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2021 NFL Draft

How Did Steelers Fare in Addressing Needs in 2021 NFL Draft?

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Before the 2021 NFL Draft, Steelers Now broke down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ needs in a three-part series, focusing on immediate starting needs, future starting needs and immediate depth needs.

Now that the league’s annual player selection is over, how did the Steelers go about addressing those needs, and which ones remain question marks as the team enters the final phase of the offseason? Let’s break them down one-by-one.

We’ll rank each need as MET, COULD BE MET or NOT MET and tally them up at the end.

IMMEDIATE STARTING NEEDS

Slot cornerback: The Steelers lost Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton to free agency, and replaced them in the draft with just sixth-round pick Tre Norwood from Oklahoma. Norwood has played safety and slot corner and probably best projects to replace Cam Sutton as the team’s Dime corner and backup free safety.

That means that second-year former undrafted free agent James Pierre’s slotting into the team’s starting Nickel role is going from pencil to ink. There’s still time for the team to add a free agent or make a trade to help bolster the lack of depth at the position, but as of right now, this need has gone wholly un-addressed. NOT MET

Center: They waited a while, but the Steelers eventually got their center in the third round with Illinois alum Kendrick Green. Not too many third-round picks are Day 1 starters in the NFL, but with the lack of depth at the position, the Steelers sure appear to be hoping that’s the case.

Given Green’s draft position, there’s a chance that doesn’t work out well, and so the team’s method of filling this need contains some risk, but Green does project to be a starting center and should eventually do a solid job of filling this need. COULD BE MET

Running back: Cross this one off. Whether or not taking a running back in the first round is a good use of draft capital, it is certainly the best way to address a need at running back. The Steelers did just that, getting the best back in the draft. Cross this one off. MET

Inside linebacker: The Steelers actually addressed this before the draft by bringing back veteran Vince Williams for another season, but for good measure (and because Williams is 31), they went out and got Text A&M’s Buddy Johnson in the fourth round.

Johnson projects to be the same type of player Williams has been and a probably solid, if unspectacular starter. Between Williams and Johnson, both the present and future needs at this slot have been filled. MET

Tackle: Fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr. is NFL-ready, but does not project to be an immediate upgrade over Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner, meaning this need went unmet. NOT MET

FUTURE STARTING NEEDS

Tackle: Moore fits here, as he should immediately be the team’s backup swing tackle and given his level of SEC experience, if he had to fill in due to injury, he probably wouldn’t be totally overwhelmed. If Okorafor or Banner underwhelms in 2021, they can be replaced by Moore if he shows promise. COULD BE MET

Tight end: Pat Freiermuth’s addition certainly takes care of the need here to help replace Vance McDonald as an immediate player to slot alongside Eric Ebron and has the upside to take over Ebron’s mantle as the team’s No. 1 tight end, should the Steelers choose not to extend Ebron after the 2021 season. MET

Guard: Green played more guard than center at Illinois, but the Steelers see him as a center, not a guard. The Steelers did not address the need for someone with some upside or projectabilty to slot behind an aging David DeCastro. NOT MET

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Outside cornerback: The immediate starting need at the position wasn’t really addressed, and neither was the future starting need. Even if Pierre works out as the team’s Nickel back and Cam Sutton successfully completes the transition to full-time boundary corner, Joe Haden is 32 and entering the final year of his contract without a potential future successor on the squad. NOT MET

Quarterback: The Steelers shored up their future depth during the draft without using a pick by extending the contract of Mason Rudolph through the end of the 2022 season, so the cupboard isn’t totally bare going forward, but there’s no sure-fire answer here either. COULD BE MET

IMMEDIATE DEPTH NEEDS

Tight end: The addition of Freiermuth went a long way here, as the Steelers now only need a player that can share the load if either Freiermuth or Ebron goes down with an injury, but it’s still not clear if Kevin Rader of Zach Gentry can do even that. Jesse James is still out there, so this is a need that could still be addressed. NOT MET

Outside linebacker: Miami edge rusher Quincy Roche should immediately become the team’s top backup at outside linebacker and provide quality depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, despite being picked in the sixth round. MET

Slot cornerback: The current and future starting needs went unadressed, but between Norwood and undrafted free agents Shakur Brown and Mark Gilbert, the Steelers significantly upgraded their immediate level of depth at the position. Brown was projected by some as a mid-round talent and could challenge Pierre and Norwood for the Nickel and Dime roles immediately. Gilbert was injured frequently at Duke, but could project as a future outside corner if he is given time to develop. None of these players are slam dunks, but the Steelers at least have solid options. COULD BE MET

Safety: Norwood can help offset the loss of Sean Davis, and adding Johnson at linebacker might allow the team to use Marcus Allen and/or Miles Killebrew at strong safety instead of linebacker. Undrafted rookie Lamont Wade was a five-star talent coming out of Clairton and the Steelers might be able to find a way to get better production out of his undersized frame than Penn State did. COULD BE MET

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For the final tally, that’s four needs almost certainly met from our list, another five that could be met, but five needs that went unmet. Given the sheer number of team needs, and the fact that Kevin Colbert and company had just nine picks to work with, the Steelers did pretty well. Signing Rudolph and Williams beforehand helped minimize the draft-day needs, as well.

The Steelers also took a shot at upgrading their punter with their seventh-round pick, which SN did not include as a pre-draft need with the presence of Jordan Berry on the roster, but that is a position the Steelers can certainly get better at moving forward. Whether or not Pressley Harvin III can be that upgrade remains to be seen.

The Steelers also added to their depth at defensive end with fifth-round pick Isaiahh Loudermilk, a spot that SN did not count amongst the team’s most-pressing needs. The Steelers have two quality starters at that position under long-term contract, and depth options in Isaiah Buggs, Henry Mondeaux and Chris Wormley

Just after the draft, the Steelers also added a future starting need at safety by not exercising their fifth-year option on starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds. None of the players the team has behind Edmunds currently project to be a future starter, so this need, that the Steelers probably knew about, also went un-addressed.

In total, the Steelers got to most of their needs during the draft, but also left some needs without an answer. But the offseason isn’t over. The end of the compensatory period has kicked off a second wave of free agent signings, and June salary cap casualties could provide a third. Colbert has also been active with trades during training camp or early in the season, like when he acquired McDonald, Fitzpatrick and Ryan Switzer.

How the Steelers are able to find ways to continue making improvements to the roster as the offseason goes on may make a big impact on the results for the squad this fall.

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