TRACKING 2021 STEELERS DRAFT CLASS
The 2021 Steelers draft class completed their season. Time to see how Najee Harris, Pat Freiermuth, and Kendrick Green stacked up against their draft class contemporaries. I’ll also comment on the rest of the class.
Here is the link to their rookie year recap if you want to compare the statistical change from last season.
All statistics extracted from the Pro Football Reference (PFR) except sacks given up by linemen. Linemen sacks come from Pro Football Focus (PFF). Here is how the Steelers top three 2021 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after one regular season of play:
All statistics pulled from the PFR.
Synopsis of each player:
Najee Harris (First/24th overall) Najee Harris played in all 34 regular season games the past two seasons. He received less touches in 2022 than his rookie year. But remains effective getting spelled by Jaylen Warren. He gained over 1000 rushing yards for the second time. Plus, he matched his ten touchdowns from 2021 for 20 over two seasons. Najee ran stronger as the season wore on. Against Baltimore in a must-win game in week 17, he gained 111 yards against the Ravens very tough run defense. Najee then caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to notch a come from behind victory in Baltimore. He leads this group in most categories. He did not receive many post-season accolades in 2022 after being on the PFWA All-Rookie team and Pro Bowl alternate. But, if he helps the Steelers reach the playoffs in 2023, fans will be happy.
Travis Etienne (First/25th overall) Travis Etienne produced a strong sophomore season after missing his rookie year with a foot injury. Etienne gained 1441 total yards including six games with over 100 rushing yards. He ranked ninth in the NFL with 1125 rushing yards and a strong 5.1 yards per carry. In the playoffs, Etienne converted a fourth and one with a 25-yard run. That play took Jacksonville into field goal range from the 41-yard line for the game winning field goal to beat the Chargers 31-30. Etienne played well in the loss to the Chiefs, scoring a touchdown to bring the Jaguars within 20-17 of the Kanas City Chiefs. He also gained 19 yards on third and one earlier in the game leading to Jacksonville’s first score.
Etienne played less snaps as the season wore on due to weak pass protection. An area he’ll have to work on for 2023. But overall, he’s positive. In Etienne’s own words, “I was really happy I was healthy this whole season,” Etienne continued, “I just want to put on a little muscle mass, a little more weight, because those guys are really big.”
Javonte Williams (Second/35th overall) Javonte Williams suffered a huge setback in 2022 after a promising rookie season. In 2021, he led Denver Bronco running backs in carries with Melvin Gordon but had 551 to Gordon’s 519. His 1219 total yards and seven touchdowns led to PFWA naming him to the 2021 All-rookie team with Najee Harris. In 2022, Williams started the first four games gaining 280 yards from scrimmage. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and LCL and faces a long rehabilitation. He is working to get his knee ready for the 2023 season.
Trey Sermon (Third/88th overall) Trey Sermon stepped backyards in his second year in the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers waived Sermon at the start of the 2022 season after using him sparingly in his rookie season. The Philadelphia Eagles signed Trey Sermon in September. But Sermon played in just two regular season games. He got just eight offensive snaps with Philadelphia in the regular season. The Eagles carried him as a healthy scratch most of the season and the first playoff game. He is buried in their running back depth chart. Overall, an underwhelming career start for a third-round pick.
Running Back Summary
Last year, after many pundits raised concern about Najee’s workload, I said, “we will see if the Steelers use another running back to ease his workload.” The emergence of Jaylen Warren helped Najee remain effective while getting less touches. A nice one-two running back punch. He may not be a breakaway runner but can batter a team in long offensive drives. Najee remains atop this small pack of running backs. Travis Etienne came back from missing his rookie season for a strong sophomore year including production in the postseason. Javonte Williams recovering from knee surgery. And Trey Sermon lagging far behind. Najee needs to add to his career by contributing to a Steelers postseason run as soon as 2023.
|Name||G||Snaps D/ST||TGTs||RECs||Yds||Y/R||Y/G||Catch %||Drop%||Pts|
All statistics pulled from the PFR.
Synopsis of each player:
Pat Freiermuth (Second/55th overall) Pat Freiermuth played 32 games the past two seasons despite multiple concussions. Freiermuth made himself an available target for both Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett in 2022. He stretched the field a bit. In 2021 he had 60 receptions for 497 yards. This year, 63 receptions for 732 yards. That’s three more receptions with 235 more yards. He leads the group in snaps, targets, completions, catch percentage, and points scored. However, his scoring dipped in 2022 with only two touchdowns compared to seven his rookie year.
Kyle Pitts (First/4th overall) Kyle Pitts was building on his rookie Pro Bowl year when he hurt his knee in week 11. That injury knocked him out for the season. His receptions dropped from 68 in 2021 to 28 in 2022. Likewise, his receiving yards plummeted from 1026 to 356. And he added just two touchdowns giving him three over two seasons. But Pitts continues to lead the group in receiving yards, yards per reception, and receiving yards per game. Recently, Atlanta squashed trade rumors. So, we will see if Pitts can duplicate his rookie season in 2023.
Hunter Long (Third/81st overall) Hunter Long remains buried on the Miami Dolphins depth chart. He’s played just 183 offensive snaps in two seasons and got zero targets in 2022. Long may not get many opportunities in 2023 unless there is turnover in the tight end room. Mike Gesicki has signaled potentially departing Miami.
Tommy Tremble (Third/83rd overall) Tommy Tremble nearly duplicated his rookie year statistics in 2022. He did catch one more touchdown on three fewer targets. His 32 points in two seasons is second among this group. A steady if not prolific contributor. It will be interesting how a new coaching staff and quarterback impacts his output in year three.
Tre’ McKitty (Third/97th overall) In 2022, the Los Angeles Chargers played McKitty in all 17 games compared to just 11 his rookie year. But used primarily as a blocking back. He caught 10 of 18 passes for 72 yards. Less receptions and receiving yards than fellow tight end Donald Parham who got six fewer targets. He had the highest drop percentage of the group including a dropped touchdown pass in a 22-16 loss to the 49ers.
Tight End Summary
Pat Freiermuth supplants Kyle Pitts, the fourth overall pick, as the top tight end in this group. Availability is a key factor in an athlete’s success. Tommy Tremble outranks the three third round players. Last year, I said, “I’d like to see him (Freiermuth) stretch the field more in 2022 to improve on his yards per catch. He’s certainly accomplished that. The one factor Steelers fans must consider is his long-term durability. Hopefully, a change in helmet type will mitigate future head blows.
|Name||G||GS||O/ST Snaps||Hold||False Start||Other||Declined or offset||Total Penalty||Sacks Allowed|
Statistics pulled from the PFR, but sacks allowed from PFF (2021 only)
Synopsis of each player:
Kendrick Green (Third/87th overall) In 2021, Kendrick Green played the first 15 games as the Steelers starting center. Then he hurt his ankle and did not appear in the final two games nor the playoffs. Green susceptible to the bull rush during the season and often ended up on the ground. He committed eight penalties and gave up three sacks in 977 offensive snaps. While Green demonstrated athleticism and the ability to reach the next level in blocking, those flashes were too infrequent. Green competed with Kevin Dotson at left guard in the preseason. But Green did not play a single snap in 2022, a healthy scratch the entire season. Kendrick Green must transform himself in the offseason. Otherwise, his career may be in jeopardy.
Landon Dickerson (Second/32nd overall) Dickerson is a former Rimington Trophy winner as the best center in college football. The Philadelphia Eagles shifted Landon Dickerson to left guard. Jason Kelce remained the starting center in his eleventh year. Dickerson played 95% of the snaps in the 14 games he played his rookie year. In 2022, he started all 17 games playing 93% of the Eagles snaps. An aggressive lineman, he’s drawn 18 flags. But that has not stymied the Eagles offense. Dickerson is on the 2022 Pro Bowl roster. It will be interesting to see if Dickerson ever switches to center once five-time All-Pro Jason Kelce retires or departs to another team. For now, he’s a 2022 Pro Bowl guard.
