The Pittsburgh Steelers got about as many snaps out of their rookie class this past season as did anybody else, what with four full-time starters one offense, one on special teams, and two contributors on defense. It’s been quite a while, I’m sure, since they last asked a rookie class to shoulder such a load.
Of course, playing a lot and playing well don’t always merge into one. While they got strong play from their top two picks—running back Najee Harris, who just made the Pro Bowl at an alternate, and tight end Pat Freiermuth—their two rookie offensive linemen spent most of the season struggling.
Kendrick Green, their third-round pick, was one of the worst centers in the NFL. Left tackle Dan Moore Jr. gradually showed some development late in the season. They also had Pressley Harvin III at punter, who was among the very worst in the NFL, along with two defensive contributors in Tre Norwood and Isaiahh Loudermilk.
For Pro Football Focus, it all rounds out to an average class in terms of year-one production, when compared to the rest of the NFL, anyway. In a recent article ranking each draft class based on the 2021 season, the Steelers’ class ranked 16th, writing:
The Steelers got contributions from their first two selections in Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth, but their offense was still limited by Ben Roethlisberger in the twilight of his career and a struggling offensive line. Rookie offensive linemen Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green earned negative PFF Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which hurt Pittsburgh offensively. The early hits at the skill positions and struggles along the offensive line yielded a middle-of-the-pack result.
They highlighted the top pick for each team, in the Steelers’ case that obviously being Harris, where they note that he played 170 more snaps than any other running back in the league, and also had more touches than anybody.
“Harris’ efficiency numbers in the run game (3.9 yards per carry) weren’t great, but he wasn’t given much of a chance behind Pittsburgh’s young offensive line in the midst of a rebuild”, he piece adds. “His 0.9 rushing yards before contact tied for third-fewest among running backs with at least 100 carries”.
In terms of the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns had the highest-ranked class at five, citing contributions from the likes of Greg Newsome and Anthony Schwartz. The Cincinnati Bengals ranked 23rd, despite having wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase at the top of the class. They didn’t get much else from the class beyond rookie kicker Evan McPherson.
The Baltimore Ravens ranked as having the worst draft class in the division for the 2021 season, finishing at 25. It didn’t help that their top pick, wide receiver Rashod Bateman, battled injuries. Odafe Oweh, their other first-round pick, had some solid numbers, but is still clearly growing.