Steelers made a colossal mistake not trading up for Justin Fields in 2021

Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass during the second half of their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 08, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears looks to pass during the second half of their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 08, 2021 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers made some short-sighted moves in recent years, but there was no greater mistake than standing pat in the 2021 NFL Draft.

I know I’ve talked about this before, but it’s impossible not to think about what the Pittsburgh Steelers could look like right now had they valued premier positions more highly in the NFL Draft in recent years. In an effort to make one final push, Kevin Colbert made some very short-sighted moves that most of us would later regret.

Since 2015, the Steelers have been very hit-or-miss in the NFL Draft, and much of this has to do with trying to fill a position of need rather than take the best player available. Pittsburgh did this when they were on the clock in the first round in 2018 — settling for safety Terrell Edmunds. They did so again the following year when they packaged their first, second, and future third-round picks to move up for a linebacker, Devin Bush.

While filling needs is important, it shouldn’t be a team’s top priority in the NFL Draft. Instead, organizations should always be trying to draft the best players at the most important positions. Needless to say, the Steelers missed a major opportunity in 2021.

Throughout the entire draft process, we knew that Najee Harris was a player who was going to be very high on their radar in the first round. Despite being an older prospect with a lack of speed and in a position of little importance, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert opted for Harris with the 24th overall pick.

Though many fans were thrilled by this decision, I was devastated. Roughly an hour earlier, Pittsburgh had blown a major opportunity to land a franchise quarterback.

Steelers should have traded up for Justin Fields

It was pretty easy to follow along with Tomlin and Colbert on their scouting trail over the years. They don’t really beat around the bush, and it’s easy to tell which players and positions they are fixated on. Because of this, I assumed that Najee Harris or Travis Etienne was going to be their selection in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft (though I’m completely opposed to taking running backs this high).

While I knew the Steelers didn’t have enough interest in taking a quarterback, I was banging the table for them to trade up for Justin Fields. The Ohio State standout was the best duel-threat quarterback I’ve ever scouted before, and he was the 2nd overall player on my draft board — behind only generational prospect, Trevor Lawrence.

I knew that Fields wasn’t a complete prospect at the time, but that was okay. Ben Roethlisberger had just turned 39 years old a month before the draft, and he was clearly on his last legs. However, this wasn’t enough for Pittsburgh to avoid a short-sighted decision.

With players like Zach Wilson and Trey Lance going ahead of him, Fields started to slip in the draft. When he was still available when the Eagles were on the clock with the 10th pick, I was screaming to move up for him, but to no avail. Fields was drafted one pick later by the Chicago Bears.

Though it’s still very early in his career, you can tell that Fields is going to be a franchise quarterback. He has already broken the single-season rushing record for a quarterback and has put up good numbers this year despite arguably the worst supporting cast in the NFL.

Having a player like this over someone like Najee Harris would have given Pittsburgh a significantly more promising outlook for the future. One year later, the Steelers would spend a first-round pick on QB Kenny Pickett. We all hope that he can be ‘the guy’ for Pittsburgh, but the traits aren’t even close to what Fields possesses.

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I’m encouraged by the addition of Andy Weidl as Pittsburgh’s assistant GM, as he made some really nice moves to help get the Eagles into their current state. However, the Steelers decision to stand pat in the 2021 NFL Draft instead of trading up for Justin Fields is one of my biggest draft regrets of the past decade. Let’s hope they prove me wrong.