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The curious case of the Steelers 2021 draft class

The Pittsburgh Steelers are just over three years removed from selecting the 2021 draft class. It was a very unique class and a very unique situation. The Steelers had huge needs on the offensive line after the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey and the free agent departures of Alejandro Villanueva and Matt Feiler. Additionally, the Steelers ended up losing David DeCastro in June. But the Steelers opted for a couple offensive position players with their first two selections as they were making a push and what was ultimately Ben Roethlisberger‘s final season in the NFL.

So what made the situation with this rookie class so curious? It’s not just one thing, but a combination of many. Let’s take a quick look…

They were called on early and often

The first week of the 2021 season saw five players from the Steelers 2021 draft officially get starts. Four players were on offense in the form of running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, and offensive linemen Kendrick Green and Dan Moore. Seventh-round draft pick Tre Norwood was on the field for the first snap and got the start on defense. Having these five starters didn’t even include punter Pressley Harvin as punters don’t get starts. Even linebacker Buddy Johnson was called on at the last moment when Robert Spillane was injured in pregame warm-ups and ended up playing 13 special team snaps.

When it came to the rookie season, only two players didn’t appear in the Steelers first game from that year’s draft class. Quincy Roche did not make the Steelers 53-man roster and was snagged up off waivers by the New York Giants. Isaiahh Loudermilk was a healthy scratch the first week of the season but ended up getting a helmet the next eight games.

In all, the Steelers draft class started 62 games their rookie season as well as having the starting punter. Of course, the huge decrease in the 2021 salary cap which handcuffed the Steelers in for agency was a huge factor in needing the rookies right away.

Less than half lasted their rookie contract

Although these players still have one year left of the rookie deals, only four of the nine draft picks remain with the Steelers. Kendrick Green didn’t earn a helmet a single game his second season and was traded ahead of his third year. Buddy Johnson logged four games with the Steelers in his one season before they moved on from him to start his second season, but he has managed to stick around the league and appear in two additional games. Tre Norwood appeared in 32 games in two seasons for the Steelers but did not make the roster or the practice squad in year three. Quincy Roche returned to the Steelers for a second stint during the 2023 offseason but did not make the roster or the practice squad. As for Pressley Harvin, he was released this offseason ahead of the new league year simply because the Steelers needed improved punting.

Not only did five players not make it beyond three seasons, none of them landed on the Steelers practice squad. So when the Steelers moved on, they moved on.

No player has been signed to an extension

As of now, none of the Steelers 2021 draft class is under contract beyond this season. The Steelers did not pick up the fifth year option for Najee Harris, and an extension for Pat Freiermuth has not occurred at this time. Things could still happen, but as of now there hasn’t even been reports that the Steelers are seriously working on any deals for the 2021 draft class.

Many of the players have been deemed upgradable

The Steelers moved on from Pressley Harvin because they needed a better punter. An upgrade for Kendrick came after one season when the Steelers brought in Mason Cole who they felt the need to upgrade two years later. Dan Moore has seen his position being taken in the first round by the Steelers last two seasons and his time as the starter is likely coming to an end. Additionally, there are many Steelers fans who would rather see Jaylen Warren get the bulk of the carries in the backfield than Najee Harris. As for Isaiahh Loudermilk, he isn’t guaranteed a roster spot this season by any means. At this time, the only player who it hasn’t been suggested his upgrade is on the team is tight end Pat Freiermuth. But even some Steelers pundits have called his time and usage in Pittsburgh “disappointing.”

Needing you now to not needing you at all

What makes everything so strange with this draft class for the Steelers is how much they were used right away to how little they appear to be in the teams future plans. Exactly what the Steelers are going to do with Najee Harris is up in the air. Pat Freiermuth very well could be the Steelers tight end for years to come. Otherwise, there’s really not much going on. Players haven’t even landed on the Steelers practice squad in hopes they develop into something more.

It’s not that uncommon for a draft class to not produce very many long-term players. What is unusual is to have so many players called on so much in their first season only to be complete afterthoughts a couple years later.

So what will come of the rest of the Steelers 2021 draft class? Hopefully the four players who remain can make a big impact in 2024. If not, there is the chance the Steelers could have no players remaining on their roster from this draft class after a mere four seasons.



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