The 2021 NFL Draft is just about two weeks away. After last year’s draft was conducted virtually due to the COVID pandemic, the NFL got partially back to the in-person circuit this season. While the Combine was cancelled, an increased importance was placed on Pro Day workouts. The Steelers brass was able to get out and hit the Pro Day circuit again this year, with scouts and coaches traversing the country. The Steelers will once again be picking in the mid-20s in the first round.
Check out our Prospect Profiles on some specific prospects in the 2021 Draft class. Our positional Draft Preview series continues today with a look at EDGE rushers where Bud Dupree cashed in during Free Agency and Alex Highsmigh is expected to take over the starting role. Check out the previous previews:
- Quarterback Draft Preview
- Running Back Draft Preview
- Wide Receiver Draft Preview
- Tight End Draft Preview
- Offensive Line Preview
- Defensive Line Preview
Returning Players: TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cassius Marsh
New Arrivals: none
The Departed: Bud Dupree, Ola Adeniyi, Jayrone Elliott
Draft Need: Medium (Rotational Depth)
TJ Watt was a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year last season. With Bud Dupree cashing in during free agency, last year’s third round pick Alex Highsmith figures to step into the starting lineup. Highsmith started 5 games last season after Dupree was injured and performed adequately for a rookie thrust into a starting role. That said, the rotational players the Steelers had last season are largely gone (Ola Adeniyi signed in Tennessee and Jayrone Elliott remains a free agent). Cassius Marsh is back, but the depth at outside linebacker is incredibly thin and in need of additional players. If Alex Highsmith does not pan out, the Steelers may need a future starter at the position, so using a mid-round pick on an athletic but developmental linebacker is not out of the question.
Likelihood of Drafting: Medium
Given the lack of depth on the current roster, it seems likely that the Steelers will add an EDGE rusher at some point during the draft. As the Steelers (and league as a whole) have learned over time, EDGE rusher is one position where collegiate production simply does not matter. Collegiate players that have tested through-the-roof athletically but had minimal production (like Bud Dupree) have gone on to much better NFL careers than marginal athletes that had great college production (like Jarvis Jones). When in doubt, it is much better to gamble on highly-athletic EDGE rushers, regardless of how well they played in college.
The top prospects in this year’s draft all fit the mold of “highly athletic but marginally productive.” There is no elite EDGE rusher in this draft like in prior years with Myles Garrett, Josh Allen, or Chase Young. Different draft analysts have a handful of players all vying for the spot of the top EDGE rusher taken between Georgia’s Azeez Olijuari, Penn State’s Jayson Oweh, Miami’s Jaelan Phillips, and Michigan’s Kwity Paye. Players like Texas’ Joseph Ossai and Washington’s Joe Tryon also tested very well athletically. Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert, and defensive line coach Karl Dunbar attended Florida State’s Pro Day where mid-to-late round prospects Janarius Robinson and Josh Kanidoh worked out. The Steelers met with a number of small-school prospects including Northern Iowa’s Elerson Smith and Georgia Southern’s Raymond Johnson. They attended Pro Days for Coastal Carolina’s Tarron Jackson, the Tulane duo of Cameron Sample and Patrick Johnson, and Virginia’s Charles Snowden. Steelers coaches worked out Oklahoma’s Ronnie Perkins at his Pro Day and also attended Pro Days at Notre Dame (Daelin Hayes) and Ohio State (Jonathon Cooper).