From the second the 2020 draft came to a close, speculation had already started up for the 2021 class.
Admittedly, “way too early” draft predictions are exactly what they’re titled: Way too early - and as a result, are very rarely, or perhaps never, accurate at all.
In this draft primer series, we won’t be mocking players to any teams, but rather looking at the top players at each position who could get drafted by the Steelers with their first few picks in 2021. Prospects such as Trevor Lawrence, Ja’Marr Chase, Justin Fields, and Penei Sewell, who are all expected to be gone long before the Steelers are projected to pick in the first round, will not be included.
The goal? Not to make any “hot take” predictions, but rather to look at some players that Steeler fans might want to watch a little closer than usual this college season.
Sixth in this series will be a positional group that is tasked with protecting quarterbacks against the top pass-rushers in the league: offensive tackle. Rankings are in no particular order.
Walker Little, OT #72, Stanford
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 309 lbs.
Little is considered by many to be one of the most overrated prospects in this year’s class, which makes him an interesting prospect to evaluate. Coming off of a season-ending knee injury in 2019, Little’s ‘20 season will be critical for him. He’ll have to prove his doubters wrong all while off of a major injury.
Little was highly recruited out of high school as a massive, highly athletic lineman. He’s proven to be a great run blocker on the outside, and has played well in pass protection... at times.
Therein lies the rub with Little— inconsistency. He’s athletic but it doesn't always show up on tape. His hand placement is erratic, he stumbles during blocks, and his balance can be all over the place.
Little has all of the potential you could want in an NFL tackle, but he’ll have to clean up his act in 2020 to live up to his first round hype.
Some notable articles about Walker Little:
Walker Little Draft Profile - The Draft Network
Scouting the NFL Draft: Walker Little, OT, Stanford - With the First Pick
Alex Leatherwood, OT #70, Alabama
Height/Weight: 6’6”, 310 lbs.
Leatherwood stands out as a really smooth athlete, with fantastic mirroring ability and footwork. He’s big and powerful, with a nice first step and great size. He has tackle/guard versatility as well, which is an incredibly valuable asset as an NFL offensive lineman.
Leatherwood decided to stay in school for his senior year to finish his degree and in hopes of winning a championship. There was a good chance he would have been a first-round pick in 2020 if he had opted otherwise.
As both a run blocker and a pass protector Leatherwood has played well, and looks to be among the most NFL-ready linemen in his class. He could clean up his technique in some areas, but there aren’t many noticeable flaws in Leatherwood’s game skill-wise or athletically.
Some notable article about Alex Leatherwood:
Alex Leatherwood Draft Profile - The Draft Network
Samuel Cosmi, OT #52, Texas
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 300 lbs.
Cosmi is another athletic, solid-all-around tackle prospect for 2021.
Cosmi has great hand-placement, football IQ, and footwork. He isn’t overly explosive or powerful, but he’s a great athlete with experience on both sides of line. Some nitpicks on Cosmi would be to improve his technique and play strength, but he has a complete game overall.
While not necessarily traits that are looked for in offensive lineman, Cosmi has shown some great YAC ability and trucking skills to go along with his blocking prowess.
BIG MAN TD LET'S GET WEIRD MORGANTOWN pic.twitter.com/iaaF8wcNmL— Longhorn Network (@LonghornNetwork) October 5, 2019
It’s a strong tackle class, but Cosmi is yet another player who could go in the top 32 picks.
Some notable articles about Samuel Cosmi:
Texas Football: Could Samuel Cosmi be a Top 10 Pick in 2021? - Longhorns Country
2021 NFL Draft: Samuel Cosmi to be first 1st round Texas OL since 2002? - With the First Pick
Jackson Carman, OT #79, Clemson
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 345 lbs.
Carman is a big and mean offensive lineman, and as a result, is a road-grading tackle.
For a 6’5”, 345-pound man, Carman is surprisingly athletic and has good footwork. He’s a mauler who is very strong and powerful, and looks to be an excellent run blocker on the next level. Carman still has room to grow in pass protection and his general technique, but he has an extremely high ceiling and should be fun to watch develop in the NFL.
Carman isn’t consensus first round pick, but another good year protecting draft darling Trevor Lawrence and his stock should reach and all-time high.
Some notable article on Jackson Carman:
Clemson Football: Jackson Carman could be best OT in the nation - Rubbing the Rock
Jackson Carman on the cusp of greatness in Year 2 - 247 Sports
Some other names to look out for this season of the offensive tackles include Notre Dame’s Liam Eichenberg, Washington State’s Abraham Lucas, Oklahoma’s Adrian Ealy, Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater, and Ohio State’s Thayer Munford.
If you’ve been following the 2021 draft at all, Oregon’s Penei Sewell should be an familiar name. The generational talent at tackle is seemingly already a lock to be taken in the top 5 this year, and was therefore not included in this article as he’ll be taken long before the Steelers pick.
Which offensive tackle would you most like to see as a Pittsburgh Steeler next year?
This poll is closed
Will a rookie offensive tackle be joining the Steelers next year?
While the interior of the Steelers’ offensive line is isn't getting any younger, the future of their tackle position is dictated more by contract issues than age. Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers Pro Bowl left tackle, is on the last year of his deal, as is quality right tackle Matt Feiler. Both Villenueva and Feiler are underpaid for their position and performance, and might be expecting considerable raises on their next contracts. With the Steelers in a tight spot salary cap-wise, it could price either of their starting tackles out of Pittsburgh.
Behind Villanueva and Feiler are Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor. Banner is in a similar position as Feiler, as he is on a contract year and will most likely be wanting a bigger contract in 2021. Chuks still has a few years left on his rookie deal and is one of the biggest mysteries on the Steelers’ roster this year. It remains to be seen whether he is a future starter, or even capable of being a swing tackle.
The Steelers are rather talented on the edges of their offensive line, but it’s far from a guarantee that any of their top four tackles will be with the team in the next few years. With the odds of the team keeping all of them through next year somewhat low, there’s a good chance the Steelers will be adding another tackle in the upcoming draft.
Age and performance are always variables, but the salary cap may have the biggest role in deciding who stays and who goes next offseason.
For a refresher on players available on the interior of the offensive line, click HERE.