PITTSBURGH -- The excitement is over, but the Pittsburgh Steelers' offseason is just getting rolling. As the 2021 NFL Draft closes, nine new members of the black and gold head to the City of Champions to begin their pro careers.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert highlighted the running game, defensive depth and best fit the Steelers pre-draft press conference. At the time, it felt as if they were handing you a crystal ball to look at how and when they'll address each concern.
That's not how it panned out.
In three days, the Steelers walked away feeling like they were a better football team than they were Wednesday. On the outside, it appears they are, looking at these five thoughts as the key points for why Pittsburgh's 2021 NFL Draft was a success.
Running Game - Fixed
The Steelers did it their way, but they certainly fixed the running game (or it appears they did) during the 2021 NFL Draft.
Najee Harris is an obvious win for a team who's lacked a franchise running back. The Alabama star brings 30 senior-year touchdowns, a Doak Walker Award, Unanimous All-American and two National Championships into the NFL and fits perfectly in what the Steelers hope to do with their backfield.
"Najee has the size, he has the speed, he has the athleticism. He has the run skills to run inside and outside," Colbert said following the pick. "Also, he can also play in the passing game as a receiver as a blocker. He's a three-down NFL back."
Harris says he's both a running back and a wide receiver, and could/should be used as both in Pittsburgh.
On top of a new runner, the Steelers drafted a big-bodied tight end in Pat Freiermuth and two physical offensive linemen in Kendrick Green and Dan Moore.
"We love the way that he plays in terms of what we have been talking about and in terms of changing our demeanor," offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said on Green. "Just the type of attitude that we want to carry onto the field, he embodies all of that."
Now, it's time to let Matt Canada implement a newer scheme and give your new running back the football.
Steelers Approach Was' Nasty' Football Players
The entire draft, you kept hearing coaches mention how "mean" and "nasty" their new pick was. It started with Freiermuth being an "old school style" tight end and exploded with Green and Moore.
And didn't end there.
"Most definitely," fourth-round pick Buddy Johnson answered when asked if he fit the aggressive football player motto. "The A&M program, one of our pillars is about toughness, pride, and grit. That's the culture we're building around. So, I feel confident and I'm ready to take it to the Steelers and add on what I can by bringing my one percent."
Maybe the Steelers' most intriguing pick in 2020 was offensive lineman Kevin Dotson. Why? Because he didn't care about much else other than being a physical football player - and the Steelers, and their fans, love that.
Players like Green, Moore and Johnson are in great positions to learn from those already in Pittsburgh that fit that mold. Dotson, David DeCastro and Vince Williams are the perfect educators on "mean football."
"One of the things they do at Stanford is called they are building a bully. When Dave [DeCastro] was playing there and a couple years after that, it was one of the most dominant run games in terms of offensive linemen going into the league and running backs and things like that," Klemm said. "So, he has it in him, and he's shown that. He's been one of the most dominant players in the league when he's healthy, and those guys will follow his lead."
"If you saw Vince [Williams]' offseason regiment, you'd say to yourself, 'oh, I'm not surprised that Vince is an eight-year pro and has so many sacks and so many interceptions. Because, in the offseason, he's all professional business ... To bring Buddy Johnson in, who's another guy that we think fits that mold, is a perfect situation for me."
Welcome to Steelers football.
Versatility Was a Priority
The Steelers needed depth everywhere, and it got. Every position they drafted met that standard. From Harris being a self-proclaimed wide receiver to both offensive linemen having experience in multiple positions and late-round picks on defense moving across the defensive line, each and every pick can contribute in multiple roles.
"Versatility helps them and it helps us," Tomlin said. "When you're a young guy trying to carve out a niche for yourself, versatility aids you in doing so. It also aids us in making decisions and finding work for them, so versatility is an asset that we're really excited about. It helps all parties involved."
That strategy was emphasized with "Swiss army knife" Tre Norwood, who was selected in the seventh round. The Oklahoma defensive back has played all over the defensive backfield and believes he can fill any role for the Steelers - although pinned slot corner as his primary position.
It goes deeper than different positions too. Freiermuth can both catch and block. Buddy Johnson is a run stuffer who has pass coverage athleticism. And heck, even the Steelers' seventh-round punter, Pressley Harvin III, looks like he could do some damage as a tackler.
All nine of the Steelers' selections have the potential to impact this team in a number of roles. And for a team that had more holes than draft picks heading into Thursday night, it was the perfect outcome.
'Best Player Available' Controlled the Pick
The Steelers had more of a pressing need at cornerback than they did on the defensive line or linebacker, but they decided to wait on the secondary. Once names like Quincy Roche and Isaiah Loudermilk were presented to them, they had to take their chances on bigger names over higher need.
"What we did was took the best athlete available," defensive coordinator Keith Butler said. "What you've got to do is try to get the best guy that you can get regardless of position. There was position needs that we did take care of but it was because we had guys rated higher at that position."
It was the same on offense. The Steelers knew they wanted Harris from the jump. He was one of eight players the Steelers felt comfortable taking with the 24th pick, and if he was there, they weren't moving.
Pat Freiermuth presented the same concept. Once tight ends started to fall, the Steelers knew they had a chance at a player with much higher potential than the 55th pick. Fortunately for them, the Penn State star also helps fix the run. Otherwise, the concern at the time would be, "how are you fixing run blocking?"
The Steelers knew they needed quality over quantity in this draft and they set out to achieve that. All nine of their draft picks have the potential to at least see playing time in 2021, which comes with drafting based on potential, not on need.
Best Pick of the Steelers Draft: Quincy Roche
Roche was a steal for the Steelers in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. The Steelers had him graded as a late-third round, early-fourth round pick, but the edge rusher fell to 216th pick.
"This kid is really good at rushing the passer," Butler said. "He does a good job of what we call long-arming people. Pushing people past the quarterback, coming underneath and making the play. Stuff like that. He does a great job of that and that shows up."
Roche played defensive end in college but will step into an outside linebacker role alongside T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Like Highsmith and many others, the Steelers will look to develop Roche into a true edge rusher, where he believes he has the ability to succeed.
"I feel like I have displayed the ability to play in space on film," Roche said. "I have been asked to do a lot over my time at Temple and Miami. I have some improvement, I have some work to do, but I am 100% confident in my ability to play linebacker.
"My goal every time I step on the field is to be disruptive. Whatever the case may be. My goal when I step on the field every time is to just be disruptive."
In three years at Temple and one at Miami, Roche gathered 30.5 sacks and 54 tackles for loss. He's found the ball eight times, recovering eight fumbles while forcing eight more.
He's disruptive, has an act for finding the football and brings major upside for a sixth-round pick. If he never pans out, it's no big deal. If he does, he's a steal.