be in the competition to be the team’s opening-day starter following Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement, with his competition consisting of B.J. Finney and J.C. Hassenauer. Freiermuth will work with Eric Ebron at tight end in complementary fashion, but obviously will not be the primary target out of the gates.
The last draft class by the Steelers to open with three offensive picks was in 1995. They used their first round selection on tight end Mark Bruener that year, who did have a successful career and is now a scout. Kordell Stewart was drafted in Round 2 and made multiple Pro Bowls. Guard Brendan Stai also emerged as a starter.
While Pittsburgh was able to address three significant needs on offense, there are still holes on the other side of the ball on Day 2, particularly depth at cornerback and on the edge. They lost two players at each position within their top three or four from a year ago, and haven’t made significant additions at either spot.