The 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers team needs are critical in one last run for the Super Bowl. The Steelers ended their season with an impressive 12-4 record in head coach Mike Tomlin’s 14th season. The year should have been looked back on as quite an impressive one, having started off 11-0. Instead, it is looked at more like a disappointment with ending the year going 1-4 and getting beaten on Super Wildcard Weekend by the rival Cleveland Browns. Despite the big run in 2020, the Pittsburgh Steelers have quite a few needs on their roster. Between retirements and the cap situation, expect quite a few moves this offseason.
A “positive” note is that Ben Roethlisberger has expressed much desire in returning for 2021. The lifelong Pittsburgh Steeler has one more year left on his contract and is willing to take a pay cut to aid the front office. The decision to bring back Ben Roethlisberger is still a toss-up after the inconsistency last year. At this point though, he still gives Pittsburgh their best chance at one final run at the Super Bowl. Let us take a glance at what this team can do to improve with the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers team needs.
Pittsburgh’s 2020 Season
After losing to the Cleveland Browns where it wasn’t as close as the final score tells, the Pittsburgh Steelers can start looking toward the future. One of the main issues on the roster was the run game, which was also the weak point of their entire season. They finished dead last in total rushing yards (1,351) and yards per carry (3.6). in 2019, their rushing attack was 29th in total yards (1,447) and yards per carry (3.7). While most teams can blame their offensive lines for these faults, this one falls more on the RBs themselves.
James Conner, beloved as he might be in this city, just isn’t an elite RB as once thought to be. In four years, he has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards. 2018 was a nice career-high for him but he has since battled injuries and inconsistency. When you watch him run, he just looks like one of the slower starters in the league. All signs are pointing to the Steelers parting ways with Conner, which will likely be for the best being a FA.
RB is going to be a big draft need by looking at the current roster. Benny Snell Jr has been sitting behind Conner but hasn’t caught much momentum either. Currently, Snell would be in a battle against Anthony McFarland for the lead role in the offseason. Matt Canada, the newly promoted OC, was at the University of Maryland with McFarland, giving him a chance to be a decent featured back. Still, there is more talented and more ready prospects that can help a win-now team.
On the defensive side, this was one of the best units in the NFL. The Steelers led the league in sacks (56), INTs (18), and was 2nd in total TOs (27). TJ Watt, snubbed in the DPOY, had a career-high 15 sacks and is solidified as the leader of this defense. His partner in crime, Bud Dupree, could easily leave via FA if the money isn’t there though. Tyson Alualu and Robert Spillane, who both stepped up greatly in 2020, are also FAs (cheaper options though compared to Dupree’s price tag).
Surprisingly, the secondary that is usually the Achilles of the defense, has matured into a productive and disruptive crew. Part of this resurgence was the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick. Another was Mike Hilton rising up to be a jack-of-all-trades on the defense. Cameron Sutton and Justin Layne played well when Joe Haden went down with an injury. Luckily most of these guys are young and on the cheaper side at the moment (Hilton is a FA though).
2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Team Needs and Predictions
Roethlisberger Finally Has a Timetable
Yes, after several years now of speculation of whether Big Ben was going to retire or play another year seems to be coming to an end. There’s one year left on Ben’s current deal although it has a hefty price to it (just over $42 million). Coming from the big man’s own mouth, he stated that he would fulfill his contract and return for 2021. He’s even willing to take a large pay cut to help fix the roster.
I’m taking this as Ben saying this deal is the last one he will take. It benefits both sides if it is true. Roethlisberger’s body is a bit slower than before and the film shows it. Any more than another year could be physically and even mentally challenging on him. He still fetches a decent price as well and this team needs money where it can find it.
His stats were down in 2020, having the least amount of passing yards since 2012, but he was much more efficient and smart with his throws. He adapted to his young offense and was able to get the ball out the fastest, letting his playmakers… make plays. The deep ball is still there but it doesn’t have a full-time role in his arsenal anymore. The experience Ben has behind center is something you don’t take for granted.
