After beginning the 2020 campaign with such incredible success and going 11-0, the Pittsburgh Steelers' season took a sudden turn for the worse in December of last year.
Mike Tomlin's men have lost four of their last five regular-season games and were dumped out of the playoffs spectacularly by divisional rivals the Cleveland Browns, 48-37.
In truth, even at 11-0, there were numerous fans and analysts left unconvinced by the Steelers -- teams had caught on to QB Ben Roethlisberger's quick-release passing attack, and the lack of a productive running game made the Steelers' offense predictable. The offensive line was also an area of some intrigue, in that one of the NFL's highest-ranked pass-blocking units (4th) via PFF was also one of the NFL's lowest-graded run-blocking units, ranked 31st in the league.
Also Read: Who are Ben Roethlisberger’s Kids?
Another issue is that the best run-blocker on the Steelers' OL last year, Alejandro Villanueva, is currently a free agent and unlikely to return to the Steel City.
In short, Pittsburgh has some real needs to address in this year's NFL Draft if the new season is to be a success.
The running back position and some new faces across the OL are obvious positions for coach Tomlin and co. to draft early, with a replacement for retired center Maurkice Pouncey an absolute must.
NFL Draft 2021: Top five prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers should pursue
Pittsburgh currently owns five picks in the top 140 in the 2021 NFL Draft. Here's their complete list of draft picks as they stand:
- First-round: No.24
- Second-round: No.55
- Third-round: No.87
- Fourth-round: No.128 & No.140
- Sixth-round: No.216
- Seventh-round: No.245 & No. 254
Take a look at the potential first five picks for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this year's draft.
#1 - Dillon Radunz, T, North Dakota State
Steelers fans might be hoping for Christian Darrisaw or Rashwan Slater -- perhaps even Walker Little to strengthen the OL, but these prospects were long gone by the time pick No. 24 came along. The best T on the board for my money was North Dakota State's, Dillon Radunz.
Since returning from an ACL tear in 2017, Radunz has started every game for the North Dakota State Bison and has 24 career pressures allowed on his 715 pass-blocking snaps.
PFF reports that Radunz is slightly 'undersized,' which is likely why he's only ranked as the 4th/5th best OT on the board, but it's a position the Steelers need to fill as a priority, and Radunz -- assuming he fills out -- looks like a top prospect.
#2 - Kendrick Green, G, Illinois
Kendrick Green is tied with Alabama's Landon Dickerson (who many say is the best IOL in this year's draft class) with 14 big-time blocks in 2020. The stats are even more impressive when you consider that Green only featured in eight games last season.
On Green, the PFF draft-scouting states:
"His tape is littered with high-level plays — and not only of the pancake variety but also in sheer difficulty of assignment.I’m not sure there’s another interior lineman in this class who can match Green’s explosiveness off the line of scrimmage. He flies out of his stance. While he’s still a work in progress in pass protection, Green has the foot quicks to get it done in time."
#3 - Khalil Herbert, RB, Virginia Tech
Khalil Herbert is one of the top running back prospects in this year's draft. The Virginia Tech talent is a ferocious runner with ball in hand and averaged 4.7-yards after making contact in his final season with the Hokies, chalking up 1,182-yards on the year.
Najee Harris (Alabama) and Travis Etienne (Clemson) were off my Mock Draft board come pick No.87. Harris' ability to gain crucial yards after contact makes him the next best option for a Steelers team looking to replace last year's RB1 James Conner (free agent), in my opinion.
#4 - Jamin Davis, LB, Kentucky
Jamin Davis continues to drop off the board in nearly all my Mock Drafts. The 6"4, 234 lbs linebacker was the best pick available at No.128 and would be a solid addition to a Steelers roster that has lost LBs Avery Williamson, Vince Williams and Jayrone Elliot so far this offseason.
Davis made 48 solo tackles and hit 1.5 sacks for the Kentucky Wildcats during their 2020 campaign.
#5 - Sam Ehlinger, QB, Texas
Sam Ehlinger played four seasons with the Texas Longhorns, tallying up 11,436-yards and 94 TDs.
Ehlinger is undersized for an NFL QB but takes good care of the football, makes good reads on zone coverage (almost a 4:1 TD/pick ratio), and is a combative player, willing to put the hard work behind the line and sacrifice himself for the team to keep the chains moving.
The Steelers aren't likely to find a long-term replacement for "Big" Ben Roethlisberger during this Draft; not unless they trade up, but Ehlinger has some value as a sleeper pick, and 'hey,' you never know: 20 years ago Tom Brady got taken off the board in the sixth-round...
What do you think of our picks for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Sound off in the comments section below: