With the 2022 NFL Draft now just weeks away, it is as fitting a time as any for us to now turn our attentions backward to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class of 2021, looking back on their first year in the league and what their futures look like at this point. The team got an inordinate amount of playing time from their rookie class last season, with almost every draft pick contributing significantly.
In all, the Steelers held nine draft selections, including one in the fifth round after they traded a 2022 fourth-round draft pick for one, so they won’t have one this year. They had at least one selection in every round, with two in the fourth and two in the seventh.
Their first four selections were all on offense, the first time in history they used their first four selections on one side of the ball. Their next four draft picks were all defensive players, but they finished their class with one special-teams selection.
The Steelers’ interest in Alabama running back Najee Harris was the worst-kept secret in the draft, but they had no issues sitting tight with their first-round pick and drafting him. He was not the only running back taken in the first round, as the Jaguars selected one, as well.
While he had tough sledding behind a rough offensive line, Harris finished his rookie season with 1,200 rushing yards and 11 total touchdowns, nine of them rushing, earning Pro Bowl honors as an alternate. He set a franchise rookie record in yards from scrimmage with over 1600, and led the entire NFL in touches.
The Steelers’ second-round draft pick was tight end Pat Freiermuth, who also had a successful rookie season, catching 60 passes for 497 yards and seven touchdowns. Only Harris and Diontae Johnson scored more touchdowns for the team last season. Still, this pick may long be questioned because of the Chiefs’ Creed Humphrey, who was one of the best centers in the league last year as a rookie.
Pittsburgh doubled up on the offensive line in rounds three and four, taking interior lineman Kendrick Green and then tackle Dan Moore Jr. Both started 15-plus games, though only Green was intended to start. Primarily a guard, the team moved him to center, and he struggled significantly during his rookie season.
Moore ended up in the starting lineup at left tackle after Zach Banner had an injury setback. Like Green, he struggled a lot early on, but the final month and a half or so of the regular season showed a generally upward-pointing arrow, the team hoping that he can develop into a long-term option.
With their second pick in the fourth round, they drafted inside linebacker Buddy Johnson, who was a healthy scratch most of the season at a deep position, one of six players there. When he finally had a window opened to see playing time late in the year, he suffered a foot injury.
Wanting to add to the defensive line but possessing no fifth-round pick, the Steelers traded into the round to draft Isaiahh Loudermilk, who fit the profile of a traditional 3-4 end in their system. He showed some intriguing development over the course of the year, though he could be a healthy scratch if Stephon Tuitt returns.
Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick, outside linebacker Quincy Roche, was the only rookie draft pick to not make the team. He was edged out by Jamir Jones, who was released a couple of games into the season. Roche ended up being claimed by the New York Giants and played over 400 defensive snaps with 2.5 sacks and five tackles for loss.
Kicking off the seventh round was defensive back Tre Norwood, who was perhaps the surprise of the class. He opened the season as their starting nickel back, though he settled in as a dime. That is likely what role he’ll play going into year two after the team retained Ahkello Witherspoon in free agency and added Levi Wallace.
The Steelers’ final draft selection was punter Pressley Harvin III, who was given the job over incumbent Jordan Berry. Unfortunately, Harvin struggled significantly through the majority of his rookie season. He played with a heavy heart and saw both his father and grandmother pass away following long battles with illness.
Later this month, the Steelers will have seven draft choices, with none in the fifth and two in the seventh, their fourth-round selection being a compensatory gain for the loss of Bud Dupree. Quarterback is their top need, but they also have significant needs, as of this writing, at safety, wide receiver, and along the offensive line, particularly tackle.