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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: 2021 Draft Rookie Recap

TRACKING 2021 STEELERS DRAFT CLASS

The 2021 Steelers draft class completed their rookie season. Time to see how Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and Kendrick Green stacked up against their draft class contemporaries. I’ll also comment on the rest of the class.

Here is the link to the midseason rookie tale of the tape if you want to compare the statistical change from the season’s midpoint.

All statistics extracted from the Pro Football Reference (PFR) except sacks given up by linemen. Linemen sacks come from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Here is how the Steelers top three 2021 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after one regular season of play:

RUNNING BACK

Name RUSHING RECEIVING   ALL
Name G Snap % ATT Yds Rush/G TGTs REC Yards Y/G TOT YDS TDs
Najee Harris 17 84 307 1200 70.6 94 74 467 27.5 1667 10
Travis Etienne 0 INJURED RESERVE
Javonte Williams 17 51 203 903 53.1 53 43 316 18.6 1219 7
Trey Sermon 9 18 41 167 18.6 4 3 26 2.9 193 1

All statistics pulled from the PFR

Synopsis of each player:

Najee Harris (First/24th overall) Najee Harris named to the Pro Bowl to replace Joe Mixon. As the Steelers primary runner, he gained 1200 rushing yards plus another 467 receiving yards. He tops the small pack of running backs drafted in the first couple rounds. In the NFL, he finished fourth in rushing yards, yards from scrimmage and all-purpose yards. Najee has accomplished this with an offensive line that is still developing. Ben used him as a regular outlet for passes and he lined up wide on some plays. However, he led the league in touches leading to concern that he’s overused. Next year, we will see if the Steelers use another running back to ease his workload. The Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) placed Najee on their 2021 All-Rookie team. Extraordinarily successful first season.

Travis Etienne (First/25th overall) Travis Etienne had foot surgery back in August. We will have to wait until 2022 to see how he stacks up.

Javonte Williams (Second/35th overall) Javonte Williams led Denver Bronco running backs in carries. He split carries with Melvin Gordon but had 551 to Gordon’s 519. The Denver Broncos alternated the tandem on series. Williams is both a rushing and receiving threat catching 43 of 53 targeted passes for 316 receiving yards. He scored four touchdowns rushing and caught three touchdown passes. Williams created six explosive plays for 20 yards or more plus two explosive plays as a receiver. The eight explosive plays compare favorably against the nine by Najee Harris. His longest was 49 yards versus the Steelers. He ran 49 yards to the two-yard line on a third and one play. But flagged for delay of game that pushed the ball to the seven with the Broncos eventually settling for a field goal in the Steelers 27-19 win. PFWA placed Javonte on their 2021 All-Rookie team.

Trey Sermon (Third/88th overall) The San Francisco 49ers are bringing Trey Sermon along slowly giving him limited playing time. He did start two games but listed third at running back on the depth chart. In his two starts, he played over half the snaps rushing for 120 yards on 29 carries. He 49ers shut him down after week 11 and their first two playoff games. Sermon played 11 special team snaps making one tackle in the NFC championship game. Overall, an underwhelming season for a third-round pick. Will see if he picks up the pace in 2022.

Running Back Summary

Najee Harris came off the board first followed immediately by Jacksonville’s selection of Travis Etienne. Denver picked Javonte Williams with pick 35. San Francisco went with Trey Sermon in the third round. Najee Harris the clear leader of this small pack. Williams did match Harris in explosive plays with fewer touches (246 to Najee’s 381). An area that Harris should improve on next season.

TIGHT END

Name G Snap % TGTs RECs Yds Y/C Y/G Catch % TDs
Kyle Pitts 17 74 110 68 1026 15.1 60.4 61.8 1
Pat Freiermuth 16 62 79 60 497 8.3 31.1 75.9 7
Hunter Long 7 19 3 1 8 8.0 1.1 33.3 0
Tommy Tremble 16 48 35 20 180 9.0 11.3 57.1 2
Tre McKitty 11 31 8 6 45 7.5 4.1 75.0 0

All statistics pulled from the PFR

Synopsis of each player:

Pat Freiermuth (Second/55th overall) Freiermuth started nine of 16 games played. Ben Roethlisberger found Freiermuth a reliable target as Freiermuth supplanted Eric Ebron as the number one tight end. Freiermuth led his draft class contemporaries with seven touchdowns and a 75.9% catch rate. 34 of his 60 receptions resulted in first downs. A solid season, but I’d like to see him stretch the field more in 2022 to improve on his yards per catch, increase explosive plays (only two in 2021), and help open the running game.

Kyle Pitts (First/4th overall) Kyle Pitts started all but two games for the Atlanta Falcons this season. He averaged 6-7 targets per game. The rookie Pro Bowler gained more receiving yards than the rest of his draft class contemporaries combined. He had 16 explosive plays averaging 15.1 yards per catch. Pitts had a monster seven catch for 163-yard game in week seven against the Miami Dolphins. The one area Pitts lagged was scoring. He scored just one touchdown in 2021. But the PFWA named him to their 2021 All-Rookie team.

