How will the Steelers 2nd and 3rd round draft picks affect the team?
The Steelers Stock Report is here to give you updates on trends and events that are likely to affect the team in the future. The Steelers selected Pat Freiermuth in the second round, and Kendrick Green in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, what ripples does that send through the organization? The Steeler Stock Report is here to answer that exact reason.
Stock up: Najee Harris
The major question brought up by the Steelers picking a running back with their first round pick was the quality of blocking he would receive. On day two of the draft the Steelers drafted a better run blocking tight end and a center who many consider to be able to start on day 1 of the 2021 season. Both Kendrick Green and Pat Freiermuth provide benefit to the run game, and Freiermuth sets the Steelers up to use more two tight end sets with both tight ends being solid or better receivers. That puts Najee Harris in a much better situation than he was facing 24 hours ago.
Stock Down: Knee-Jerk reactions
Many Steelers fans and analysts were pleased with the Steelers first round pick, others, like myself, questioned the wisdom of addressing running back before offensive line. After the Steelers passed on center Creed Humphrey to draft a tight end, there was even more concern. And when several centers were drafted at the end of the second round, the panic escalated everywhere but with the Steelers, who got their guy in the third round, where Kevin Colbert said they would be able to get an offensive lineman. I’m not saying don’t react to the draft, but it is important to allow the process to play out before passing judgement.
Stock up: Eric Ebron
It may seem strange to put Eric Ebron’s stock higher when the Steelers drafted a competitor at his position, but it makes sense. In 2020 Eric Ebron started the season strong, catching 70% of his targets, averaging over 10 yards per reception over the first 7 games, but with Vance McDonald limited, Ebron’s snap counts rose (highest snap count since he was 23) and he spent more time as an in-line tight end, and his numbers grew worse. Drops increased, catch rate dropped, yards per reception dropped and his run blocking was visibly worse.
After the season Ebron was working with trainer Rischad Whitfield, known as “The Footwork King” and Whitfield posted a video of Ebron working on releases and called out the Steelers for using Ebron in-line so much, instead of in the slot and out wide, where he is much more dangerous. While Pat Freiermuth can also line up in other spots, he is best suited to play in-line, and should allow the Steelers to both reduce Ebron’s snap count, and limit his in-line snaps. I expect to see improved stats, especially efficiency numbers from Eric Ebron in 2021.
Stock Down: The 3rd and 4th wide receivers
Najee Harris is a really good receiver as a running back, and the Steelers now have two good tight ends that can line up as receivers. Last season the Steelers had three receivers with 800 yards and the Steelers fourth receiver, James Washington caught 30 passes, gaining just under 400 yards. That’s more production from the receiver depth than the Steelers and other NFL teams usually see. With more snaps, and likely more targets going to tight ends and running backs, as well as the noticeable focus on running the ball better, expect the Steelers depth receivers to have lower numbers in 2021.
Stock Up: Matt Canada football
Matt Canada, in his years running college offenses, showed the ability to coach very different offensive philosophies, from pass heavy to run heavy to balanced offenses. He used quarterbacks that could run, ones that were statues and ones in-between. But in all those offenses, a few trends show up. One is a lot of motion, in particular motion from interior skill position players. Running backs, wingbacks, but mostly H-backs and tight ends. He also used a lot of formations with multiple players who were H-backs, fullbacks or tight ends. Matt Canada going into the 2021 season has two tight ends that can line up in different places, a fullback who played for him in Wisconsin and was used as an H-back and split out wide last season, and a first round running back who ran wide receiver drills at his pro day to show he has position flexibility as well. Behind Najee Harris in the running back room are Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Samuels, who both played for Canada in college and can line up in different spots on the field. Canada will have a lot of options to use the Steelers players in multiple ways, and motion them into different roles pre-snap.
The Steelers third round pick, Kendrick Green, excels in outside zone run schemes, another staple of Canada’s college offenses. The first three picks of the Steelers 2021 draft all fit what Matt Canada has done with his offenses in the past, and it will be interesting to watch how he uses them this season.