The NFL Draft is here again! The Pittsburgh Steelers have some glaring needs, but also some options with the 24th pick in the 2021 Draft.
Three positions stand out to me of particular need for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this draft. Offensive Line, Running Back, and Quarterback. Let’s break down all three and see what directions the Steelers could go with the #24 pick.
I’m going to start here because this is the route a lot of people have the Steelers going in the first round. And I could very well see it too. But a few other options have to come off the board for me before I get behind going O-Line in the first round. Let’s address this before we get started. It’s not the biggest need. And, it’s not the reason the Steelers collapsed down the stretch last season. An aging quarterback with a surgically repaired elbow and lack of a run game were the culprits. But we’ll get to that in a minute. The O-Line is terrible and in need of serious repair, yes. Center Maurkice Pouncey retired after last season’s embarrassing first round exit to the Browns, and as great a center as he was for his career, it was time.
My argument for waiting on an O-Line until the second round or later is that this draft is very deep at the position. Especially at Offensive Tackle, Interior Offensive Line, and the Center position. If I were Kevin Colbert I would look to fill some other needs first before moving on to the O-Line in this draft.
This is a position I have as a must need in this draft. However, look at how many Quarterback hungry teams there are in this draft. The ones I see as a good fit or the Steelers, Trey Lance and Mac Jones, will be long gone by the time the Steelers draft at 24. That said – if either of those two or Justin Fields slips to within striking distance of a trade I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger. The Steelers can choose to ignore the Quarterback position at their own peril. But the bottom line is Big Ben is 39 and has a surgically repaired elbow.
Ben gets rid of the ball quicker but cannot throw downfield with accuracy anymore. Last season the Covid rattled Ravens laid the blueprint for how to beat the Steelers. They narrowly lost but Washington and everyone that followed took advantage. Stack the box and make Roethlisberger throw. Ben’s accuracy on throws of 21+ yards last year sat at 39.7%, just slightly better than Carson Wentz, Sam Bradford, and Jared Goff. His 58 attempts were the 6th most last season. Is Ben going to throw more accurately with a better O-Line? Probably not? Should a 39-year-old QB, 2 years removed from elbow surgery, be throwing almost as many deep balls at Patrick Mahomes? Also, No!
We’ll get to the fix for that in a second, but let’s look at what the Steelers have and could have in this draft. If Mac Jones, Justin Fields, or pray god, Trey Lance slip. Make the trade and grab them. Full stop! Since we are not expecting that to happen the Steelers could look to 2nd tier Quarterbacks in rounds 2 or 3. I like both Kellen Mond and Davis Mills as prospects with huge sleeper potential in this year’s draft.
Both Mond and Mills would benefit from learning under a future Hall Of Famer like Roethlisberger before taking the reins in 2022. Mason Rudolph has proven on countless occasions that he isn’t the guy. Rolling the dice on Dwayne Haskins was a low risk, high reward chance that I would have taken too. But it’s time to invest a high pick this year in the future after Ben. If the Mike Tomlin era has taught us anything it’s that the Steelers can expect to draft in or around the 20s next year as well when the quarterback pool isn’t as deep.
Finally, we get to the most likely choice in the first round. Running back, and more specifically Najee Harris. Let’s assume quarterbacks Lance, Jones, and Fields have not slipped and the Steelers are set to draft at 24. The choice should be Najee Harris. In a backfield that currently boasts Benny Snell Jr, Anthony McFarland, Kalen Ballage, and Jaylen Samuels, Harris should step in and be able to take the starting back reigns from week 1. Or rather week 2, as the Steelers brass really like to drive home to themselves that the position is a lost cause before they trot out their rookies.
The problem with the Steelers is they haven’t had a running game since Le’Veon Bell left. James Conner had one Pro-Bowl season. And as much as I liked his drive and his story, he is not a feature back in this league. He is a great number 2, but the Steelers have been without a feature back for some time. And if they want to make the most of Roethlisberger’s final year then they need to get their running game back. Because I’ve got news for you. If James Connor isn’t a starting back worthy of resigning, it’s not getting any better with Benny Snell or Anthony MacFarland in the backfield either.
Najee Harris is built like Derek Henry but with receiving ability. Which, if you don’t want to see your aging QB throw deep upwards of 60 times next season, is going to be key. You’ll have a back that can run, as well as be a threat underneath. Chase Claypool has proven he can command the attention downfield, Diontae Johnson in the slot is dangerous when he hangs on to the ball. Add in Najee as a higher threat than Connor in the backfield, and you have an offense that can move the ball.
Won’t Happen In A Million Years, Be Cool If It Did
There is one last option which I am guaranteeing you won’t happen. But a man can dream.
Trade the Number 24 (and probably some other future picks) to the Packers for last year’s first round pick Jordan Love. It would be the most uncharacteristic move ever for the franchise. But you’d be getting a top tier quarterback with the 24th pick, in a draft where all the top tier QBs will likely be off the board by then. In 2022 the quarterback draft class drops off significantly, with just 2 so far projected in the first round, and they should be off the board by pick 6. So unless you want to let Mason Rudolph play you into a top 10 pick and waste another year of this elite defense, trading the 24 for Love (assuming there is a trade to be made) is as good an option as I can think of.
But I’d still welcome Najee with open arms! After years of the insufferable Antonio Brown wouldn’t it be better to have this guy on your team?
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