When you are obsessed with the draft, spend months evaluating players on tape, and pore over/try to find deep meaning in pro day results… the actual draft results for your team are always disheartening. There is a disappointment when they don’t just choose from among the many players you’d expect but, instead, do things like, say, trade a 4th round pick for a player in the 5th round that nobody thought would be drafted.
But, I’ve been at this a while. I’ve learned to get my knee-jerk disappointment and teeth-gnashing out of the way early: on draft weekend, I allow myself to have the hate and vitriol wash over me like an industrial cleansing, knowing that I will eventually get over the change in my expectations, begin examining the context of why the team selected the players they did instead of ones I favored (sometimes by a wide margin), and get on with accepting that these are now the pieces they have to work with and #HereWeGo and all that.
Here’s my attempt to offer the most optimistic take I can muster on the day after, along with my knee-jerk reactions of bad feelings still being worked out of my system:
Pick 1.24 Najee Harris, RB Alabama.
Hand: 10 1/4 Arm: 33 3/8 Wingspan: 81
Height: 6013 Weight: 232
Best Season: 13 G , 251 carries, 1466 yds, 5.8ypc, 26 TDs, 43 catches, 425 rec yds, 4TD, 30TD total
Najee Harris was a fantastic college player and––especially considering his landing spot–– he will likely be an extremely successful RB in the NFL. Any debate about this pick has nothing to do with how good Najee is or can be. On top of his immense ability to find holes, finish runs, pass protect, and catch the football, he seems like an extremely likeable, high-character person. I have no qualms about the safety of the pick, and he’s likely on the short-list for ROY.
I was happy to hear Head Coach Mike Tomlin respond to NFL Network’s question about ‘would they just use Najee in an old-school fashion, pounding him into the line like 1976?’ by mentioning Harris’ versatility as a pass-catcher being the reason they’re so excited about him. Because that addresses at least one of few reasons that this pick can be problematic, even though the player is outstanding:
- The Steelers run too much on 1st and 2nd downs b/dc they have a strong RB
- They rely so heavily on Harris that he’s overused and breaks down towards the end of the season/postseason (see: Lev Bell)
- They passed on a player that could have helped them just as much, but at a more valuable position
If they use Harris within a comprehensive offense, rather than building a castle on top of his hill, they have a much better chance of scoring points and winning games. If they continue to use other RBs are relief and role players, the chance of him making it to the end of the season increase, especially as he gets a couple of years into ‘running the wheels off’. I don’t entirely trust Tomlin with a bell-cow back, because he hasn’t managed them well at all in his tenure. Willie Parker was already fading when on his way to the rushing title, then broke his leg and was never the same. Lev’eon Bell got knocked out of at least three seasons off the top of my head and was less than 100% for a memorable playoff game in New England.
In a way, I feel like Mike Tomlin is an addict: he’s addicted to the power, bell-cow running back. He can no more be trusted with this commodity than a hard-core alcoholic would be with a bottle of scotch. Hell, he ran the wheels off of rubbing alcohol the last couple of years. Managing that addiction will go a long way to determining if concern #2 can be alleviated.
As to #3, I have been advocating a defensive player at 24 for months now. It seemed to me in all the simulations I did (and that the Steelers famously eschewed), the peak talent at coverage LB & EDGE rusher were going to go early in this draft, and RBs & OL would be available later. As it turned out, the Steelers were faced with the same situation I was in the main SteelerFury Mock Draft: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a choice of a top 3 EDGE rusher or the best RB available.
My knee-jerk reaction was logical: The difference between RB1 and RB4or RB5 in terms of a value above replacement was less than the increase in VAR you’d get with an outlier defensive playmaker. I had visions of JOK having a role similar to Troy Polamalu, where you weren’t quite sure of what he was going to be doing on the play, but you had to account for him before every snap.
Here’s the thing: according to the analytic analysis, the Steelers recent playoff losses and end of season swoons have had much, much more to do with the defense not playing up to its share than it has with an offense that has made mistakes but more than made up for them within games. The key components to those defensive failures were:
- LBs not being able to cover slot receivers or TEs
- pass rush not getting pressure (partially because the Middle of the Field [MOF] coverage was poor)
- failure to create turnovers
So, drafting a MOF defender with mad cover skills and the ability to create turnovers helps erase some deficiencies AND/OR selecting an outlier EDGE rusher offsets the loss of Bud Dupree and creates pressure that can make it easier on MOF coverage.
Me? I’m taking the playmaker in the MOF. I have grown to believe that modern NFL football yearns for versatile MOF defenders with coverage skills and that they, in a way, have become more important than EDGE rushers. The advent of the zone read and running QBs means you can’t have big ILBs who can’t be in position to leverage the QB running and still be able to reach the slant and flats in coverage. I love Najee Harris in a vacuum and I’m sure he’ll be successful––but not addressing the MOF coverage issues that have haunted the Steelers in their base and nickel packages for years… you’d better come up big later in the process. (Narrator… they would not.)
