How the Steelers 2021 draft class sets them up nicely for 2022

Rewind one year. There was a lot of hub-bub about Ben Roethlisberger’s return, planning for life without their future Hall of Fame quarterback, and how the team was going to address a mass exodus of their offensive line.

Critics looked at the Steelers offseason moves in 2021 and didn’t quite follow that their draft class was setting the team up for not only that season, but the immediate future.

Here’s how those picks look one year later.

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Security blankets for a new QB

What’s the best cure for an inexperienced quarterback? A solid running game.

The next best thing is a dependable tight end who can block/chip off of the line of scrimmage and peel off for a dump off pass. (Which also pertains to the running back too.)

The Steelers got both of these spots addressed last season by taking the top running back in the 2021 NFL Draft, Najee Harris, and then following up with the second tight end taken, and perhaps the best all-around at the position, Pat Freiermuth.

Harris was named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie year, which saw the back accumulate 1200 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns, while also adding 74 catches for 476 yards and 3 touchdowns in the pass game. Freiermuth was second on the team in receptions and receiving touchdowns with 74 catches for 497 yards and 7 scores.

Both players will factor into the team’s future going forward, as each has at least three more years remaining on their rookie contracts. The hope is they do even better in their sophomore pro seasons.

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Rebuilding the offensive line

This is still subject to change, but for now the Steelers drafted two of their five offensive line starters in 2021: center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr.

Each player had their first-year struggles, and while some are quick to judge, this year could truly be the make-or-break season for them.

Green battled injuries and had to sit out the end of the season, but back healthy and with a year under his belt, he could prove doubters wrong. Moore, on the other hand, was mostly solid for being a fourth-round pick and first-year starter.

When considered with Harris and Freiermuth, it’s remarkable to have four offensive starters all come out of the same draft class: this could propel Pittsburgh into the future by not having to wait year after year to continue patching the line, especially if offseason moves such as James Daniels and re-signing Chukwuma Okorafor works out as well.

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Defensive Additions

While there weren’t many moves made by the Steelers on this side of the ball – the first four picks all went to the offense – at the minimum DB Tre Norwood impressed in some games, while Isaiahh Loudermilk also showed some flashes along the d-line.

Norwood isn’t in line to start, but still plays a critical role in sub packages requiring hybrid cornerback/safety play, such as covering opposing tight ends and running backs.

If he continues to develop in year two, there is a path for him to ascend to being a starter in 2023, as Terrell Edmunds was only brough back on a one-year deal.

As for Loudermilk, he’ll continue to see rotational time and perhaps more, depending on the healthy of 35-year-old Tyson Alualu (returning from injury) or the still unknown status of Stephon Tuitt.

Both players were deep draft picks: fifth and seventh round selections. But both can also be key contributors in the years to come.

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Special Teams

Who can forget the Steelers taking a punter in the seventh round last year?

Pressley Harvin III had some ups and downs, but when he looked good, he was actually great.

Unfortunately, there were times that the oversized special teamer had a case of the shakes and shanked a punt.

Consistency is key in the NFL and anyone who kicks a ball for a living in this league has a short leash. Hopefully Harvin can continue with the moments that had everyone hyped for him to make the team over veteran Jordan Berry; because winning the field position battles in each game will be critical for this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers.

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