Steelers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IApril 26, 2021

Steelers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    Paul Vernon/Associated Press

    Ben Roethlisberger isn't retiring yet and JuJu Smith-Schuster has returned, so the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to again have a talented roster in 2021.

    As a result, they should be in a position to contend, even if they have had a fairly uneventful offseason outside of re-signing Smith-Schuster in free agency.

    That may have been the case so far, but Pittsburgh is going to have an opportunity to add to its roster this week. The 2021 NFL draft is set to take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and the Steelers own eight picks over the seven-round event.

    Although Smith-Schuster is back, Pittsburgh still has some offensive needs, especially if it wants to put a strong unit around Roethlisberger to help the veteran quarterback win at least one more Super Bowl. And the Steelers have a few holes on their defense, too.

    Here's a look at three players Pittsburgh should consider adding during the NFL draft.

Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    The Steelers lost their starting running back during free agency when James Conner signed with the Arizona Cardinals, so they could be looking to add one of the top backs in this year's draft class.

    And there's none better than Najee Harris, who has a strong chance of still being on the board when Pittsburgh is first on the clock at No. 24 overall.

    The Steelers may want to give Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland Jr. more opportunities in 2021, but it's going to be tough to pass on the 23-year-old, who has the potential to develop into a top-tier NFL back.

    Harris quickly got on the field for Alabama as a true freshman in 2017, and he went on to put up huge numbers over his four-year career with the Crimson Tide. The 6'2" back played 55 games over that span, rushing for 3,843 yards and 46 touchdowns, and recording 80 receptions for 781 yards and 11 touchdowns.

    During a recent appearance on ESPN's First Take, Harris told Stephen A. Smith: "It would be good to be a Steeler."

    It would be good for the Steelers, too.

Shaun Wade, CB, Ohio State

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Pittsburgh has lost a pair of cornerbacks this offseason, with both Stephen Nelson and Mike Hilton no longer on the team.

    The Steelers still have Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton, but they're likely going to be looking for a slot cornerback who they can quickly insert into their defense. And Shaun Wade could fit that bill.

    The 22-year-old's draft stock fell a bit in 2020, as Ohio State moved him from the slot to an outside spot. Last year, many projected him as a future first-round pick, but he likely won't get drafted until Day 2, potentially not until late in the second round or early in the third.

    But Wade is still a talented prospect who showed his potential earlier in his career with the Buckeyes. He had 26 tackles, one interception and two forced fumbles in 13 games in 2019, and he was named to the All-Big Ten third team. Despite not faring as well in 2020, he still had 35 tackles and two interceptions in eight games.

    As NFL.com's Lance Zierlein noted, he "was beaten badly as an outside corner when matched against future NFL talent." But if the Steelers draft Wade, move him back to the slot and surround him with a solid defense, there seems to be a good chance of him returning to form and becoming a key player they can build around.

Stone Forsythe, OT, Florida

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Another position that the Steelers will need to address at some point during the draft is tackle. Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor may end up as Pittsburgh's starters there, but neither is a proven player.

    Stone Forsythe could be an enticing option for the Steelers on Day 2 of the draft (or maybe even early on Day 3). The 6'8", 307-pound lineman may end up being one of the top sleepers at the position in the draft, and he could become a key part of Pittsburgh's offensive line.

    Over three years at Florida, he played 40 games and made 28 starts, including all 12 during the 2020 season. He was a part of some strong Gators offenses and did a great job helping to protect quarterback Kyle Trask this past year.

    "The name of the game is pass protection and Forsythe's talent in that area should make him an NFL starter early on," Zierlein wrote.

    That could bode well for the Steelers, who will be looking for players to step up and assume the starting tackle roles. Perhaps one could belong to Forsythe at some point in 2021.

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