OPTIMIST: Harris will jumpstart the offense––improving the passing game and short-yardage/situational football more than simply gaining more yards on the ground. The Head Coach will let the OC manage his usage and keep everyone involved. Ben will stay healthy, the team will contend, and Harris will win accolades, deservedly.
PESSIMIST: Harris will get run into the ground with usage that might keep games close but that will keep the coaches from allowing the offense to focus on scoring points and being diversified in personnel and playcalling. His overuse will make him less effective and perhaps injured late in seasons or as his career moves along and the offense will look lost without him, as they don’t do anything to improve the rest of the RB room and end up turning to significantly worse players behind him. Oh, and we’ll spend years lamenting not having picked JOK and or Peyton Turner as they rack up All-Pros and so on.
Pick 2.55 Pat Freiermuth, TE, Penn State
Hand: 09 7/8 Arm: 32 1/2 Wingspan: 77 3/4
Height: 6050 Weight: 251
Best Season: 13G, 43 rec, 507 yds, 11.8 YPC, 7 TD
Anyone who watched the Steelers offense last year can tell you that a 2-way TE––one who can block well AND be a threat in the passing game––is imperative to a good offense and especially for a quality running game. It’s obviously a huge hole in the Steelers roster. So the optimist in me says, “They understand that it’s a void, and they selected the consensus best player available for that role.
The problem with the selection is two-fold:
- having chosen to go for the less premium position of RB in the 1st round, the pickings of premium OTs were thinning and Center was still a glaring need that they had to feel would be made at some point in the next two picks––they had begun to box themselves into a corner where they were either going to go C/OT with the next two picks or risk ending up with less than starter-in-waiting quality at either C or OT.
- From watching his tape, Pat Freiermuth seems like a 2-way TE who isn’t particularly good at either aspect of the job.
The style of the player is perfect for what ails the Steelers’ run game. What I see watching him, however, is that while his blocking effort is good, he lacks power and good leverage, so it’s going to take some time and some work to make him more useful vs. NFL-caliber defenders. That would be enough if his receiving skills were of move-TE quality that would really stress a defense, but his lack of burst to get out of his stance and up the seam, coupled with a below-average quickness/agility you can see in his run blocking attempts also are likely going to cause a struggle for him to get open and available in the NFL, unless he’s schemed open via play-action or route combinations.
The experience of actually watching Freiermuth actually play instead of hearing about it gives the impression less of Gronkowski or Heath Miller and more of previous Steeler & two-way TE pick Matt Spaeth. Spaeth was the Mackey Award-winner, who set team records at Minnesota for catches and yards. He was generally thought of as the best two-way TE in that draft class and was the 3rd TE selected. Freiermuth is the best of a bad lot of traditional-style TEs whose price was driven up because of that scarcity.
In a vacuum, his floor is likely decent #2TE. The positional need is high, not so bad to pick a #2TE. But picking it in the 2nd round of a draft where you have bigger fish to fry basically began the cascade downward in the quality of prospects available/selected for a player value that probably isn’t going to pay off to anywhere near the price paid with a premium pick.
OPTIMIST: Freiermuth will be a high character guy and tireless worker in the mold of a young AB and he will transform himself into a serious weapon in both aspects of his game. He’ll push Eric Ebron aside and become the team’s #1 TE by the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022 at the latest, giving the team a new version of Heath Miller.
PESSIMIST: The Steelers will have used a 2nd round pick to draft a #2 TE who is useful in some situations but not enough of a passing game weapon to stress a defense… while the Offensive line and pass rush miss out on better prospects.
Pick 3.87 Kendrick Green. C, Illinois
Hand: 10 1/8 Arm: 32 1/4 Wingspan: 77
Height: 6017 Weight: 305
40 Yrd Dash: 4.89 20 Yrd Dash: 2.81 10 Yrd Dash: 1.69 225 Lb. Bench Reps: 25
Vertical Jump: 35 1/2 Broad Jump: 09’11”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.67 3-Cone Drill: 7.79
Green is pretty much the perfect NFL draft pick a team can make. Wait while more celebrated but lesser players at the position go off the board, then snag a player with better value a round or two later. I think Green was a top 3 center in this draft, and may have been the safest out of those three. He has great leverage, he looked so natural at the position and combines movement skills and the phone booth mauling skills you’d expect of a former wrestler. I might have gone Robert Hainsey instead––similar talent, better college coaching, and a leadership background–– but, despite the naysayers like Mel Kiper who didn’t groupthink their way to the same list of 5 lesser Center candidates, I can’t argue at all with this choice.
