2021 Draft Class Review – DE Isaiahh Loudermilk

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.

Isaiahh Loudermilk is probably most frequently viewed as a pleasant surprise, in hindsight. A fifth-round defensive end out of Wisconsin, he was the most unpopular Steelers pick immediately following the 2021 NFL Draft, for multiple reasons.

For starters, the team traded a 2022 fourth-round draft pick in order to acquire a fifth-round pick last year just to be able to draft him. Additionally, most draft analysts profiled him as a seventh-round draft pick or a priority free agent, so it was believed that he was a reach.

Regardless of how or why he was drafted, however, he did play quite a bit during his rookie season, and his play even offered promise. While he shouldn’t be expected to be a starter in the immediate future (though it’s not impossible), he could be a valuable rotational contributor to the defensive front for years to come.

When the team first got him on the field, he kept drawing comparisons to a “young Cameron Heyward”. We heard this from former defensive coordinator Keith Butler. I believe Kevin Colbert or even Mike Tomlin said the same as well—even Heyward noted the comparison, who he told Loudermilk not to try to be him, but rather to be himself.

While he is not the same athlete as Heyward, Loudermilk does possess some similar traits. He has a similar overall physical profile, that of a traditional 3-4 defensive end, and he has shown signs of coachability and an eagerness to learn and work within the framework of the defense.

In all, he played 15 games during his rookie season, starting two, across 288 defensive snaps. He finished with 23 tackles with one sack and three batted passes, which is not a bad start to his career. He also registered three tackles in 21 snaps during the team’s lone postseason game.

Assuming that Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu return healthy in 2022, however, he will find it hard to get on the field unless the team breaks precedent to dress six defensive linemen. Chris Wormley and Montravius Adams would be the top gameday reserves. If Loudermilk can show an ability to play on special teams, that would help them dress him, and six linemen in total.

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