The 2021 Draft is nearly upon the NFL world. After months of zoom interviews and wading through minutiae around these prospects, teams will finally add talent to their 2021 roster.
The Steelers, in particular, are in quite the pickle. They have notable needs on both sides of the football. However, even with that in mind, they are in a good spot to go best player available or trade out of their first pick.
Just how does the board shake out for the Steelers?
Round 1, Pick 24: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
The tells are all here for Najee Harris to become a Pittsburgh Steeler. Listen, Kevin Colbert certainly did not back away from taking a running back at Monday’s press conference. If anything, his comments on value lean more into the idea that they will go running back. However, this pick is not one of desperation or because they are so lock eyed onto running back. It simply comes from the fact that Harris is likely to rank high on their board, and check off just about everything they look for in a prospect.
Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and offensive coordinator Matt Canada were on hand for his Pro Day. Sending the house to Tuscaloosa, along with a follow-up group to see him that included running backs coach Eddie Faulkner showcases just how interested the team is in Harris. Besides that, however, Harris fits everything the Steelers look for in running backs. He is a high character football player with little to no history of medical concerns. His vision, receiving ability, and pass protection ability are some of the best this class has to offer.
The Steelers have never cared about speed at the position. Harris is no burner, but he has explosiveness and quickness that makes him elusive in open-field situations. If the Steelers want a multi-faceted running back that can channel some Le’Veon Bell qualities back into this offense, Harris the undoubtedly top guy to do. The only question is if Harris actually makes it to 24 at this point.
Round 2, Pick 55: Quinn Meinerz, C, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Anytime the Steelers show significant interest in a small-school guy, there is smoke to a looming fire. Quinn Meinerz is an exceptional example of this ideology. The Steelers were intrigued by Meinerz at the Senior Bowl, and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm ran drills for Meinerz at Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Pro Day. Klemm’s noticeable hands-on involvement shows that the Steelers were looking at Meinerz hard in an effort to see where they are comfortable taking him.
The Rams, Chiefs, and others are looming just past the Steelers pick. It is tough to see Meinerz getting out of the second round as a result. Despite Colbert calling this a “deep center class”, the Steelers have to walk away with a starter at this position. Meinerz fits the historical mold of a Steelers center. He is nasty, athletic, and highly intelligent. Meinerz did only play at guard in college, but his tape at the Senior Bowl should ease most of those concerns. The Steelers add their starter of the future at center.
Round 3, Pick 87: Hamsah Nasirildeen, DB, Florida State
The Steelers could go a number of spots here. However, the defensive backfield is a concerning group. There is no question that they need to get someone who is slot capable and can give them legitimate options. Hamsah Nasirildeen can do that. A freaky 6-foot-4 safety, Nasirildeen is an athletic marvel. Simply put, there are not many 6-foot-4 safeties that can run a sub 4.5-second 40-yard dash in the NFL. However, this is exactly what Nasirldeen is at this point.
At Florida State, Nasirildeen lined up all over the field. Playing linebacker, free safety, strong safety, slot cornerback, and even some edge rusher, Nasirildeen has the traits the Steelers could look for to help replace Mike Hilton. Playing as the starting overhang in the base nickel defense is an ideal spot for Nasirildeen. He can man-up against running backs, tight ends, and slot receivers. This type of positionless sub-package defender is what Mike Tomlin is all about. And in the third round, Nasirildeen will come in and start for the Steelers right away.
Round 4, Pick 128: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama
Okay, the Steelers are a team that does like to bet on traits on day three. Specifically, this is true at the linebacker position in recent years. From Ulysees Gilbert III to Marcus Allen, these are all linebacker-type players that are cut from a similar cloth. They are athletic, the Steelers vetted them clearly in the pre-draft process, and even with significant questions, the Steelers took them for coverage upside.
Dylan Moses is no different. Once thought of as a potential first-round pick, Moses has slipped due to two seasons worth of injures. A Torn ACL and then torn meniscus have hampered the Crimson Tide product. While on the field, however, Moses is a highly intelligent football player with coverage chops for days. On top of that, Moses moves laterally and sideline-to-sideline as well as anyone in this class. The medicals make this pick carry some risk, but the Steelers could be rewarded with one of the best, most athletic tandems at inside linebacker in the NFL if it works out.
Round 4, Pick 140: Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa
There is some reminiscing about the Steelers’ interest in Alex Highsmith last draft season when talking about their perceived interest in Elerson Smith. These are two edge rusher prospects that come from smaller schools and both are guys that the Steelers extensively vetted. In Smith’s case, Mike Tomlin was on the call. The Steelers had a notable presence at Northern Iowa’s Pro Day as well.
Smith fits the exact Steelers edge rusher profile. He is explosive, flexible, and can play from multiple alignments. Working in space, Smith was asked to do it in spades in the Panthers’ defensive scheme. While there are times he can struggle with his counters, Smith is a highly intelligent player who has a vast toolbox. The strategy in which he sets up blockers over the course of a game is notable. If he makes it down to this spot, there is a good chance the Steelers call his name as a rotational pass rusher.
Round 6, Pick 216: Dan Moore, OT, Texas A&M
The tackle position is one where the Steelers would like to address it earlier, but here it simply did not align with value at other positions of need. However, they are okay with it to a degree because Dan Moore is a nice consolation prize this late in the draft. Matt Canada and assistant offensive line coach Chris Morgan watched Moore in College Station for his Pro Day. In addition, Moore had a decent Senior Bowl week.
Moore is the type of depth player the Steelers need. With good length, movement skills, and still developing technique, it is not inconceivable that Moore could become a development tackle that becomes a starter in the future. His hand usage and mean streak is something that may have to be developed, but at the very least, Moore gives the Steelers a much-needed young, developmental option in the tackle room.
Round 7, Pick 246: Avery Williams, CB/KR, Boise State
Okay, the Steelers double down at the defensive back in this one. While Nasirildeen is not a pure cornerback, Avery Williams is a pure nickel cornerback. However, this selection is made for a bevy of intriguing reasons behind Williams’ background. For one, he may be the best special teamer in the class. Special teams coordinator Danny Smith was at his Pro Day and saw him up close and personal. The Steelers are always searching for special teams help, and Williams can help replace the loss of Jordan Dangerfield, even after the signing of Miles Killebrew.
However, even more, Williams is a returner and is actually being looked at as a running back as well. Think of a poor man’s Jabrill Peppers in some respects on this front. Williams can give the Steelers multiple options, and he is a scrappy, smart slot cornerback that gives them depth at that spot too. He is likely to make the roster given his special teams acumen.
Round 7, Pick 254: Luke Farrell, TE, Ohio State
At this point, the Steelers have to add someone at the tight end position. While it could be earlier, there has to be someone that pushes Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader at that spot. This is what Luke Farrell can come in and do. There is little to no upside that Farrell brings to the plate, however, he is a polished blocker and that is honestly what the Steelers need behind Eric Ebron. Farrell certainly has some Jesse James qualities in his back pocket.
He is sure-handed but is not a mismatch by any means. Farrell, however, is one of the best pure blockers in the class and was routinely put up against defensive ends and won. That is something the Steelers need on this team regardless, and there is a good chance that Farrell could be the second tight end on the team in Matt Canada’s offense.