The roster sitting on the QB bench doesn’t possess that trait. The “veteran” is Mason Rudolph. While some say (including Art Rooney) that Mason has the ability to play and start in the league, I haven’t seen enough from him to be excited with him as the next man up. Pittsburgh did sign the popular FA Dwayne Haskins but it is still unknown how he will develop with the team. Josh Dobbs could be brought back but he is similar to Rudolph.
There isn’t enough money to chase after a top FA and there aren’t any cheaper reliable options. At number 24 in the draft, Pittsburgh could finally upgrade on Day 1 with someone like Mac Jones or Kyle Trask. A trade up for Trey Lance is never out of the question.
Cracks in the Offensive Line Shield
For almost a decade, this offensive line has been one of the better, long-lasting groups. Maurkice Pouncey anis leaning on calling it a career after the loss to Cleveland in the playoffs. JC Hassenauer is no long-term starter is over 30 and seemed to lose a step as well. Kevin Dotson turned out to be a steal later in the draft last year. He could be the only returning starting guard if the Steelers make the hard decision of letting go of DeCastro to save nearly $9 million.
Alejandro Villanueva is probably out as a FA. He’s been with the team since 2014 and went to two Pro Bowls. He’s also over 30 and struggled through most of the season. The same goes for Matt Feiler. Chukwuma Okorafor received early praise when he filled in for Zach Banner but he’s not solid yet.
The offensive line is an immediate need with a struggling run game and new QB behind them as soon as 2022. Pittsburgh is no stranger to OL in the first round and could look to add a new fresh face at #24.
2021 NFL Draft
Even before the Pittsburgh Steelers start reworking Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, they will be around $30 million over the cap. Sure, there will be some much-needed money freed up in the restructured deal but fixing the roster won’t come in free agency. Luckily for Pittsburgh, they have a knack for building stars through the draft. With eight picks, not counting any future compensatory picks, the Steelers can at least fix the more glaring issues.
Running back, offensive line, quarterback, and defensive back are the top needs that could be resolved as early as the first round. With the worst run game in the league, it will always hold back the Pittsburgh Steelers from reaching their full potential as a contender. James Conner has run his course in Pittsburgh (pun intended) and there is a need for an immediate starter. Snell and McFarland are still developing and can still be bright stars in the future.
Alabama’s Najee Harris is likely the only rusher worthy of a first-round pick. Harris brings amazing hands as a pass-catcher but not so much the top speed. After Conner’s lack of speed in the backfield, the next featured guy needs speed to match his hands.
This offensive line is bound to be rebuilt starting in 2021 and it can’t be prolonged anymore. Center, tackle, and guard are all needs. Pouncey will likely be the biggest hole on the line to fill but Alabama’s Landon Dickerson is one of the top centers in the draft. If you add in the chance Pittsburgh could snag QB Mac Jones, this pairing makes sense. Outside of center, Texas’ Samuel Cosmi can bring versatility in playing guard or tackle. He could find himself in Villanueva’s role should he leave.
Quarterbacks are going to be in the talk as a huge need until Ben officially retires. If you ask me, I would rather get a placement before he is out of the building (i.e. Green Bay). Unless there is a big trade to move up into the top-10 in the draft, the Steelers’ options are not 100% home runs.
Alabama’s Mac Jones should be available at #24 and can use 2021 to learn everything from Big Ben. Kyle Trask from Florida could also be an option being a true pocket-passer in a scheme that would reflect him well. Jamie Newman skipping the 2020 season hurt his stock intensely but he still has the potential to be a great product down the line.
2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft
Round 1- #24- Samuel Cosmi- OT- Texas
Round 2- #56- Jamie Newman- QB- Georgia
Round 3- #87- Javonte Williams- RB- North Carolina
Round 4- #118- Daron Bland- CB- Sacramento St
Round 5- #151- Drake Jackson- C- Kentucky
Round 6- #189- Wyatt Hubert- OLB- Kansas St
Round 7- #208- Trae Barry- TE- Jacksonville St
Round 7- #217- Derek Kerstetter- OG- Texas
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