Mike Tomlin’s team needs to upgrade the offensive line and the running game and that would be a change in recent first-round philosophy.
Mike Tomlin’s team won the AFC North in 2020 but hardly looked like a division champion by season’s end. A suspect 11-0 start was followed up by a 1-5 finish, the last of those losses in the playoffs at home vs. the Browns. The Pittsburgh Steelers own the 24th overall pick on April 29. How could it all play out?
It’s hard to believe that the team has ranked 31st, 29th and last in the NFL in the league in rushing, respectively, the past three seasons. The ground game has seemingly been an afterthought in recent years and that was regardless of whether quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been on the field or not. Hence, the clubs parted ways with offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and elevated quarterbacks coach Matt Canada (who joined the team in 2020) to his spot.
Running back and tackle are big needs for this club. Gutty but injury-prone James Conner didn’t figure to return and signed with the Cardinals. Alejandro Villanueva remains a free agent despite whispers he could be brought back. Many believe the Steelers will target either Alabama’s Najee Harris or Clemson’s Travis Etienne. The team has tried to get by with a backfield-by-committee approach at times. Either would fill a big need and both have shown they can carry a big load.
It’s extremely possible that either Harris or Etienne could also be gone by the time general manager Kevin Colbert gets his opportunity. And it is a draft that appears to be deeper at offensive tackle than running back. If Pittsburgh stays pat they should be able to pick up a quality player up front, although prospects such as Penei Swell (Oregon) and Rashawn Slate (Northwestern) figure to be long gone. Could Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw be in play?
Colbert doesn’t pick again until No. 55 in the second round. It’s not out of the question they could get an immediate starter on the offensive line then. Again, if they stay at No. 24, they should add an offensive component that figures to make an impact as a rookie. Of course, there’s always the notion that they could use their first two picks on the offensive line. In any case, the Steelers haven’t used a first-round selection on a running back since 2008 (Rashard Mendenhall) and on a tackle since way back in 1996 (Jamain Stephens).
The Steelers appear to be a team holding on for dear life in a division where the Ravens and Browns also made the playoffs in 2020 and the Bengals showed they could win minus rookie quarterback Joe Burrow. The team needs a return to balance and power football, making life easier for Roethlisberger while benefitting the defense. And it starts with either a physical runner or blocker.