Josh Myers (Second/62nd overall) Josh Myers started the first four games at center playing every single offensive snap his rookie year. But injuries forced him to miss ten of the remaining games. He then started in the Packers 2021 playoff game playing all 56 offensive snaps as the starting center. In 2022, Myers started all 17 games and did not miss an offensive snap. PFF graded him 60.5 overall. Graded very high in pass protection but low in run blocking. An athletic center, he could be a linchpin if he improves his tun blocking and remains healthy in 2023.
Creed Humphrey (Second/63rd overall) Creed Humphrey started every game as the Kansas City Chiefs center the past two year. He’s played 99% of the snaps in the games he played and every snap in their four playoff games. The Pro Football Writers and PFF named him first team All-Pro in 2021. A PFWA All-Rookie team member in 2021. AP named him second-team All-Pro and elected to 2022 Pro Bowl team. Humphrey said, “It’s very exciting,” on his Pro Bowl nod. But added. “Hopefully we’re in Arizona — instead of Vegas — but it’s definitely a big accomplishment.” Humphrey off to an extraordinarily strong start in his NFL career.
Robert Hainsey (Third/95th overall) Robert Hainsey saw action in nine games and two playoff games his rookie year. Tampa Bay shifted him around to all five offensive line positions in training camp due to his versatility. As a backup, Hainsey played just 31 offensive and 25 special team snaps in 2021. But when Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen was injured on the second day of training camp, Hainsey became the starting center in his second season. He started all 17 games playing 100% of Tampa’s offensive snaps until the final game. PFF graded Hainsey 66.6 PFF overall, with a 72.6 pass and 60.9 run blocking grades. He had just two penalties all year. But he missed the playoff game against Dallas due to a hamstring injury suffered in the season finale.
Quinn Meinerz (Third/98th overall) Quinn Meinerz originally projected to play center after Denver Broncos drafted him. But in 2021 he started at left guard in the Broncos week four game against the Baltimore Ravens due to injuries. Then in week nine, starting guard Graham Glasgow went on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Meinerz finished the game and played right guard in his place. A raw powerful lineman out of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Meinerz showed inconsistency but evident talent. In 2022, he played right guard starting 13 games. He worked out at center early in the season when Backup center Graham Glasgow was injured. According to Meinerz, “I’ve tried to keep up on my center skills, just because it’s always good to have that,” adding, “… I’ve always been an ‘emergency’ type of center.”
Drew Dalman (Fourth/114th overall) Drew Dalman played back-up center and right guard in 2021. He appeared in all 17 games playing 61 special team snaps. From just 68 offensive snaps as a rookie, Dalman emerged as the fulltime starting center. He played 100% of the Atlanta Falcons snaps on offense. Pro Football Focus (PFF) graded him 65.9 overall. With 55.1 pass block and 69.5 run block grades. He helped propel an offensive line PFF ranked 28 in the preseason to number five by season’s end. Officials flagged him eight times, five for holding that were not declined. But overall, Coach Arthur Smith was pleased with his progress.
The Steelers drafted Kendrick Green in the middle of six players projected to play center. Four started at center in 2022 while two started at guard. All six took the sophomore leap in playing ability. Kendrick Green, the only player to regress, falls to the bottom of this group. Creed Humphrey heads the group with guard Landon Dickerson just behind. Meyers, Hainsey, Meinerz, and Dalman all taking advantage of their opportunity to start games. Last year, Maurkice Pouncey worked with Green in the offseason. Maybe David DeCastro should spend some time with Green this offseason. The project to convert Green to center is clearly over. But can he succeed in the NFL at his natural guard position?
