The Pittsburgh Steelers waited until the 123rd overall selection in the fourth round of 2016 NFL Draft to take an offensive player, snatching up Louisiana State University offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins.
After drafting cornerback Artie Burns in the first round, safety Sean Davis in the second round, and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave in the third, Pittsburgh added Hawkins to help bolster its depth along the offensive line.
Hawkins, a junior, played both right and left tackle at LSU, and could be used as a swing tackle for the Steelers, backing up Marcus Gilbert on one side, and either Alejandro Villanueva or newly acquired free agent Ryan Harris on the other.
Hawkins was advised by the NFL draft advisory board to stay in school for another year before entering the draft, but the Steelers' front office clearly felt like he was ready to compete at the next level.
From a physical standpoint, Hawkins certainly looks like an NFL offensive tackle. Standing 6-foot-6, and weighing in at 305 pounds, the 22-year-old blocks out the sun with his enormous frame.
There's no doubt, Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert, head Coach Mike Tomlin, and offensive line coach Mike Munchak were intrigued by the physical tools that Hawkins brings to the table, but they also realize he's far from a finished product.
"In all honesty he came out ahead of schedule," Colbert admitted as he addressed the media at the team's headquarters following the selection.
"We understand where he is. There's tremendous upside ... he's not complete by any stretch."
Hawkins earned a starting spot at right tackle as a redshirt freshman at LSU, and started in every game as a sophomore, before switching over to left tackle last season. He was both versatile and reliable for the Tigers, starting in all 36 games of his collegiate career.
Hawkins possesses the physical traits the Steelers have coveted in their offensive tackles in recent years. His long arms (34 ¼") and strong hands (9 5/8") allow him to keep pass rushers at bay. At this point in his career, however, he's a far better pass protector than run blocker.
I came away very impressed with Hawkins tape against Alabama. He flashes power in the run game, and holds his own against A'Shawn Robinson and Reggie Ragland, two of the top run stuffers in the nation last season.
Hawkins has a very lean build, and will need to improve his strength to compete against much tougher competition in the NFL. He’s also a bit slow coming out of his stance at times. Despite showing nice bend, he needs to work on his backward and lateral movement in pass protection.
Fortunately for Hawkins, the Steelers aren’t relying on him to contribute much, if at all in his rookie season, and he’ll have the opportunity to improve his footwork and technique under the tutelage of Munchak, the best offensive line coach in the league.