Steelers 2021 Draft Grades: Did they do enough to win the North once again?

Now that the NFL Draft is firmly in the rear-view mirror, plenty of draft analysts and NFL media members have had the opportunity to review and grade what each team came away with. The consensus has been that the Steelers did not do as well as they could have considering who was available at each spot. While I don’t necessarily disagree with that, for the most part they got good value/took a player they believe will fit what they are trying to do both offensively and defensively. Let’s break it down.

(Quick sidenote: literally all, none, or some of these players could be way better or worse than I or anyone currently believes. That’s the beauty of the draft and the sport as a whole. But my grades and opinions are based on what I THINK will happen, and what I thought of the pick in a vacuum. So enjoy and be sure to roast me in the comments if you think I am off on any of these.)

R1.24: Najee Harris, RB Alabama

Harris was my number 1 back in this class, and for good reason. His combination of brute force as a runner and finesse as a pass catcher make him the perfect modern running back. He has more quickness to his game as a runner than most backs his size as well, and despite not being a burner has enough straight-line speed to get chunk yardage once he gets to the second level of the defense. The Steelers clearly understand that their best strategy to complement their dominant defense and aging QB is to recommit to the power run game, and Harris will allow them to do that. Taking a back in the 1st is always hard to swallow in today’s NFL, but it’s hard to argue with the talent he possesses and the need.

Grade: A

R2.55: Pat Freiermuth, TE Penn State

Freiermuth had a late 1st-early 2nd grade for me as the #2 tight end on the board behind Kyle Pitts, so the value here is great. With guys like Creed Humphrey, Brady Christensen, and other offensive line upgrades on the board however, I was surprised by the pick. Eric Ebron certainly isn’t a long-term option, so the need was there. But I believed they would wait to address it later in the draft rather than use a top-60 pick. Still, he is a great player who has the potential to develop into a pro-bowl caliber TE. I think he needs at least a year to develop (as most TE’s do) as a complete player, but he is an excellent run blocker that should be valuable immediately. His potential as a receiver though is what makes him worthy of a pick this high. Just look at this collection of plays from the Big Ten Network for a glimpse of what he can be.

Grade: A-

R3.87: Kendrick Greene, IOL Illinois

Finally, an addition on the offensive line. Greene has position flexibility having played both guard and center at Illinois, but projects as a possible starter at center this season. He is a bit smaller which can cause him to have issues moving bigger defenders in the run game, but he is a fluid athlete who will be great on the move and getting to second-level blocks. While I think this was good value and certainly a need, I was much higher on another lineman taken 11 picks later: Quinn Meinerz. I think his upside is higher and he would be a better fit for what I expect to be a power run game for the Steelers in 2021. Greene still adds much needed talent to the position though, so hard to be too critical of the move.

Grade: B+

R4.128: Dan Moore, OT Texas A&M

Moore started 36 consecutive games at left tackle for the Aggies, so if nothing else you can say he’s durable. The problem I have with this pick is that people whose opinion I trust on offensive line evaluations (namely Brandon Thorn) had several tackles ahead. Two in particular that I would have loved to have were Stone Forsythe and D’Ante Smith, both of whom have much higher upside and could have even pushed for immediate playing time. Still, adding more depth at O-line was a need, just a missed opportunity to add more upside.

Grade: C

R4.140: Buddy Johnson, ILB Texas A&M

Back to the A&M well they go, this time with linebacker Buddy Johnson. I really like this pick, not only because he is good value here as an athletic and aggressive player, but because he was a great leader and took on the role as captain of his defense. He has a long way to go in coverage and understanding how to properly read and react in the run game, but has the physical tools to develop into a starter down the line. It was a bit of a reach, but I can forgive it considering his potential.

Grade: B

R5.156: Isaiahh Loudermilk, IDL Wisconsin

I was tempted to give this pick an A on name alone, but unfortunately Loudermilk’s tape doesn’t back up that grade. He is a solid all-around 3-4 defensive end and definitely a scheme fit for Pittsburgh, but he doesn’t have any elite traits outside of his length. He will get by on work ethic and effort, and he could make the roster as a backup end with potential as a rotation piece down the line. Considering we traded next year’s 4th for this pick, that is far from ideal.

Grade: C-

R6.216: Quincy Roche, EDGE Miami (FLA.)

By far their biggest value pick in my opinion, Roche offers immediate value as a speed rusher on 3rd downs and likely a great special teams player as well. He likely is never going to be a starter due to lack of power and flexibility, but finding a player with his production and polish in the 6th round is a steal. Look for him and Alex Highsmith to share duties as the edge across form T.J this season.

Grade: A

R7.245: Tre Norwood, DB Oklahoma

Norwood offers positional flexibility having played both corner and safety during his college career, which the Steelers clearly valued. However it is hard to justify drafting a defensive back who showed consistent struggles in coverage like Norwood did. He has good ball skills and has the instincts to diagnose the play, but his lack of athleticism will make it harder to translate those traits to the next level. He could make the final 53 due to his versatility, but I wouldn’t be betting on it.

Grade: C

R7.254: Pressley Harvin III, P Georgia Tech

You could honestly just look up his college highlights, not even read anything I have to say and still guess what grade I have for this pick. A 3-time all ACC selection, the 2020 Ray Guy Award winner and an absolute unit at 6’0 255lbs, this an A pick if I have ever seen one. Oh, and he can also throw a beautiful deep ball.

Grade: A+++

Overall Grade: B+

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