Hunter Long (Third/81st overall) The Dolphins buried Hunter Long as the fourth tight end on their depth chart. Long played seven games with limited offensive snaps and just three targets. He caught one pass for eight yards. His progress stymied by a left leg injury in training camp. He returned to practice but wearing a leg brace. It may take time for him to work into the lineup but may get an opportunity if Dolphins cannot retain free agents Mike Gesicki and Durham Smythe.

Tommy Tremble (Third/83rd overall) Tommy Tremble receiving increased offensive snaps as the season progressed. He started 11 of 16 games played missing one due to Covid. He scored twice. One a seven-yard run in week three. Then caught his first NFL touchdown pass in a 21-18 loss to the Eagles in week five. He received 35 targets catching 20. Only one resulted in an explosive play. The Carolina Panthers may feature him as the starting tight end in 2022.

Tre’ McKitty (Third/97th overall) The Los Angeles Chargers kept Tre’ McKitty inactive for the first six games. Then he started four of the 11 remaining games. In week 16 he caught all three of his targets for 22 yards against the Denver Broncos. If Jared Cook lured away in free agency, McKitty may have a bigger role in 2022 pairing with Donald Parham.

Tight End Summary

Pat Freiermuth was the second tight end selected after Kyle Pitts who was out of reach of the Steelers. Three tight ends selected in the third round to complete this comparable group. Pitts easily tops the rookie tight end list as a fourth overall pick should. Freiermuth locks second on the list. Just where the Steelers drafted him among the 2021 tight end class. Tremble and McKitty showed potential but must wait until 2022 to untap it.

CENTER

Name G GS O/ST Snap % Hold False Start Other Declined or offset Total Penalty Sacks Allowed
Landon Dickerson 14 13 95/16 2 2 1 0 5 2
Josh Myers 6 6 76/0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Creed Humphrey 17 17 99/20 5 0 3 4 4 1
Kendrick Green 15 15 96/0 6 0 3 1 8 3
Robert Hainsey 9 0 5/14 0 0 0 0 0 0
Quinn Meinerz 15 9 66/14 1 1 0 0 2 3
Drew Dalman 17 0 7/14 0 1 0 0 1 0

Statistics pulled from the PFR, but sacks allowed from PFF

Synopsis of each player:

Kendrick Green (Third/87th overall) Kendrick Green played the first 15 games 385 of the Steelers 397 offensive snaps as the Steelers starting center this season. Then he hurt his ankle and did not appear in the final two games nor the playoff. Green susceptible to the bull rush during the season and often ended up on the ground. He committed eight penalties and gave up three sacks in 977 offensive snaps. Highest among this group of rookies. While Green demonstrated athleticism and the ability to reach the next level in blocking, those flashes were too infrequent. At times, Green had trouble getting the snap off on time especially in loud stadiums. Green only played four games at center in college. The Steelers gambled that his athleticism would compensate for his lack of experience at the position. But his inconsistent performance led to a PFF grade of 53.1

Landon Dickerson (Second/32nd overall) Dickerson is a former Rimington Trophy winner as the best center in college football. The Philadelphia Eagles shifted Landon Dickerson to left guard. Jason Kelce remained the starting center in his eleventh year. Dickerson played 95% of the snaps in the 14 games he played. He avoided significant injury which may allay concerns stemming from his college career. Dickerson committed five penalties and allowed two sacks out of 859 offensive snaps. Impressive rookie season. Will the Eagles keep Dickerson at left guard in 2022?

Josh Myers (Second/62nd overall) Josh Myers started the first four games at center playing every single offensive snap. He did not play in week five due to a finger injury. Myers started the week six game against the Bears. But he went down with a knee injury after just four snaps. He came back for the final game of the regular season to start and play half the snaps. He then started in the Packers playoff game playing all 56 offensive snaps as the starting center.

Creed Humphrey (Second/63rd overall) Creed Humphrey started every game as the Kansas City Chiefs center. He played 99% of the snaps in the games he played and every snap in their three playoff games. Although he did not make the Pro Bowl, the Pro Football Writers and PFF named him first team All-Pro. The PFWA also named Humphrey to their 2021 All-Rookie team. He wouldn’t have been available for the Pro Bowl farce game anyway. Humphrey off to an extraordinarily strong start in his NFL career.

Robert Hainsey (Third/95th overall) Robert Hainsey saw action in nine games and two playoff games. He’s listed as a tackle, but Tampa Bay shifted him around to all five offensive line positions in training camp due to his versatility. Born in Pittsburgh, Hainsey played just 31 offensive and 25 special team snaps in 2021. We’ll see if he gets more playing time in 2022.

Quinn Meinerz (Third/98 overall) Quinn Meinerz originally projected to play center after Denver Broncos drafted him. He started at left guard in the Broncos week four game against the Baltimore Ravens due to injuries. In his first start, “Meinerz played exceptionally well, and his physical play style resonated with the Broncos’ offensive line.” Meinerz remained the backup to second year center Lloyd Cushenberry. In week nine, starting guard Graham Glasgow went on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Meinerz finished the game and started the next eight in his place. A raw powerful lineman out of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz showed inconsistency but his talent evident. He committed two penalties and gave up three sacks in 623 offensive snaps. He could be a regular starter at center or guard in 2022.

