Because the NFL Draft is not a sport of solitaire, it is not possible to foretell what the Pittsburgh Steelers will do with their choice Thursday evening within the first spherical of the 2021 version. Because they don’t want to reveal their plans to another crew, they’re detest to share a lot information concerning their intent. Because they’re within the leisure enterprise, although, it is most popular that they work together often with their public.
And within the dialog coach Mike Tomlin and basic supervisor Kevin Colbert had with the media upfront of the draft, one might discern how the Steelers would really like the draft to go in a super circumstance.
“I don’t think you can ever underestimate the value of a quality player at any position, and running back is no different,” Colbert informed the reporters in attendance, and lots of extra listening via social media channels.
“If you have a dynamic player at any position, that player should make a difference. If you look at the Hall of Fame runners, most of those guys were taken in high rounds. So I don’t ever place that value high or low on a given position. I base it on who the player is — and what that player can do to help us.”
Najee Harris of Alabama? Travis Etienne of Clemson. Maybe even North Carolina’s Javonte Williams? One couldn’t count on the Steelers to even present a trace concerning their desire.
But it’s truthful to imagine the Steelers want to decide on a running back if the precise one is obtainable.
And, no, that is under no circumstances a bad idea.
“There are only a few positions that would fit the Steelers’ needs right now — and the talent that would be available in the first round for them,” NFL analyst Chris Carter of DKPittsburghSports activities.com informed Sporting News. “The reason I keep pointing to the running back position is for the past four years, you have to remember, the Steelers have picked running backs each year and none of them have stuck to become primary ballcarriers for the team.
“James Conner was a decent running back, but not the kind of game changer that the team had with Le’Veon Bell.”
Although Carter usually hears from fans that the Steelers simply aren’t good at drafting running backs later within the draft, his analysis signifies that they’re no worse than anybody else. According to Carter’s analysis, since 2017, the 12 months Conner was chosen with the one hundred and fifth general decide, 61 running backs had been chosen past the highest 100 alternatives. That consists of Jaylen Samuels, Bennie Snell and Anthony McFarland with the Steelers. Among them, solely 5 have produced 900 or extra dashing yards in a season. Conner is one.
“Nobody has some formula of just drafting a running back late and making it work,” Carter mentioned. “You still look at important players like Derrick Henry. Without him, the Titans don’t compete as they did in the past two years in the playoffs. Dalvin Cook — without him, the Vikings are drafting in the top 10 again. I think that running back is still very important.”
NFL soccer within the wage cap period is first about deployment of obtainable assets. It has turn out to be a canard amongst many who observe the league that deciding on a running back within the first spherical of the draft is silly in that respect.
Indeed, selecting one with the primary general decide — until it’s spent on the 20-year-old clone of Jim Brown — can be ludicrous. For these within the latter a part of the spherical, although, it’s as viable an choice as any.
A running back taken with the twenty fourth decide this 12 months would have an estimated cap hit of $2.26 million, in accordance with Spotrac. Ronald Jones’ cap hit for the Super Bowl winners in 2020 was $1.93 million. The crew the Buccaneers performed for the championship, the Chiefs, really drafted a running back with their 2020 first decide. The cap hit on Clyde Edwards-Helaire was $1.97 million, and the return on that was 1,100 yards from scrimmage and 5 touchdowns.
It’s not simply Hall of Fame backs who’re taken within the “high rounds.” It’s the current stars, guys who excelled sufficient to make at the least a single Pro Bowl. Since the 2005 draft, 64 p.c of Pro Bowl backs had been chosen within the first two rounds.
Such stars as Bell, Henry, Cook and Cleveland’s Nick Chubb all had been second-round alternatives. But they got here off the board, on common, with the forty second choice. The Steelers don’t select within the second spherical till No. 55. Of the ten Pro Bowl second-rounders since 2005, solely two got here that far into the draft
“When you’re like the Steelers — you have T.J. Watt, you have Minkah Fitzpatrick, you have Stephon Tuitt, you have Cam Heyward … you have a wide receiver corps and still have Ben Roethlisberger under center, at least for this year,” Carter mentioned. “When you have all those pieces in place, if you add a running back — even if he only lasts you five or six years of being a primary player — that’s still a lot of value.”
