Steelers Players Who Will Be Most Impacted by 2021 NFL Draft Picks
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a step toward shaping their future by signing Mike Tomlin to a three-year extension Tuesday. In less than a week, that future will continue to solidify at the 2021 NFL draft.
The 2021 NFL draft finds the Steelers on the precipice of a new era. Ben Roethlisberger is returning for one more year and many parts of the defense that was No. 1 in the league in 2020 will return.
Free agency saw plenty of important players leave, though. Steven Nelson, Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton all left on defense, while James Conner, Matt Feiler, Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey won't be returning on offense.
Armed with one pick in each of the first three rounds and two fourth-rounders, the Steelers are bound to add some players who will shake up the roster. Here are some of the veterans still on the roster who will be the most impacted by who the Steelers pick.
RB Anthony McFarland Jr.
The Steelers have avoided utilizing an early draft pick to address the running back position. The trendy conventional wisdom of waiting until the mid-rounds to find a running back hasn't brought back serious returns to this point.
With James Conner heading to Arizona, the running back room is home to Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland Jr. and Jaylen Samuels.
Of the three, McFarland might be the only one worth making an argument for as the lead back. Snell has way more carries (219) than his counterparts through two seasons, but he averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season. Jaylen Samuels has established himself as more of a pass-catching specialist.
McFarland struggled last season (3.4 yards per carry), but he was just a rookie. Then there's his connection with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada. The two crossed paths at Maryland where McFarland sang his praises as a "players' coach"
Maybe Canada believes that McFarland can be the one to resurrect the run game. Where the Steelers take a running back will shed some light on how they feel about their second-year back.
QB Mason Rudolph and QB Dwayne Haskins
Is Mason Rudolph a good NFL backup or is he worth a shot at being something more? Can Dwayne Haskins be salvaged?
Those are the questions that will be posed to the Steelers in 2022. The former Oklahoma State quarterback enters the final year of his rookie contract in 2021 as the presumed backup to Ben Roethlisberger, although he will have to compete with Haskins for that honor as well.
Big Ben is 38 years old and just one year removed from elbow surgery. There's no guarantee he holds up for the season, especially with the inexperienced tackles the Steelers will be rolling with in 2021. The backup quarterback position is taking on increased importance in Pittsburgh.
The organization isn't really committed to either Rudolph or Haskins. The former first-rounder is signed to a one-year deal worth $850,000.
That means if the right quarterback situation presents itself, the Steelers could be making a much bigger commitment to a rookie. If any of the first-round quarterbacks start sliding on draft day or if Davis Mills ends up being available in the second round, the Steelers could find value and move on from both of their options with little sunken cost.
OT Chukwuma Okorafor
With Alejandro Villanueva still on the market, it's looking like a fairly safe bet the Steelers will have a new left tackle in 2021. Big Al has been a steady presence on the offensive line for the better part of a decade, so it's a large vacancy to fill.
With both Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner returning to the team, there are in-house options to fill the role.
Banner is not likely to challenge for the left tackle spot. At 6'8" and 360 pounds, he's a mauler who profiles better at right tackle. He won the position at the beginning of the 2020 season, but a season-ending knee injury changed those plans.
Whether Okorafor gets slotted in as the left tackle or battles Banner for the right tackle spot again in 2021 likely depends on whether the Steelers can find a left tackle they like in the first or second round. There are plenty of options as there are six tackles in Bleacher Report's top 32 players.