Much like every draft, the reactions and grades for the 2021 NFL Draft will be seen through the undefeated superpower that is: Hindsight.
It's inevitable people (who cover football for a living or not) will give their two cents on any team's draft haul worth discussing, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were no different. After selecting running back Najee Harris in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, the Steelers sent avid black and gold followers in for a frenzy for the second and third day of the draft.
However, the cookie crumbled, it crumbled in favor of the Steelers, at least in their opinion. It's natural for teams to walk away from their draft haul with excitement, proclaiming themselves as "winners" of the weekend. Yet how would Steelers fans and the national media rate general manager Kevin Colbert's job over the weekend?
National Media Grades Steelers' 2021 Draft
Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A
"Harris' game so resembles that of Le'Veon Bell that no one was surprised the Steelers turned in the virtual card to inject his talents into their offense. His playmaking ability was difficult to pass up, even if it meant ignoring the offensive line. The team eventually addressed their issues up front by selecting Green, an athletic and powerful center, in Round 3. GM Kevin Colbert made the correct decision selecting a top-50 talent like Freiermuth late in Round 2 instead of simply taking a lineman because of need.
Colbert made another smart pick (what's new?) in Moore, a steady player and underrated athlete who could be the starter they need at tackle. The Steelers doubled up on A&M stars, drafting Johnson with their next pick. He'll be a starter at inside 'backer sooner than later, which is huge for a team that endured so many injuries at the spot last season. Pittsburgh went off-script a bit when it traded a 2022 fourth-rounder to Miami to select Loudermilk, who could be a Stephen Tuitt clone. But there were a lot of quality defensive linemen available in that round that they could've landed without giving up assets. Roche is a productive edge player who was an excellent value in the sixth round. The team clearly didn't want Harvin to hit the open market, snagging him with one of the last picks in the draft."
Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: C
"Best pick: Third-round pick Kendrick Green will keep up a long-standing Steelers tradition: Dominant centers. Green played guard in college, but will be an outstanding center.
Worst pick: I don't like taking running backs in the first round. Najee Harris is a good player, but backs don't decide titles.
The skinny: They wanted to improve the run game, so they picked a back early. They did balance it out by taking two offensive linemen in the next three rounds, which was smart. Sixth-round pass rusher Quincy Roche is a perfect Steelers pick"
Conor Orr, Sports Illustrated: C+
"Najee Harris is already blowing up the rookie of the year betting lines. While this may be my own stubbornness, it seems like Pittsburgh should first look to alleviate some of the pressure on an older, immobile quarterback. Then again, we have not seen the Steelers with a back like Harris since their Le'Veon Bell days. Pittsburgh eventually attacked the offensive line, taking center Kendrick Green. Pittsburgh was reportedly hot on Green's trail throughout the process and have a vision for him as a right-away starter, which, if true, highlights some of the expert board work Kevin Colbert has done in the past. Dan Moore, the tackle from Texas A&M, also has a high ceiling for the position and could emerge in a year or two from his backup role into something more front facing."
Mel Kiper, ESPN: C+
"This one is tough for me because I'm a big fan of Najee Harris (24) but am almost always against taking a running back in the first round. Round 1 is too valuable, and we've seen over the past decade that good running backs can be found in any round -- or even as undrafted free agents. And when I look at this Pittsburgh roster, I see bigger holes. Offensive line, corner, edge rusher -- could the team have gotten better value at another position...
I just don't see much value in Pittsburgh's class, and the offensive linemen they did take were picked too high. I haven't even mentioned that the Steelers still don't have a plan for life after Ben Roethlisberger. This class gets a grade in the C range."
Pro Football Focus: C
"Day 1: This pick was not a surprise at all, and it also shouldn't be shocking to hear that we at PFF wouldn't pound the table for such a selection; any running back in Round 1 is a reach. Harris isn't much of a breakaway threat, but he does bring value as a receiver, which is a requisite in today's NFL. With the help of his massive catch radius, Harris dropped just two passes on 75 catchable targets since 2019.
Day 2: The Steelers snag the 55th-ranked player on the PFF Big Board at Pick 55. Pat Freiermuth is the clear second-best tight end in the class after Kyle Pitts, but this is a weak group of tight ends. He is an all-around player who fits a throwback style of offense that will covet his blocking every bit as much as his receiving skills. The Penn State product was also one of the few tight ends in college football who was the featured receiver in his offense.
Green is one of the most physically gifted guards to come into the NFL in the last few years. He's fast and physical. One would think he fits more in a zone-based scheme, but he shows some strength that could make it work in a gap and pull system as well. A very good pick for a rebuilding Steelers offensive line.
Day 3: Roche is arguably the best value Pittsburgh has gotten all draft. Roche isn't an elite athlete on the edge, but he is adept at reading and reacting to the tackles he goes up against, which is one of the reasons why he posted PFF pass-rushing grades above 85.0 in each of the past two seasons. Roche will have an opportunity to carve out a role behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in Pittsburgh."
Eric Edholm, Yahoo!: C+
"A pretty blue-collar haul here, led by Harris, a central-casting Steeler. Will the blocking be better up front? We hope so. Only Green figures to be a new starter from last year's unit, so the Steelers need to hope he's ready to step in and the other four are prepared to play better. We thought they might grab an edge rusher or a linebacker (higher than Buddy Johnson in Round 5), but for the most part this is a respectable group. Harris could be a Rookie of the Year candidate, but he had great blocking at Bama. We are unsure he'll be afforded that luxury as a rookie in Pittsburgh. Roche and Norwood, a Swiss Army knife defender, were better than their draft slots. And taking the hulking Pressley — biggest NFL punter ever at 5-foot-11, 263 pounds? — was our favorite punter pick. Massive punters are just a lot of fun."
Brad Gagnon, Bleacher Report: C+
"Najee Harris has all the tools to become a Pro Bowl player, but none of the NFL's top seven rushers last season were first-round picks. A team hasn't used a high pick on a back and then won a Super Bowl thanks in large part to that player's impact since the turn of the century. The Steelers instead should have been all over an offensive lineman like Teven Jenkins or Liam Eichenberg or a pass-rusher like Gregory Rousseau or Azeez Ojulari. They could have even traded back for one of those guys. They did make eight picks beyond that, but second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth was also a luxury selection that didn't address a major need. They did get solid value for potential offensive line starter Kendrick Green in Round 3, though, and sixth-round edge Quincy Roche has an intriguing ceiling. That's just not enough for them to earn a good grade."
Steelers Fans Grade Their 2021 Draft
So, we've heard from the big, national talking heads in the media who probably don't pay close attention to the team such as you. How do your fellow Steelers' fans believe the team did?
A poll conducted via Twitter saw that nearly 57% of fans believe they earned a "B" as a draft grade, with nearly 23% believing they earned an "A", 15% believing the Steelers drafted at a "C" level and the other 5% believing they completed whiffed on the draft. With those numbers, about 80% of Steelers' fans believe Colbert and the rest of the front office did a great job in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Of course, it's way too early to tell how each draft pick will pan out, both as an individual and a collective draft class. Yet the (extremely) early review for Pittsburgh's draft class has garnered mixed reviews from fans and national media alike.