OPTIMIST: Kendrick Green carries on the tradition of Pro Bowl/All-Pro Pittsburgh Steelers Centers going back 50 years and is a 10-year fixture in the Steelers transition to its next QB/offense.
PESSIMIST: He holds down the fort at Center until David Decastro retires or moves on, Green moves to Guard in favor of a better Center prospect next year.
Pick 4.128 Dan Moore, OT, Texas A&M
Hand: 10 1/4 Arm: 34 1/2 Wingspan: 83 1/2
Height: 6055 Weight: 311
40 Yrd Dash: 5.21 20 Yrd Dash: 2.91 10 Yrd Dash: 1.84
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 28
Vertical Jump: 30 1/2 Broad Jump: 09’02”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.73 3-Cone Drill: 7.56
3-star H.S. Recruit
I made myself a note near the beginning of the NFL Draft cycle that I should check out all the Texas A&M linemen to see if any were entering the draft class. I remember seeing them play a couple of times in 2020 and came away impressed with the group as a whole. Much like BYU and Notre Dame, A&M had a really sophisticated unit that were obviously well-coached and cohesive in their movements as a group. When I looked at some of the early rankings, I saw that none of the 4 draft-eligible starters were ranked very highly nor were hot “sleeper” conversation starters.
Then I saw Dan Moore, Jr. and Carson Green at the Senior Bowl practices, where they didn’t exactly light up the 1-on-1 competitions. My enthusiasm for them that I had felt watching games fading away some.
So it was that, when the Steelers’ first 4th round pick was announced, that my reaction was a bit of bewilderment. “Of all the OTs left!”, I thought, “Why this one and why this early?” I had thought it wasn’t a bad pick, especially as a potential swing tackle most analysts were talking about as a starter-capable RT, but the sense that the player might have been had a little later made it a surprise or even a disappointment. And there were hotter tackle prospects like Stone Forsythe, Josh Ball, & D’Ante Smith still on the board.
Since then, I’ve gone back and read what was actually written about the prospect and also reviewed some games. The criticisms were mostly that he does everything well but nothing outstandingly well. That sounds kind of like a consistent player, which can’t be a bad thing. What I see is a player who does a ton of things well, has a good tackle body & movement skills… but who also has some underdeveloped technique, especially hand usage and footwork in deeper drops. Actually, I was surprised that––within the confines of what he was asked to do, he was extremely successful, especially at quick sets in the passing game and combo blocks in the run game. Those are two pretty essential parts of being an offensive lineman in the Steelers’ system and add to those the physical size and gifts… you can see the upside. And yet, with three years of starting experience as a LT in the SEC, you can also see that he is arguably more ready to play than any OT drafted after that point of the draft. IF––and it’s a really big IF––they can get his hands and feet working together, there is most definitely something there to work with.
OPTIMIST: New Steelers’ Line Coach Adrian Klemm makes Moore his prized project and takes the tools and the size and turns Moore into a nasty run blocker and solid pass protector on the blindside.
PESSIMIST: Klemm can’t work a Munchak miracle and Moore’s limitations vs. NFL EDGE rushers push him inside to a role as a backup G.
Pick 4.140 Devodrick “Buddy” Johnson, LB ,Texas A&M
Hand: 09 7/8 Arm: 31 1/2 Wingspan: 77 5/8
Height: 6004 Weight: 229
40 Yrd Dash: 4.58 20 Yrd Dash: 2.63 10 Yrd Dash: 1.6
2225 Lb. Bench Reps:
Vertical Jump: 38 1/2 Broad Jump: 10’08”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.07 3-Cone Drill: 7.09
Best Season: 10G, 44 solo, 85 total tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 pick 6, 3 PD, 2 FR (1TD), 3 FF
Like his teammate picked just before him, his selection came as a bit of a shock. Early? Is he just a Special Teams pick? Why not an EDGE rusher?
It was easy to understand the pick as a ST-coordinator’s dream––Johnson is a terrific core contributor on 4 Special Teams units. But, on top of that, he tested incredibly well athletically. His play garners a wide range of opinions, but there is the athletic potential and some good tackling skill to leave open the possibility that he grows into not only a functional NFL defender but perhaps an outstanding one. His ability to gain a feel for coverage will determine his career arc.
OPTIMIST: His athletic profile helps him become a great complement to Devin Bush and they form one of the great ILB pairings in the NFL, while he is a core contributor to an upgraded Special Teams unit.
PESSIMIST: He’s a high-quality Special Teams player who you hope never sees the field on defense, except for emergencies and preseason OR he becomes yet another off-ball LB like L.J. Fort or Ulysses Gilbert who barely gets a chance until they move on and start elsewhere.
