Now that Pro Football Focus has finished their top players at each position lists for the 2021 offseason, the shift has come to position unit rankings. Rather than looking at just the individual players, they are looking at the group which makes up the position and how they compare to the rest of the NFL.
As usual, here comes my standard PFF disclaimer, and it’s not just because the Steelers are at the bottom this time:
It seems like I can’t write an article about PFF without giving the typical disclaimer of how their projections can be highly questionable. Even their grading of players after the fact can be picked apart, so expecting them to do well in the prediction business is not something which I’m ready to bet the farm on based on their conclusions.
The next position unit listed by Pro Football Focus is the offensive line. According to PFF, the Pittsburgh Steelers come in at number 29 in the NFL.
With the Steelers having a lot of turnover with the loss of three starters from 2020, there are a lot of question marks along the offensive line. Why the Steelers ended up in the 29th position is described below according to PFF:
With three new starters up front, Pittsburgh’s offensive line enters 2021 with its most question marks in years. The unit regressed to 17th in our final 2020 rankings after years of exemplifying the way offensive lines should be built — with solid starters and limited weaknesses in the starting lineup.
Chukwuma Okorafor moves from right to left tackle after grading out at 57.4 overall last season, ranking 74th out of 84 qualifying tackles. It was Okorafor’s first year as a starter, and while we’ve seen linemen make jumps in Years 3 or 4, he needs to take big strides this season.
The right tackle spot is manned by Zach Banner, who has shown power in the run game despite seeing just 302 snaps since entering the league in 2017. Banner has proven to be below average in pass protection during his limited time as a pro.
Former starting center Maurkice Pouncey retired, and while his on-field play has generally underwhelmed compared to his hype, he did provide stability up front for the Steelers. J.C. Hassenauer and third-rounder Kendrick Green will compete for the starting spot. Hassenauer graded out at 57.7 overall on 303 snaps last season, while Green ranked near the top of the draft class in both positively and negatively graded run blocks over the past two years.
Right guard David DeCastro is the one stabilizing player up front, though his 66.2 overall grade in 2020 was a career-low mark. Like the rest of the Pittsburgh line, DeCastro struggled in the run game, but he’s now posted seven straight years with excellent 80.0-plus grades in pass protection.
2020 fourth-rounder Kevin Dotson had a fine rookie season, posting similar grades as DeCastro, including a much better mark in pass protection (87.2) than the run game (55.1).
The Steelers enter 2021 with big question marks at both tackle spots and center. The offensive line looks like a bottom-tier unit unless players develop across the board.
Honestly, I get it. There are a lot of unknowns with the Steelers offensive line going into 2021. The only player expected to start in the same position where he appeared in at least half the games in 2020 is right guard David DeCastro. When there are a lot of unknowns, there is not a lot of confidence, which has been true with both the national media and a significant portion of the fan base.
One thing which should be pointed out is if the Steelers had to play a game this Sunday, many fans believe it would be B.J. Finney getting the call to start at center even though he was left out of PFF’s discussion completely.
Looking around the AFC North, the Cleveland Browns were the top squad in the NFL according to PFF with the Baltimore Ravens coming in next in the 12th position. The most questionable ranking in my opinion is placing the Cincinnati Bengals in the 24th spot. The Bengals line was not good in 2020 and did not do anything earth-shattering to improve things for 2021.
The Steelers offensive line is most likely the biggest wildcard going into the 2021 season. If players don’t perform up to the low expectations many have for them, things could fall apart really quick. But with the offensive line unit being a projected weak link, it is an area for the Pittsburgh Steelers which could take this team to the next level if they can find a way to over-perform their preseason rankings.