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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: How Was The Roster Built?

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HOW WAS 2021 STEELERS ROSTER BUILT?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about former Steelers around the league in 2021. That got me to thinking, how is the Steelers 2021 roster built? Where did the players come from? The Pittsburgh Steelers has a reputation of building their roster through the draft and developing their own players. Is that still true?

EASIER FOR STEELERS BACK IN THE DAY

Prior to the NFL salary cap and resulting roster turnover in free agency in 1994, it was easier for teams to retain players on their rosters. In fact, the 1979 Pittsburgh Steelers roster includes 46 players who played at least one game in the season the Steelers won their fourth Lombardi Trophy. The Steelers drafted 40 of those 46 players and signed all six of the undrafted free agents out of college. Notably Donnie Shell in 1974. Chuck Noll and the Pittsburgh Steelers had a roster that was 100% homegrown talent. Not a single player drafted or acquired from another NFL team not even undrafted castoffs.

Here is a snapshot of that roster from the Pro Football Reference:

FAST FORWARD TO 2021

Most of yinz weren’t even born in 1979. So, lets fast forward to 2021. I’ve included a the 53-man roster plus the three players eligible for reinstatement from the injured reserve list. First, we have more players to choose from. By the end of the season, it won’t be surprising to see nearly 70 players eventually playing at least one game wearing the Black and Gold in 2021.

On the table that follows, I count 31 players the Steelers drafted plus one they signed as an UDFA. So, just over 57% are homegrown talent with the rest of the roster players drafted or signed by different teams. The last column lists the last NFL team the player was with before coming to the Steelers. The Los Angeles Chargers with four and the Jacksonville Jaguars with three seem to be the favored fishing grounds for the Steelers to look for outside talent. Another interesting factoid is that 14 of the 56 listed Steelers played their college football at four schools. Alabama and Wisconsin with four. Michigan and Notre Dame with three.

