Given how significant the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookie class has been so far during the 2021 season, it would be fitting if we use some of the downtime this week during the team’s bye to pause and take stock of where those rookies are right now.
Pittsburgh drafted nine players, with eight of them making the initial roster. Seven of them have been regular contributors for all or most of the season, including numerous starters, so there is a lot to discuss, with four starters on the offensive side of the ball alone.
After investing in the skill positions in the first two rounds with running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth, the Steelers turned to the offensive line, with center Kendrick Green in round three, followed by tackle Dan Moore Jr. in round four. All four are starting.
Their next four picks all went to the defense, starting with inside linebacker Buddy Johnson in the fourth round, followed by defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth, outside linebacker Quincy Roche in the sixth, and defensive back Tre Norwood in the seventh. They rounded things out with punter Pressley Harvin III with a final seventh-round pick.
RB Najee Harris (Round 1)
The rookie running back was anointed the starter pretty much as soon as the Steelers knew that they would have the opportunity to draft him. While it has been tough sledding to get things going on the ground more often than not so far this year, though, Najee Harris has been far from a disappointment.
Through the first six games of his career, Harris is averaging over 100 yards from scrimmage, and doing it both on the ground and through the air. He has a 100-yard game both ways, and he has four touchdowns so far—two rushing and two receiving.
It has been a trial, though, to get the ground game operating well. They have had substantial turnover on the offensive line, which now features two rookies, a second-year player, a veteran who is past his prime, and Chukwuma Okorafor at right tackle, where Zach Banner was projected to start.
A lot of the ‘blame’ for the run game woes can certainly go on the offensive line, without question. Harris has missed some holes that were there, and sometimes makes poor decisions about when to cut and such, but those things happen. And they’ll happen less the more he plays.
He has done a great job, first and foremost, of just being himself, and playing his game. He is a big back, and plays like it. but he is also elusive, and is able to break tackles with both his physicality and his agility, whether it’s a hurdle or a well-timed cut or juke. It’s fair to say he has produced a lot of his own yardage.
There are some issues when it comes to completely rounding out his game. His recognition in blitz protection remains very much a work in progress, and at times he needs to do a better job of making himself available to Ben Roethlisberger as the release valve, but he’s already done plenty of work in the passing game—speaking of which, he can’t drop passes like he was earlier in the year, either.