Steelers 2021 Rookie Class Ranked 12th Best

Few teams counted on its rookie class the way the Pittsburgh Steelers did in 2021. Their top four picks, Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, Dan Moore Jr., and Kendrick Green were Week 1 starters. While the Steelers’ rookies went through predictable struggles, put them just outside the top ten among the best rookie classes this past season.

Nick Shook ranked Pittsburgh’s class 12th overall, writing about Day One pick Najee Harris:

“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.”

Harris became a volume producer rather than an efficient one, something largely at the fault of a new and often poor offensive line blocking for him. But Harris showed remarkable durability, logging more snaps than any other running back in football. He proved to be a three-down back able to run, catch, and his pass protection greatly improved as the year went along. His protection performance against the Detroit Lions is one of the more impressive showings you’ll see from a running back.

While the value of taking a running back will endlessly be debated, there’s little argument over Harris’ evaluation and talent. He’ll be the starter in Pittsburgh for at least the next several seasons.

Shook similarly praised second round pick Pat Freiermuth.

“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. 

Freiermuth had arguably the best rookie season by a Steelers’ tight end in team history and stepped up once Eric Ebron was lost for the year due to a knee injury. Freiermuth’s sticky hands were consistently on display, and he became a favorite target for QB Ben Roethlisberger. We’ll have a full scouting report on Freiermuth tomorrow morning.

Shook moved on to recap the two offensive lineman the team selected, third-round pick Kendrick Green and fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr.

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.”

Green struggled making the switch inside and was overwhelmed by bigger and strong defensive tackles. His future with the team is currently unclear. Moore had a tougher start to his rookie season, but as Shook notes, played well the final six weeks and should be a starter in 2022.

Here’s how he wrapped up the rest of the draft.

“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.”

An accurate assessment all around. Loudermilk and Norwood look like impressive value picks, though the team did trade a 2022 fourth-round pick to acquire Loudermilk. The only draft pick who did not log snaps for the Steelers was Roche, poached off waivers by the Giants. He ended up playing 400 snaps for them, meaning every single rookie the Steelers drafted saw the field somewhere in 2021.

While the Steelers’ class is far from perfect, it’s a solid set of returns in a draft process that fails roughly 50% of the time. They’re already hit on Harris and Freiermuth, Moore looks promising, and Day 3 selections like Loudermilk and Norwood are already paying off. Not every pick is perfect, and Green looks like a misevaluation, but it’s a solid class overall.

The Kansas City Chiefs were ranked the best draft class thanks to selections like ILB Nick Bolton, C Creed Humphrey, and OG Trey Smith. The Seattle Seahawks came in last in part due to having just three draft picks and the lack of production they got from their selections.

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