Drew Dalman (Fourth/114th overall) Currently, Dalman is the Atlanta Falcons back-up center and right guard. He also is part of the field-goal unit. He appeared in all 17 games playing 61 special team snaps. On offense, Dalman played 68 snaps in five games. He didn’t allow a sack but gave up one quarterback hit and committed two penalties. PFF graded him high as a run blocker (92.3) but low in pass blocking (40.9). But a limited sample size. He’s projected to back-up to Matt Hennessy at center and depth at guard in 2022.

Center Summary

The Steelers drafted Kendrick Green in the middle of six players projected to play center. Not a lot of statistics are maintained for offensive linemen. I wish PFR had an advance statistic such as sacks per pass play percentage. Creed Humphrey heads the list. He’s transitioned seamlessly from college to starting NFL center. The Eagles moved Dickerson, the former 2020, Rimington Trophy winner as the nation’s best college center, to guard. Josh Myers starting center until a knee injury. But came back at end of season to start in the season finale and a playoff game. Green was the least experienced center with just four college starts before entering the NFL. In the offseason, Green working out with Maurkice Pouncey. But the question is whether the project to convert him to center is already over and give him an opportunity to play at his natural position as a guard in 2022. Right now, I have him ahead of just Hainsey and Dalman who were both backup linemen.

Day Three Selections

Pittsburgh drafted Texas A & M teammates offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. and ILB Buddy Johnson in the fourth round. Dan Moore started sixteen games plus the playoff at left tackle. He played every snap until suffering a hip injury against the Seahawks and ended up playing over 92.1% of the Steelers total offensive snaps despite missing the season finale. Moore steadily improved but PFF assessed him with seven sacks allowed and five penalties. Buddy Johnson played in just four games mainly on special teams. He played six defensive snaps, his total for the season, against the Minnesota Vikings in week 13 along with 23 special team snaps. He did not play afterwards and recorded just two tackles in 2021. The Steelers placed Johnson on injured reserve January 7, so he may have difficulty earning a roster spot in 2022.

Kevin Colbert surprised many by trading a 2022 draft pick to snag Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth round. Loudermilk played in 15 games including the playoff and started in two. He picked up snaps steadily during the season appearing in 24.7% of the Steelers total defensive snaps. In 288 defensive snaps he recorded 23 tackles with one sack. Plus, he broke up three passes at the line of scrimmage using his long frame. He should be solid rotational defensive lineman in 2022.

Rounds Six and Seven

Pittsburgh picked up Miami linebacker Quincy Roche in the sixth round. But the New York Giants signed him off waivers at season start. In the seventh round, Pittsburgh picked up Oklahoma DB Tre Norwood. Many considered it a steal so late in the draft. Norwood played defensive and special teams snaps in all 17 games and playoff. One of the slot options, Norwood had 38 combined tackles, defended four passes with one interception. Nice find late in the draft.

The Steelers final pick Pressley Harvin III beat out veteran punter Jordan Berry. Harvin showed inconsistency all season. Facing personal tragedy, his father passed away on Christmas morning and Grandmother a few weeks later. The Steelers replaced him with Corliss Waitman in weeks 16 and 17 but brought Harvin back for the season finale in Baltimore. He averaged 49.7 yards a punt in the playoff game. But averaged only 42.6 during the regular season which placed him 33rd in the NFL. Yet, the Steelers committed to Harvin by bringing him back. The PFWA named Harvin to their 2021 All-Rookie team. He’ll face competition in camp and needs to show more consistency to avoid the shanks that drive down his punting average.

 ROOKIE REVIEWS BY MATTHEW MARCZI

Steelers Depot stalwart contributor Matthew Marczi conducts his own end of season “exit meetings” and a “stock watch” to review players performance during the season. I’ve pulled the links together for you to check out more detail on the rookie performances:

RD Name Article
1 Najee Harris Marczi Exit Meeting
2 Pat Freiermuth Marczi Exit Meeting
3 Kendrick Green Marczi Exit Meeting
4 Dan Moore Jr Marczi Exit Meeting
4 Buddy Johnson Marczi Stock Watch
5 Isaiahh Loudermilk Marczi Stock Watch
6 Quincy Roche Marczi Bye Week Review
7 Tre Norwood Marczi Stock Watch
7 Pressley Harvin III Marczi Exit Meeting

 

Conclusion

The Steelers drafted nine players in the 2021 draft. Four starters, two solid rotational players and a punter out of that group. Kendrick Green must show improvement along with Harvin. But Harris, Freiermuth, Moore, Loudermilk, and Norwood should be solid contributors in their roles. This class shows lots of promise after one season of play.

I’ll check back on their progress at midseason and again at the end of 2022 season.

Your Music Selection

I always like to include a bit of music. The 2021 draft class showing promise. Let’s see what’s next for this Steelers draft class in 2022. Here is Promises by Wiz Khalifa.

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