The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 draft class had a little bit of something for everyone. If you wanted them to focus on the running game, you surely got that.
They invested heavily into their offensive line, something that was a few years overdue. Defensively, they added depth at key positions; after injuries plagued their defense in 2020, they're looking to avoid a similar mess in 2021. Even special teams got some love.
Now, as we prepare for training camp and the 2021 season, the question becomes, "Which Steelers rookies will have the biggest roles in their first year?"
1. Najee Harris, RB
This better be the case for a running back taken in the first round. Harris will certainly be the featured running back for the Steelers this year.
Two signs point to this: the fact that Pittsburgh spent a first-round pick on him and the current state of the Steelers running back room. No one but Harris is capable of being a consistent every-down back.
He has the skills to boost the passing game and rush for a lot of yards if the offensive line can block for him. He will be the most important of all Steelers rookies this season.
2. Kendrick Green, OC
Going by snap count, the odds are very high that Kendrick Green will play the most in 2021. This is no guarantee, though, which keeps him behind Harris.
The expectation for Green is to be the starting center this year. But, the depth chart at center isn't quite as ugly as the depth chart at running back. If Green isn't ready to start right away, the team could look to B.J. Finney or J.C. Hassenauer to start early in the season.
A little undersized, Green may take some time to fully adjust to NFL competition. When he's ready, though, he certainly should be the starter, with a much higher ceiling than anyone else at the position.
3. Pat Freiermuth, TE
The Steelers' second-round pick should see a healthy portion of snaps as a rookie. He will be called upon to play mostly when the Steelers are looking to run the ball.
There is little doubt that he will come in as a rookie and instantly be a better blocker than Eric Ebron. Freiermuth still has plenty to offer in the passing game, too. He'll likely play second fiddle to Ebron in two-minute offense, pass-only situations. In the red zone, though, he will get snaps and probably get a nice chunk of targets from Ben Roethlisberger, too.
4. Pressley Harvin III, P
Though it's no guarantee, Pressley Harvin is expected to be the starting punter in 2021. He will probably square off with Jordan Berry in a position battle throughout camp.
Given his pedigree and success in college, Harvin should have no problem winning the starting position. The Steelers haven't had a good punter in years, so the success of Harvin will be important to them.
If he doesn't work out, it would be unfortunate that they used a draft pick on a punter. But they did, so they are obviously confident in him.
5. Quincy Roche, Edge
Considered by many to be the Steelers' best value pick of the draft, Roche was a great pick in the sixth round.
The pass rusher should be ready to backup both T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith right away in Week 1. He will probably find some time as a situational pass rusher, too. The team really lacks depth at the outside linebacker position.
If either Watt or Highsmith would miss time for any reason, Roche would likely be the player called upon to be a full-time replacement. Until that situation would arise, though, Roche will play some special teams, get some pass-rushing snaps, and work to improve in the running game.
6. Buddy Johnson, ILB
Johnson was a questionable pick in the fourth round, with depth at cornerback and outside linebacker feeling like bigger needs. Inside linebacker was also a need, though, so the pick was fine.
Looking at Johnson's skill set, he probably won't see a ton of time on defense as a rookie. A good athlete and hard hitter, Johnson surely has the potential to be a solid linebacker in the future. If Pittsburgh can develop his coverage abilities, he could be a full-time starter as early as 2022.
As a rookie, expect most of his contributions to come on special teams. Given his athleticism and physicality, Johnson should be present in all four phases.
7. Dan Moore Jr., OT
Moore will enter his rookie season in a role very similar to that of Roche. He won't be a starting tackle, but he will be the primary backup at both tackle positions.
Barring an injury to Zach Banner or Chukwuma Okorafor, Moore will mostly play in three-tackle packages as a rookie.
Looking beyond 2021 is when Moore will see his role expand. Clearly needing some development, Moore might be ready to start in year two. For now, though, he'll be a backup as he fine-tunes his game and makes the transition to the NFL.
8. Tre Norwood, DB
Norwood is an intriguing pick but a player who might struggle to see the field much as a rookie. There is no guarantee that he'll even make the team.
After waiting way too long to select a cornerback, the Steelers took Norwood, who can play safety or corner. He will be one of a few guys in the running to replace Mike Hilton as the nickel cornerback. With Cameron Sutton moving to the outside, someone will need to establish themselves as the number three cornerback. It could be Norwood, but it might not be.
Until we see some action from training camp and the preseason, it's just hard to predict.
9. Isaiahh Loudermilk, DE
It's still a challenge to make this pick make sense. The Steelers traded one of next year's fourth-round picks to spend a fifth-round pick this year on a guy who was widely expected to go undrafted. Further, Loudermilk plays defensive end, which is one of the strongest positions on the entire roster.
He's clearly behind Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu, and potentially Isaiah Buggs and Carlos Davis. The team must see something in Loudermilk that most others don't see. So, it should be expected that Loudermilk makes the team as a rookie. Beyond that, it's hard to see him getting any playing time.