Not a lot of statistics are maintained for offensive linemen. I wish the Pro Football Reference had advanced statistics such as sacks and quarterback pressures per pass play percentage.
Day Three Selections
Pittsburgh drafted Texas A & M teammates offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. and ILB Buddy Johnson in the fourth round. Dan Moore started 33 games as left guard the past two seasons. He was an anchor for the five Steelers linemen that started all 17 games together. He’s drawn 14 penalty flags. He’s improved his pass blocking and proven to be durable. Playing nearly every offensive snap for the Steelers. On the other hand, Buddy Johnson played in just four games mainly on special teams his rookie season. The Steelers placed Johnson on injured reserve late in the season. He did not make the Steelers roster in 2022. This past year, he spent time on the 49ers and Houston Texans practice squads. But did not play a snap.
Kevin Colbert surprised many by trading a 2022 draft pick to snag Isaiahh Loudermilk in the fifth round. Loudermilk played in 15 games including the playoff game as a rookie. He picked up snaps steadily during the season appearing in 24.7% of the Steelers total defensive snaps. In 288 defensive snaps he recorded 23 tackles with one sack. Plus, he broke up three passes at the line of scrimmage using his long frame. His playing reduced in 2022 with DeMarvin Leal playing ahead of him. But he played in 11 games starting three. In 2023 he’ll be fighting for a roster spot as a rotational defensive lineman.
Rounds Six and Seven
Pittsburgh picked up Miami linebacker Quincy Roche in the sixth round. But the New York Giants signed him off waivers. There, Roche played 17 games with over 400 defensive snaps mostly in his rookie year. Quincy gets another shot with the Steelers as he signed a futures contract for 2022. In the seventh round, Pittsburgh picked up Oklahoma DB Tre Norwood. Many considered it a steal so late in the draft. Norwood played defensive and special teams snaps in 32 games his first two seasons. One of the slot options, Norwood had 61 combined tackles, defended four passes with one interception. Nice find late in the draft.
The Steelers final pick Pressley Harvin III beat out veteran punter Jordan Berry. He made the PFWA all-rookie team in 2021. Harvin showed inconsistency with short punts on wide open fields. He ranked 28th in punting average in 2022. But improved his consistency in the second half of 2022. He also corralled some wild snaps to save field goal attempts. Hopefully, his third year will be the charm and he put together a solid season punting in 2023.
Recent Depot Articles on the Class of 2021
Here are links to recent Steelers Depot Articles on the Steelers 2022 Draft Class:
|1||Najee Harris||Got Better After Missing Time with Injury||Josh Carney|
|2||Pat Freiermuth||Blocking Always an Evolution of My Game||Josh Carney|
|3||Kendrick Green||Green Wants to be In There||Matthew Marczi|
|4||Dan Moore Jr||Why He’ll Start at LT in 2023||Jonathan Heitritter|
|4||Buddy Johnson||49ers Sign Buddy to Practice Squad||Dave Bryan|
|5||Isaiahh Loudermilk||Games Start by Stopping the Run||AJ Alany|
|6||Quincy Roche||Steelers Sign Quincy Roche||Alex Kozora|
|7||Tre Norwood||Tomlin Says Norwood Unique Communicator||Joe Clark|
|7||Pressley Harvin III||Harvin Stock Up||Matthew Marczi|
The Steelers drafted nine players in the 2021 draft. The draft produced a starting running back, tight end, and left tackle. On defense a rotational lineman and a nickelback that still must prove themselves. And an inconsistent punter. Two players signed with other teams, but one is back. Kendrick Green in danger of the dreaded bust label after missing the entire 2022 season as a healthy scratch. Still a net positive.
I’ll check back on their progress at the end of 2023 season.
Your Music Selection
I always like to include a bit of music. I’m writing this while watching Super Bowl XLIII again. Can some of the 2021 draft class contribute to another Steelers championship run? Here is Can You Do It by The Contours.