Steelers’ 2021 Draft Class Grades Out As Third-Best In AFC North, According To

Nine draft picks — of which eight made the 53-man roster — and 77 total starts later, the 2021 draft class for the Pittsburgh Steelers looks rather solid on paper, especially at the top.

Though guys like center Kendrick Green and punter Pressley Harvin III certainly had their struggles, running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth and left tackle Dan Moore Jr. certainly carried the torch for this draft class, showing just how strong it could be in a few years as the young players develop into key starters — and in some cases — franchise cornerstones.

Despite the strong rookie season from the 2021 draft class overall,’s Nick Shook graded the Steelers’ draft class as the third-best in the AFC North, tied for last with the Baltimore Ravens. 

Of course, the Cincinnati Bengals — coming off of an appearance in Super Bowl LVI — take the cake with NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase and emerging star kicker Evan McPherson, as Chase broke the league’s record for most receiving yards by a rookie with 1,455, while McPherson became a dominant kicker down the stretch, winning two playoff games for the Bengals with his right leg.

But there’s no rookie class in the AFC North that produced more on the field than the Steelers, especially in terms of playing time.

The Bengals’ rookie draft class of 10 picks started a total of just 44 games. Cleveland’s rookie class of eight draft picks started just 30 games, while Baltimore’s rookie class of eight picks started just 22 games, falling well behind Pittsburgh’s 77.

Granted, playing time doesn’t always equal production, but the Steelers were the only other team to reach the playoffs out of the AFC North, and they did so by sweeping both the Ravens and Browns in the regular season, largely in part due to the production from their rookies.

Here’s what’s Shook had to say about the Steelers’ rookie class grade and placement though.

“Harris became a workhorse, logging over 300 carries and gaining 1,200 yards on his way to a PFWA All-Rookie honor. The fact that he was running behind an inexperienced offensive line likely accounts for his relatively modest per-carry average (3.9 yards) and rushing TD total (seven). Harris also contributed in the passing game (74 receptions, 467 yards, three touchdowns) and will be a key part of Pittsburgh’s offense going forward,” Shook writes. “Freiermuth excelled in his first season, catching 60 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. He’ll be another important part of the Steelers’ offense in the future and has already drawn comparisons to franchise hero Heath Miller. Green switched to center and played in all but two games, working out the kinks typical of a rookie pivot.

“Moore had an up-and-down season, but came on strong late at left tackle and looks to be a solid pick for a Steelers line that was in need of revamping prior to 2021. Johnson was primarily a special-teams player. Loudermilk became an interior rotational player who flashed his potential at times while playing behind entrenched All-Pro Cameron Heyward. Roche was waived at the end of camp and landed with the Giants. Norwood was a seventh-round steal, shining at times and appearing in every game in a very solid first season. Harvin showed off his big leg early in the campaign, but had a tumultuous first season on the field that became even more difficult with the losses of his father and grandmother in late December and early January.”

You’d be hard-pressed to find that type of production from a rookie class right away in the NFL. Sure, a lot of that was out of necessity as the Steelers dealt with a ton of injuries and essentially retooled on the fly in 2021, but the Steelers certainly hit on a number of picks in the 2021 NFL Draft, which is a huge key for Kevin Colbert and Co.

Though the Steelers might have been tough to watch throughout the season, there’s no denying just how good this rookie class was. They should be graded right behind the Bengals, not tied for last in the division.

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