Prior to the 2020 NFL Draft, there was a lot of discussion about the Pittsburgh Steelers presumed lack of depth along the offensive line, especially on the interior. Some concern felt warranted, taking into account the retirement of longtime starting G Ramon Foster and the free agency loss of position flexible B.J. Finney. The loss of two talented and durable interior linemen is in no way insignificant and their absence is sure to be felt, both on the field and in the locker room.
However, the free agency acquisition of proven veteran G/C Stefen Wisniewski and the selection of G Kevin Dotson in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft should go a long way toward addressing the aforementioned losses. If Wisniewski can fill Finney's old role as quality depth at all three interior positions, the role that best suits his abilities and what I believe the Steelers had in mind when signing him, then the Steelers definitely got noticeably younger on an aging offensive line that needs to start injecting some youth into the group. Dotson may not be ready to start right out of the gate from day one, but it sounds like the Steelers are more than willing to ease him into the fray to see what he can do.
Reliable T Matt Feiler was the Steelers best offensive lineman last season, and his impressive versatility will be invaluable as the Steelers try to determine a starting unit this season. Throw in tackle prospects Chuks Okorafor and Zack Banner with established starters and former Pro Bowlers Pouncey, Decastro, and Villanueva; and you have the makings of an impressive offensive line.
With that being said, there just maybe even more good news on the horizon. Seemingly forgotten from the 2019 NFL Draft class, seventh round selection Derwin Gray is preparing to unveil his talents to the Steel City faithful after a season spent learning and honing his craft as a member of the Steelers practice squad.
The Steelers decision makers utilized their unique relationship with the Maryland Terrapin's football program to sneak a peak behind the scenes and identified two prospects they felt were good fits for their immediate plans moving forward. They selected RB Anthony McFarland and LB/S Antoine Brooks in this year's draft class. They no doubt benefited from this same connection with the selection of Derwin Gray the year prior.
Derwin Gray is like any late round selection or UDFA, an unknown commodity. Therefore, the more information that can be acquired on the prospect the better. I gave Gray's initial selection a B grade in my Grading the Pick article immediately after the draft. I thought he offered solid value as a developmental project who potentially could become at least a solid depth piece in the future. I accurately predicted that an inevitable redshirt season would be required and beneficial. He wisely spent his first professional season learning at the feet of inspirational overachiever Ramon Foster. The value of those sessions about football and life should not be underestimated.
The Steelers knew prior to the 2019 Draft that Gray had been dealing with an undisclosed injury throughout his senior season and that it undoubtedly affected his on the field performance. The time spent on the practice squad allotted Gray an opportunity to heal physically and adjust mentally to the professional game. His time spent with Foster and his fellow teammates helped in his maturation process. Sometimes being forced to watch from the sidelines as your team runs into battle will ignite your passion for the game that may have slightly diminished after years of taking the opportunity for granted.
Derwin Gray is an intriguing prospect. He possess a massive frame with extremely long arms that he uses to their full advantage. Although he is more agile than he looks, many scouts projected a shift to the interior in the NFL due to a perceived lack of quickness and to maximize the impact of his superior girth and arm length. If Gray's agility and movement skills have improved ever so slightly due to improved health and conditioning achieved during his time on the practice squad, then I see no reason he would need to be shifted to the interior. That being said, Gray's top heavy build and limited lateral agility seems to suggest he should be viewed as a right tackle only if manning an outside position. His aforementioned skill set makes him an intriguing interior prospect as well.
As we know, the Steelers value versatility in their offensive linemen. The Steelers apparently haven't felt the need as of yet to designate Gray another position. He is currently listed as a tackle on the official depth chart.
As this unbelievable and unpredictable off season progresses, it will be interesting to see if Gray receives reps at both guard and tackle during training camp. That would be the first insight into how the Steelers coaching staff views both Gray's ability to make an immediate impact on the roster and a glimpse into their plans for him into the future.