ESPN lead draftnik Mel Kiper Jr. had made a change to his Steelers first-round projection for the 2021 NFL Draft and also added a guess at what the team will do in the second round for the first time in his latest mock draft.
Kiper had the Steelers going with Alabama center Landon Dickerson in the last iteration of his mock draft, and he still has them picking a former member of the national champions, but now Kiper has the Steelers taking Crimson Tide running back Najee Harris at No. 24 overall.
“I’d love to see Harris in this offense to take the pressure off quarterback Ben Roethlisberger,” Kiper wrote. “He could grind down defenses as a runner and help in the short passing game.”
Kiper also noted the success of early-round Alabama running backs, with Josh Jacobs, Trent Richardson and Shaun Alexander going in the first round since 2000 and All-Pro Derrick Henry falling into the second round in 2016.
The Steelers top brass was in Tuscaloosa for Alabama’s pro day, seeing both Harris and Dickerson, though neither worked out while recovering from injuries. The Steelers have significant needs at both center and running back with the retirement of Maurkice Pouncey and James Conner’s departure to the Arizona Cardinals in free agency.
Kiper now has Dickerson going at No. 39 overall to the Carolina Panthers.
At No. 55, Kiper has the Steelers going with North Dakota State tackle Dillon Radunz. Radunz is a player the Steelers saw at the Senior Bowl, where he impressed after many teams began to like his tape while watching Bison quarterback Trey Lance. Radunz is a 6-foot-5, 301-pound offensive line prospect that played tackle at NDSU, but might fit in almost anywhere along the line in the NFL, including center, where he took some snaps in Mobile.
“After I gave the Steelers a running back in Round 1, here’s another selection to help quarterback Ben Roethlisberger,” Kiper said. “Radunz started 32 games for the Bison and was a two-time FCS All-American. He stood out on tape when I studied Trey Lance — he just swallowed FCS edge rushers.”
The Steelers have Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor penciled in at tackle, with veteran starter Alejandro Villanueva currently unsigned. Radunz would create competition and depth, with Okorafor entering the final season of his contract and Banner only another year off.