After a disappointing end to the 2020 campaign, Steelers draft needs in 2021 are plentiful…
Steelers draft needs 2021: Key positions to address
The Pittsburgh Steelers are difficult team to judge. Depending on which Sunday you catch them, they could be the franchise that is threatening to go undefeated in the regular season. In other games, they look like an underwhelming team that doesn’t generate enough explosive plays. Like with most things, the truth lays somewhere in the middle of those extremes. The good news for the Steelers is, they’ll have a chance to re-load in this month’s NFL Draft.
Heading into the 2021 season, it seems very clear that their defense is not the problem. The Steelers ranked top 3 in several defensive categories, including yards allowed, yards per play allowed, turnovers forced, and first downs allowed. They’ll return sack master T.J. Watt, impressive young linebacker Devin Bush, and jack of all trades defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Pittsburgh’s talent on the offensive side of the ball isn’t bad on paper. However, they should focus specifically on three key areas of need.
Addressing these positions will help them re-join the mix of AFC contenders next year, and potentially for years to come. Their first pick is slotted in at number 24 in the first round.
As impressive as James Conner’s perseverance, dedication and toughness are from a character perspective, he has not proven to be the answer in Pittsburgh’s backfield after the departure of Le’Veon Bell.
As a team, the Steelers ranked dead last in the NFL in yards per carry last season. They cannot afford to have another campaign where their ground game is an afterthought, especially with 39 year old Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.
Possible candidates for Steelers at 24 based on Pro Days:
– Najee Harris
– Asante Samuel Jr
– Travis Etienne
– Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah
– Eric Stokes
– Azeez Ojulari
– Kwity Paye
– Jalen Mayfield
– Alex Leatherwood
– Wyatt Davis
– Liam Eichenberg
– Pat Freiermuth
– Jayson Oweh
— Nick Farabaugh (@FarabaughFB) March 31, 2021
It isn’t imperative for NFL teams to invest heavily in running backs since they are generally pretty easy to find, but since the Steelers are in win now mode, they could very well use their first round pick to address this need. Don’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh hot on the tail for University of Alabama running back Najee Harris.
Even though the Steelers would like to address the running back room, there is arguably no larger void on the team than at center. It’s possibly the greatest Steelers draft need.
Nine-time Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey called it a career after 11 excellent seasons with the team at the age of 31. Pittsburgh will be looking for a full time starting center for the first time since the 2009 season. Whomever they select to fill in for Pouncey will have a huge spotlight on them from the first day of training camp.
— Oliver Hodgkinson (@ojhodgkinson) April 2, 2021
As luck would have it for Pittsburgh, Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey is projected to go towards the end of the first round, right where the Steelers’ first round draft pick is.
Humphrey profiles as an athletic player who has the ability to pull left or right on running plays. It might be risky business to entrust that position to a player with no NFL experience.
However, the Steelers need to replenish the middle of their line with talent as soon as possible.
We saw what the Steelers did in 2019. Ben Roethlisberger missed the vast majority of the season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin was forced to go with Mason Rudolph and Devlin “Duck” Hodges under center.
The team still finished with a respectable 8-8 record. Yet, the franchise likely wants to bring in a more competent option under center to back up Big Ben moving forward.
Pittsburgh signed former Washington Football Team first round pick Dwayne Haskins a few months ago, and it’s possible he’s in their future plans too.
But based on what Haskins showed last year in Washington, and Roethlisberger’s struggles down the stretch, Pittsburgh has to be thinking about who they can groom.
Roethlisberger is 39 years old, and figures to only have a couple years left at best. It’s unlikely they use their first round pick on a signal caller, but don’t be surprised if they grab one in round two or three. The University of Florida’s Kyle Trask could be an option for them.