The Pittsburgh Steelers come into the season with the lowest-costing offensive line in the entire NFL. The entire group of players combine for a $32-million cap-hit. This unit’s performance will ultimately decide how effective the offense will be this season.
The Returning Player(s)
The Steelers elected to re-sign starting right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor, to a three-year, $29-million deal this past offseason. According to PFF, Chuks did not grade out to be so great last season. He did have some bright spots though, only allowing two sacks and 11 penalties, which was tied for third in the entire NFL for tackles. His overall grade from PFF, was a 63.6, which ranked 63rd out of 83 eligible tackles. The presumed starter at right tackle for this season needs to step it up to be a leader and a better player overall. I think giving him an extension was a mistake but he has the experience this team needs along that line. I expect another similar year as the last for Chuks.
A group of younger guys will also be back in terms of last year’s starting trio of Kendrick Green, Kevin Dotson and Dan Moore. Green started at center the majority of the season, while Dotson played at left guard. Both struggled mightily, which resulted in being benched for stretches of games. This season looks a bit different for the two, because they are now in position battle for the left guard spot after the team signed a new center with plans to start him, who we will get to later. After two preseason games, it seems like Dotson is winning the job which Steelers fans should be rejoicing at. The hope is for Dotson to return to his rookie-year level of play, where he displayed elite talent.
As for Dan Moore, the past seasons starting left tackle, who struggled at times probably showed the most upside. Moore will man the left-side again due to lack of competition. In Saturday’s preseason game against the Jaguars, Moore played three of the four quarters. That does not happen to “presumed” starters, especially along the trenches. This shows the fans that the coaches want to see improvement, which is not particularly good news. Personally, I like the play I saw out of Big Dan last year. He shut down Myles Garrett and held his own against then-Bronco, Von Miller. So I am hopeful that he can develop into a solid NFL tackle.
John Leglue and J.C. Hassenauer are also returning after making a few spot starts on that line last season. While neither are expected to start, they provide great depth behind this young and inexperienced starting group.
The Steelers signed a duo of newcomers this offseason. One of them being guard/center James Daniels. The ex-Chicago Bear signed a three-year, $26.5-million deal with Pittsburgh. The great thing about Daniels is he has versatility in what position he can play. He was the Bears starting center until Pro Bowler Cody Whitehair took over the show. This prompted Daniels to move to guard, where he excelled for the Bears. In his first two preseason games with the Steelers, he has looked abysmal which is shocking to many. This is not great news for someone that Steelers Nation had high-hopes for. Let’s hope we see a big improvement this week in the teams last preseason game. The biggest positive of this signing is that Daniels is only 24-years old,, and already has five years of experience. He is still very young and can be around for a long time, pending his play. He is expected to be the team’s starting right guard. His leadership skills are held in high regard. I expect him to bounce back in a BIG way, all the while being the leader and the voice of that offensive line.
The other big-time newcomer is center Mason Cole. The Steelers will be the third team that Cole has played for in his five-year career. He was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals and later played for the Minnesota Vikings. He was signed to a three-year, $15.75-million deal by the Steelers. He will be the starting center this season for the Steelers. Cole will bring stability to the center position, where Green struggled at all of last season. He probably will not be a top-10 center when it comes to grading metrics but he will put on a much better performance than what Steelers fans experienced last year.
What Does This All Mean For The Steelers?
With Okorafor, Daniels, and Cole all signing three-year deals for decent chunks of money they will be penciled in as starters for years to come. The other two spots are currently being competed for by two second-year players in Dan Moore and Kendrick Green and third-year player Kevin Dotson. This means a combination of the three will play this year, barring any trades, which the Steelers have explored recently. This leads to all six of these players being under contract for at least two more seasons, and with only five positions to play, the Steelers are pretty crowded in the offensive line room. This is honestly a bad thing with many of them struggling in the preseason, they have very little wiggle-room in terms of exploring other options.
Potential Trade Candidate For The Steelers
Within the past few days the Steelers have been linked to rumors regarding current-Patriot and former first-round selection Isaiah Wynn. Some will question if he is worth trading for since good players are not usually available two-weeks prior to the start of the regular season. Let’s take a look and see why he may be available. Availability issues. After being hurt for his entire rookie campaign and only playing stretches the next two seasons, the injury bug seems to be the blame. This past season he played in every game but one for New England. It seems like he is completely healthy now and may be worth the risk.
This move, if done, would be to compete with, if not immediately start over left tackle Dan Moore. He could possibly be moved inside to guard to compete with Dotson and Green as well. Either option would be better for the Steelers this season. Wynn would be a free-agent after this season so he may turn into just being a one-year rental if traded. What would it take to get the 26-year old? It should only cost a middle round selection due to the Patriots drafting well and already having a player that can slot into Wynn’s spot. I absolutely believe the Steelers should be making that call, it will not cost the team too much and the more competition, the better at this point.
I believe the offensive-line should look a bit better than last years but I am still very much worried they will struggle to open up running lanes for Najee Harris or be able to pass block for young signal-callers Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett. Only time will tell for this group.