The offensive line is often referred to as the foundation of any offense. Five fingers working in unison to form a fist, which can be used to bludgeon your opponents into submission.
The Steelers offensive line has been missing some digits over the past couple seasons, and has been about as effective as a man with a hook for a hand trying to pick his nose.
The Steelers have obviously committed to rehabbing their fist this offseason, instead of just painting their nails to make it more appealing, much like putting a new coat of paint on a old barn. Sometimes it's better to just tear that sucker down and build a new one.
The focal points of my offseason articles has been primarily about the Steelers ongoing search for good value signings and acquiring game-changers on both sides of the ball. I am thrilled to report that newly acquired offensive lineman James Daniels fits both those criteria.
Daniels is an accomplished four-year veteran, although at 24 years old he isn't much older than some of the interior offensive line prospects coming out in the 2022 Draft class. He has already proven capable of playing at the NFL level, with impressive versatility I might add, but is still young enough that one can assume he has yet to hit his prime or reach his full potential.
Daniels has the opportunity to grow and develop with what is turning into a very young Steelers offensive line moving forward, and be the rock that the offensive line is built around. That should be an exciting development for all Pittsburgh Steelers fans. Daniels career should blossom even more in Pittsburgh if the Steelers are committed to allowing him to learn and grow at a single position. Just because Daniels is talented and capable enough to play all three interior positions doesn't mean that is the most efficient way to utilize him.
During his tenure with the Chicago Bears, Daniels was utilized at left guard, right guard, and center, often in the same season. This is common with teams whose offensive lines always seem to be in a constant state of flux, something the Steelers know all too well recently.
Daniels was a center during his three years playing for the Iowa Hawkeyes, a program renowned for churning out NFL-caliber offensive linemen. He chose to forgo his senior season and enter the 2018 NFL Draft, where he was the 39th overall selection for the Chicago Bears. He proved to be a solid, if not spectacular, addition to their offensive line where he never seemed to fully gel or find invaluable chemistry with his linemates, most likely due to the constant reshuffling.
Daniels has optimal measurements for an interior lineman, standing 6'4" and weighing 327 lbs. He is a technically sound and well-rounded lineman, which is a common trait shared by his Iowa Hawkeyes brethren. He is a natural and instinctive lineman, displaying both impressive athleticism and intensity.
Daniels has struggled at times with missed assignments and pre-snap penalties, probably due to the constantly changing cast surrounding him, and the aforementioned positional movement. It's hard enough to learn one position at an NFL level, much less three.
I truly believe that Daniels can develop into a Pro-Bowl-caliber player if allowed the time to master a single position. His talent suggests that assumption on my behalf is plausible.
So the Steelers acquired an experienced and accomplished interior offensive lineman, one who just happens to have been an early second-round draft pick and is still extremely young, for substantially less than it would have cost to obtain one of the bigger-name free agency targets, who all happened to be much older than Daniels. I would categorize that as a great value.
Daniels' superior technique and mobility, especially in the running game, appears to be a perfect fit for what most are assuming to be more of an outside zone blocking scheme, necessary to fully utilize Matt Canada's complete offensive vision. Now that the Steelers have Daniels former teammate Mitch Trubisky and his mobility behind center, maybe we will see Canada's full plan come to fruition.
That sure sounds like a game-changer to me.