The Steelers ranked final within the NFL in dashing yards final season. Contrary to a frequent notion that they lacked “commitment” to the run, they at the least tried to run greater than 4 different groups however had been lifeless final in yards per carry. Why decide to failure?
Improving at running back is not the one ingredient to bettering the running sport. The offensive line might be largely rebuilt. The solely starter who figures to be in the identical place as 2020 is veteran proper guard David DeCastro. Chuks Okorafor was recognized throughout the information convention because the crew’s meant left sort out, which might imply Zach Banner returning to the precise sort out spot that he earned final coaching camp however forfeited when he tore his ACL within the season opener. Kevin Dotson, final 12 months’s fourth-round decide and a minor sensation filling in for injured teammates, is all however sure to begin at left guard. The heart spot nonetheless wants assist and may very well be a place bolstered by the draft.
“And I’ll add to that — and let’s be clear — the improvements in the running game go beyond just the acquisition of additional players,” Tomlin mentioned. “We’re capable of performing better than we have, players aside: schematics, formations, the things that we do to give ourselves a strategic advantage need to be improved. And that’s some of the things we’re working on.”
Of course, a crew’s intent and what might be doable are sometimes two various things. Do you consider the Packers anticipated to decide on Aaron Rodgers with the twenty fourth decide in 2005? His slide was a pleased accident for Green Bay and has paid off nicely into a second decade.
MORE DRAFT: SN’s Big Board of the top 100 players
The Steelers might very a lot need Harris on their roster and see him chosen earlier. They might need him and uncover that somebody much more gifted drops to them. NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly has declared on a number of events that he expects Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields to nonetheless be on the board when it’s Pittsburgh’s flip. It is not a fashionable opinion, however it might have been even tougher to seek out somebody who thought Rodgers would fall.
Carter mentioned there are a number of gamers who might show to be irresistible to the Steelers if nonetheless on the board at No. 24. Cornerback Caleb Farley of Virginia Tech is considered as a potential All-Pro however didn’t play in 2020 and lately had a surgical process on his back. Linebacker Zaven Collins is anticipated to be drafted within the teenagers, however if he had been obtainable he might crew with Devin Bush in a dynamic inside mixture. Carter loves Notre Dame inside backer Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and suggests a JOK/Bush tandem can be the quickest linebacker tandem within the league, however he additionally wonders whether or not they’d have sufficient heft to face as much as opponents emphasizing the ability sport.
“Najee Harris is the complete package,” Carter mentioned. “Etienne has the home-run pace. That can be thrilling to have. I do know a lot of Steelers fans think back to the Willie Parker days. But you don’t at all times want that fashion of running back.
“One factor I think Najee Harris brings higher than anyone else is his imaginative and prescient. He sees the method — offensive strains colliding with defensive strains after which determining find out how to get to the second stage and coping with linebackers — higher than anybody on this class. When I watch this tape, I think: There’s nowhere to run right here. And then, there’s a crack, however is he going to see it? And there he goes.
“He’s a pass protector. He can sit in the backfield, work as a sidecar on the shotgun to Roethlisberger. And he’s good catching the ball.”
Harris additionally confirmed the type of feistiness that might endear him to Steelers fans when ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay acknowledged that the Alabama star had proven “tremendous improvement” as a cross receiver in 2020. Harris caught 43 balls in 2020, after getting 27 (and 7 touchdowns) the prior season. In a podcast interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Harris declared that McShay “can kiss my ass” due to that evaluation.
If the Steelers choose him, Harris might have extra to say about these within the metropolis who’ll blast the choice of a running back. Because it’ll occur.