The Pittsburgh Steelers used a first-round pick on running back Najee Harris to help upgrade a woeful rushing attack. The club then used its next three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball rather than stockpiling the defense.
Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward told NFL Network's Good Morning Football that he likes how general manager Kevin Colbert and the rest of the brass handled the offseason, upgrading clear areas of need on offense. That includes using a prime asset on a workhorse running back.
"I think as a defender, we're most excited to have him," Heyward said of Harris. "Having a guy like that that can tote the rock 30 to 40 times a game really puts an ease for the defense. He can do multiple things. I think the investment in our offense this offseason has been huge."
The Steelers defense, despite some attrition and depth questions, especially in the secondary, remains among the most talented in the NFL. Pittsburgh finished first in Football Outsiders' DVOA metrics last season, including first against the pass. Replacing the likes of Bud Dupree will be a challenge.
The entire club skidded down the stretch in 2020, with the Steelers losing five of their final six, including a 48-37 loss to Cleveland in the playoffs. Heyward admitted that the defense got worn down, in part, by an offense that couldn't sustain possession.
"I think we lost a lot of gas as we went down that stretch," Heyward said. "I think our balance between our offense and defense wasn't great. We weren't getting off the field as much we were earlier in the season, and then our offense couldn't sustain drives. You compound all that together, and it wasn't a great success. Going forward, I think we can continue to keep growing."
The Steelers investing their first four picks in the draft on the offense included tight end Pat Freiermuth in the second round and offensive linemen Kendrick Green in the third and Dan Moore Jr. in the fourth. Green is all but expected to start at center right off the bat.
Heyward believes improving the running game will aid Ben Roethlisberger immensely in his age-39 season.
"We know he's an explosive quarterback that can throw the ball all over the field," Heyward said of Big Ben. "But I think around (him), we've just got to be complementary, whether it's on offense, defense, special teams. Ben's still got the goods. Anyone that tells you otherwise, they haven't really looked at football. You give that guy a good running game and tell him he doesn't have to throw the ball 50, 60 times, he's going to be that much more dangerous, and I think we're looking forward to that. It's going to be pretty good longevity-wise if he wants to keep playing."
The changes in Pittsburgh, coupled with questions along the O-line and the improvement elsewhere in the division, have most soothsayers predicting a down season for the Steelers.
Heyward believes it'd be foolish to count out the reigning AFC North champs in May.
"We'll have a lot of new, young guys in," Heyward noted. "But we can be better because of it. I still think we have the team to do it. It's up to us to prove it. No one's giving us a chance. Everybody's ready to find somebody new, but until somebody beats us and is the new division winner, we'll see. We're not just worried about the division winner. We're trying to be a Super Bowl champion, and that team hasn't been crowned yet."