TRADE UP Pick 5.156 Isaiahh “Baby Cam” Loudermilk, DL, Wisconsin
Hand: 10 Arm: 32 5/8 Wingspan: 81 1/4
Height: 6063 Weight: 274
40 Yrd Dash: 5.08 20 Yrd Dash: 2.88 10 Yrd Dash: 1.71
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 21
Vertical Jump: 28 1/2 Broad Jump: 09’04”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.55 3-Cone Drill: 7.52
Best Season: 12 G, 13 solo, 24 total tackles, 5 TFL, 3 sacks, 4 PD, 2 FF
Trading up with a 2022 pick for a prospect not particularly in demand (the 443th-ranked prospect on the Mega-Composite Board) was an interesting move. The fact that Loudermilk also posted a disappointing pro day meant he was even more off the radar. But, once again, the Steelers show that they are quite unconcerned with the athletic numbers of Day 3 picks, and they favor Power 5 production and former high-pedigree high school recruits.
Loudermilk looks the part of a 5-tech Defensive Lineman and his production in a (sort of 😉 ) Power 5 conference is eye-opening for a player at a position not known for stats accumulation. He seems to win a lot of reps vs. both the run and in pass rush. His athletic numbers don’t inspire confidence this output will translate to NFL success, but he prove to be a crafty and dependable backup.
Pick 6.216 Quincy Roche, EDGE, Miami (FL)
Height: 6025 Weight: 245
40 Yrd Dash: 4.69 20 Yrd Dash: 2.78 10 Yrd Dash: 1.69
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 23
Vertical Jump: 32 1/2 Broad Jump: 09’11”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.50 3-Cone Drill: 7.20
The Steelers finally made a pick to help address their nonexistent depth at Outside Linebacker, and they clearly made a choice of production over measurables. Quincy Roche was a graduate transfer who had a huge season at Temple and then went to Miami to help the Hurricanes replace a more highly-touted EDGE rusher who opted out of the 2020 season. Roche basically outperformed the guy he replaced in terms of production, despite a good but not great athletic profile. I do a lot of work looking into 3-4 Defense EDGE rushers and I might have preferred a defender with a quicker get off than a 1.69 10 yd split or a faster 3-cone than 7.2 or more explosion in general. But it can’t be denied that Roche had as much production in sacks, pressures, & TFL as any EDGE rusher in the draft. To get that in the 6th round is a giant win.
OPTIMIST: Roche outperforms his athletic profile AND his draft slot and becomes a quality starter within a year or so.
PESSIMIST: Roche can’t quite duplicate his college performance when facing NFL-caliber OTs, but he offers a nice change of pace and some pass-rush juice in relief of T.J. Watt & Alex Highsmith.
Pick 7.245 Tre Norwood CB, Oklahoma
Hand: 09 3/8 Arm: 29 3/8 Wingspan: 72 1/4
Height: 5115 Weight: 192 40 Yrd Dash: 4.58
20 Yrd Dash: 2.66 10 Yrd Dash: 1.59
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 12
Vertical Jump: 33 1/2 Broad Jump: 10’03”
20 Yrd Shuttle: 4.45 3-Cone Drill: 7.65
Tre Norwood’s late-season INT surge was remarkable, culminating in the Pick 6 that probably cost Kyle Trask millions of dollars difference in draft position. But those interceptions seemed largely fueled by QBs seemingly throwing the ball directly to him more than by some big step up in his play. I think there is some promise to the player and the upside of some ability to play safety… but I can’t justify this player being above even his teammate Tre Brown or the UDFA CBs the Steelers signed or courted as UDFAs––Mac McCain, Shakur Brown, & Mark Gilbert. This would be the most head-scratching pick of the whole draft class.
OPTIMIST: Norwood’s late-season surge in play and ball production signals “it all coming together’ and he proves to be a steal as a versatile slot DB with safety ability.
PESSIMIST: Norwood’s lack of agility & quickness make it difficult for him to cover receivers in man coverage and he is relegated to a narrow role as an emergency backup.
Pick 7.254 Pressley Harvin, P, Georgia Tech
Hand: 09 3/8 Arm: 32 1/8Wingspan: 77 3/4
Height: 5111 Weight: 263
225 Lb. Bench Reps: 14
Career: 44G, 210 punts, 9396 yards, 44.7 avg, 1/3 passing, 41 yds, 1 TD
I’m guessing the conversation in the real-life Steelers draft room was pretty close to the one we had in the SteelerFury Podcast Mock Draft Room:
“Hey, guys, what do we have at 7.254?”
“How would you feel about a punter?”
“Well, I have this punter who booms the ball, is great at putting it inside the 20… oh and he’s 260lbs and throws the deep ball better than our backup QB.”
“I would do that.”
“SOLD! With the 254th pick…”
OPTIMIST: The 1st black Ray Guy Award winner in college becomes the next Ray Guy and also throws for a couple of fake punt TDs.
PESSIMIST: He’s only a small upgrade from Jordan Berry, and his FG holding is only adequate… but who cares!A1