At some point in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Steelers had to address the offensive side of the ball -- right?
Well, after three straight defensive picks, each addressing one of their three biggest needs, they did just that with offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins from LSU.
To give you an instant idea of who this guy is, remember two things: 1) LSU usually turns out very, very good offensive linemen; and 2) Hawkins was the right-side counterpart to La'el Collins for two years, and replaced Collins on the left side after Collins declared for the 2015 draft. For the record, Collins, who went undrafted, would likely have been a top-ten pick had his name not been mentioned in the shooting death of his then-pregnant ex-girlfriend (he was later cleared of any involvement). He replaced what was universally considered a top-tier talent, and did a more than adequate job.
Let's set some expectations, though: Hawkins was a fourth-round pick who was expected to be a fourth-round pick. We aren't talking about a potential rookie All-Pro. Instead, we are talking about a guy who could be a decent starter one day if he fixed a few definite issues in his game.
For starters, he has a strong upper body and a lower body that didn't seem to quite keep up in the weight room. Most of his strength tends to come from his shoulders and ridiculously long arms (more than 34 inches). He gets a good initial punch, but tends to fade throughout a play because he loses leverage due to a lack of lower-body power. He often sets his arms too wide in pass protection, leaving him vulnerable to a good bull rush. He also gets his feet crossed up at times when he guesses wrong, a problem that's exacerbated by slow, flat feet.
But he does a lot well, too. He drives through defenders in the run game, and has a nastiness when he locks in on a guy. Think WIllie Colon without anger issues. When he gets into a defender's frame with his long arms, he's usually there for the long haul.
It's likely Hawkins' primary role will be to back up at right tackle due to slow feet, and he could also move inside as a backup, as well. With Alejandro Villanueva and Ryan Harris at left tackle, not having a swing tackle is a luxury the Steelers can finally afford. He fits the mold set in the first three rounds of the draft: athletic but raw. It's clear coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert are looking for supreme athletes who can be taught in this draft. With a teacher like Mike Munchak, and colleagues like Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert and Harris, he has the right people around him. If he brings a matching willingness to learn, he will be a solid, if unspectacular, tackle for years to come.