2021 STEELERS 53-MAN ROSTER (includes three on IR who can be reinstated)

No. Player  Pos School Drafted by (tm/rnd/yr) Last NFL Team
25 Ahkello Witherspoon CB Colorado San Francisco 49ers / 3rd / 66th pick / 2017 49ers
79 Rashaad Coward DT Old Dominion Chicago Bears / UDFA / 2017 Bears
67 B.J. Finney C Kansas St. Pittsburgh Steelers / UDFA / 2015 Bengals
23 Joe Haden DB Florida Cleveland Browns / 1st / 7th pick / 2010 Browns
72 Zach Banner (IR) OG USC Indianapolis Colts / 4th / 137th pick / 2017 Browns
71 Joe Haeg OT North Dakota St. Indianapolis Colts / 5th / 155th pick / 2016 Buccaneers
51 Trai Turner OG LSU Carolina Panthers / 3rd / 92nd pick / 2014 Chargers
29 Kalen Ballage RB Arizona St. Miami Dolphins / 4th / 131st pick / 2018 Chargers
8 Melvin Ingram DE South Carolina San Diego Chargers / 1st / 18th pick / 2012 Chargers
44 Derek Watt FB Wisconsin San Diego Chargers / 6th / 198th pick / 2016 Chargers
85 Eric Ebron TE North Carolina Detroit Lions / 1st / 10th pick / 2014 Colts
39 Minkah Fitzpatrick FS Alabama Miami Dolphins / 1st / 11th pick / 2018 Dolphins
60 J.C. Hassenauer C Alabama Atlanta Falcons / UDFA / 2018 Falcons
9 Chris Boswell K Rice Houston Texans / UDFA / 2014 Giants
45 Joe Schobert OLB Wisconsin Cleveland Browns / 4th / 99th pick / 2016 Jaguars
94 Tyson Alualu DT California Jacksonville Jaguars / 1st / 10th pick / 2010 Jaguars
46 Christian Kuntz LB Duquesne New England Patriots / UDFA / 2017 Jaguars
35 Arthur Maulet CB Memphis New Orleans Saints / UDFA / 2017 Jets
28 Miles Killebrew SS Southern Utah Detroit Lions / 4th / 111th pick / 2016 Lions
14 Ray-Ray McCloud WR Clemson Buffalo Bills / 6th / 187th pick / 2018 Panthers
95 Chris Wormley DT Michigan Baltimore Ravens / 3rd / 74th pick / 2017 Ravens
3 Dwayne Haskins QB Ohio St. Washington Redskins / 1st / 15th pick / 2019 Redskins
40 Jamir Jones LB Notre Dame Houston Texans / UDFA / 2020 Texans
41 Robert Spillane LB Western Michigan Tennessee Titans / UDFA / 2018 Titans
55 Devin Bush Jr. LB Michigan Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 10th pick / 2019 Steelers
7 Ben Roethlisberger QB Miami (OH) Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 11th pick / 2004 Steelers
22 Najee Harris RB Alabama Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 24th pick / 2021 Steelers
34 Terrell Edmunds S Virginia Tech Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 28th pick / 2018 Steelers
90 T.J. Watt OLB Wisconsin Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 30th pick / 2017 Steelers
97 Cameron Heyward DT Ohio St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 1st / 31st pick / 2011 Steelers
91 Stephon Tuitt (IR) DT Notre Dame Pittsburgh Steelers / 2nd / 46th pick / 2014 Steelers
11 Chase Claypool WR Notre Dame Pittsburgh Steelers / 2nd / 49th pick / 2020 Steelers
88 Pat Freiermuth TE Penn St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 2nd / 55th pick / 2021 Steelers
13 James Washington WR Oklahoma St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 2nd / 60th pick / 2018 Steelers
19 JuJu Smith-Schuster WR USC Pittsburgh Steelers / 2nd / 62nd pick / 2017 Steelers
56 Alex Highsmith DL Charlotte Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 102nd pick / 2020 Steelers
18 Diontae Johnson WR Toledo Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 66th pick / 2019 Steelers
2 Mason Rudolph QB Oklahoma St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 76th pick / 2018 Steelers
31 Justin Layne CB Michigan St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 83rd pick / 2019 Steelers
53 Kendrick Green OL Illinois Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 87th pick / 2021 Steelers
76 Chukwuma Okorafor OT Western Michigan Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 92nd pick / 2018 Steelers
20 Cameron Sutton CB Tennessee Pittsburgh Steelers / 3rd / 94th pick / 2017 Steelers
24 Benny Snell Jr. RB Kentucky Pittsburgh Steelers / 4th / 122nd pick / 2019 Steelers
26 Anthony McFarland Jr. (IR) RB Maryland Pittsburgh Steelers / 4th / 124th pick / 2020 Steelers
65 Dan Moore T Texas A&M Pittsburgh Steelers / 4th / 128th pick / 2021 Steelers
69 Kevin Dotson OL Louisiana Pittsburgh Steelers / 4th / 135th pick / 2020 Steelers
45 Buddy Johnson LB Texas A&M Pittsburgh Steelers / 4th / 140th pick / 2021 Steelers
81 Zach Gentry TE Michigan Pittsburgh Steelers / 5th / 141st pick / 2019 Steelers
27 Marcus Allen S Penn St. Pittsburgh Steelers / 5th / 148th pick / 2018 Steelers
92 Isaiahh Loudermilk DE Wisconsin Pittsburgh Steelers / 5th / 156th pick / 2021 Steelers
96 Isaiah Buggs DL Alabama Pittsburgh Steelers / 6th / 192nd pick / 2019 Steelers
54 Ulysees Gilbert LB Akron Pittsburgh Steelers / 6th / 207th pick / 2019 Steelers
73 Carlos Davis DL Nebraska Pittsburgh Steelers / 7th / 232nd pick / 2020 Steelers
21 Tre Norwood DB Oklahoma Pittsburgh Steelers / 7th / 245th pick / 2021 Steelers
6 Pressley Harvin III P Georgia Tech Pittsburgh Steelers / 7th / 254th pick / 2021 Steelers
42 James Pierre DB Florida Atlantic Pittsburgh Steelers / UDFA / 2020 Steelers

Table Extracted from Pro Football Reference

CONCLUSION

The Steelers organization has adapted as the balance of power between owners and players has shifted towards more equitable distribution of revenue and ability to move between teams.

The Steelers ability to remain competitive year after year is remarkable due to the higher volatility of player turnover. Maintaining a team environment that attracts and retains players is key. Mike Tomlin’s ability to foster good relations as a “player’s coach” while balancing the team culture that the Rooney family embodies is incredibly special that most other NFL teams do not possess.

YOUR MUSIC SELECTION

I always like to offer a music selection. We always want our team to win championships. It’s easy to get frustrated when they don’t. But don’t forget The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand

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