The question of who the starting offensive line will consist of come September is one which has remained a mystery throughout the offseason. Earlier this week, Coach Mike Tomlin gave a partial answer during a zoom call with reporters when he announced last year's starting right tackle Matt Feiler is going to begin training camp at left guard. It is possible that the coaching staff could change its mind and move Feiler back to his old position by the start of the regular season, but if not, either Chukwuma Okorafor or Zach Banner will be the right tackle on opening day. Tomlin stated it would be an open competition between the two of them, so let's examine who is more likely to win the spot.
Banner and Okorafor have had very different paths in terms of how they got to Pittsburgh. Okorafor was drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 2018 NFL draft. Since then, he has seen fairly little playing time, starting just four total games. During the 2019 season, he appeared in just one game, Week 10 against the Rams, when the Steelers chose to move Feiler to left guard to take over for an injured Ramon Foster.
Banner, on the other hand, was not drafted by the Steelers. He was taken in fourth round of the 2017 NFL draft by the Indianapolis Colts. When the Colts tried to sneek Banner onto the practice squad, he was claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns. After Banner was released at the end of his rookie campaign, he was signed by the Steelers shortly before the start of the 2018 season. Since then, he has appeared in 14 games, all last season, and started just one, the Week 12 victory over the Cincinati Bengals since the Steelers began the game in their jumbo formation.
Based on investment alone, Okorafor should have the advantage due to the fact the Steelers used a relatively high draft pick to select him and will likely want to give him a chance to prove it was worth it. However, there are many more things to consider.
For starters, Banner had significantly more playing time last season than Okorafor. Even though they each started one game, Banner finished the season with 206 snaps under his belt while Chuks only played 73. This difference is a result of Banner's role in jumbo packages. The Steelers often utilized an extra offensive linemen on running downs to be able to have more large bodies in the trenches and blocking upfront. Banner was used exclusively to come in during these situations. No matter the reason, the fact Banner saw the field more than Okorafor last season bodes well for his chances to land the starting job.
According to Pro Football Focus, Banner also performed better in his opportunities than Okorafor. While they each allowed one sack, Banner earned an overall grade of 78.3 while Chuks received just a 58.3. The year before, when Okorafor played 155 snaps, his grade was actually worse, coming in at just 50.8. Banner didn't see the field that season and therefore did not receive a grade. Pro Football Focus grades aren't always an accurate representation of how well a player performs, but since there is a limited amount of tape on these two players, you have to look at what's available.
Training camp and preseason will be the best indicators of who is likely to win the job, but with the uncertainty surrounding whether or not those things will be possible, the coaching staff may be forced to make a decision based on the factors listed above. Right now, I'd give the edge to Banner because of his larger workload and superior performance last season. Plus, he's already a fan-favorite. Still, it's anyone's guess as to which way the organization is leaning, and it'll be exciting to see these two battle for the spot later this summer.
Who do you think has the edge right now? And do you think that will change come September? Make sure you vote in the poll and let us know in the comments below.
Who is the more likely to start at right tackle for the Steelers to begin the 2020 season?
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