The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who has seen their division of money for the roster swing from the offense to the defense in the past few seasons. With the departure of Ben Roethlisberger, and the new contracts to T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick have the team’s payroll swaying hard to the defensive side of the football.
But it isn’t just money spent on players, but draft picks at key positions.
Looking at the biggest hole on the team’s roster, none is larger than the offensive line. Some might argue the team’s run defense, but the offensive line’s ability, or inability, to function as a unit could be the downfall of the entire offense.
When you look at the players they deploy, it shouldn’t surprise many. Let’s take a look:
LT: Dan Moore Jr. — 4th Round pick, 2021 NFL Draft
LG: Kevin Dotson — 4th Round pick, 2020 NFL Draft
C: Mason Cole — Free Agent acquisition, 2022 (3rd Round pick, 2018 NFL Draft, ARI)
RG: James Daniels — Free Agent acquisition, 2022 (2nd Round pick, 2018 NFL Draft, CHI)
RT: Chukwuma Okorafor — 3rd Round pick, 2018 NFL Draft
If you want to look at the other linemen on the roster, you can see more Day 2 picks, and beyond.
J.C. Hassenauer — UDFA 2020
Kendrick Green — 3rd Round pick, 2021 NFL Draft
Trent Scott — Free Agent acquisition, 2022 (UDFA 2018)
Jesse Davis — Trade acquisition, 2022 (UDFA 2015)
Fans of the Steelers love to talk about the glory days of Mike Munchak and the group he was able to assemble, but when you look at the players he had to coach it was completely different.
LT: Alejandro Villanueva — Free Agent acquisition
LG: Ramon Foster — UDFA
C: Maurkice Pouncey — 1st Round pick, 2010 NFL Draft
RG: David DeCastro — 1st Round pick, 2012 NFL Draft
RT: Marcus Gilbert — 2nd Round pick, 2011 NFL Draft
While the left side of the above offensive line was far from high pedigree, it is clear the team invested heavily in the offensive line from the center to right tackle positions.
The difference in the team then, and the team now might just be the fact the team has spent some serious money in free agency heading into 2022. The acquisitions of Cole and Daniels are certainly not the norm, but the fact is in recent years the team hasn’t spent valuable draft capital on the offensive line.
It should be noted, it isn’t as if the team has swung-and-missed on draft picks along the offensive line. No, they simply have chosen to spend their top picks on other positions.
2022 NFL Draft
Round 1: Kenny Pickett
Round 2: George Pickens
2021 NFL Draft
Round 1: Najee Harris
Round 2: Pat Freiermuth
2020 NFL Draft
Round 1: No pick (Minkah Fitzpatrick Trade)
Round 2: Chase Claypool
2019 NFL Draft
Round 1: Devin Bush
Round 2: No pick (Trade with Denver Broncos to obtain Bush)
2018 NFL Draft
Round 1: Terrell Edmunds
Round 2: James Washington
Round 1: T.J. Watt
Round 2: JuJu Smith-Schuster
2016 NFL Draft
Round 1: Artie Burns
Round 2: Sean Davis
Looking at these draft picks you have to wait until you get to the 3rd round before you see draft capital spent along the line. Those two players in the same time frame would be Okorafor and Green last draft.
Say what you want, but it shouldn’t be a shock the organization hasn’t seen a massive improvement along the offensive line. They never replenished the position after players like DeCastro, Pouncey, Foster and Villanueva saw the writing on the wall.
It begs the question, when will the team start to seriously start to invest valuable draft capital into the offensive line? Logic says this process will start in 2023, but some were saying the same thing in 2022, a year where they didn’t address the line once in their six selections.
In 2023 the team is slated to have another six draft picks, as of the time of writing this article, and while free agency is one way to try and fill the holes along the line, growing from the draft has always been the consistent way to get the job done. People want to complain about the turnover with the offensive line coaches, but has any of the coaches since Munchak had the stable of linemen Munchak did?
The lesson here is while being creative on building a line can work, the Steelers haven’t proven they can get the job done. Time to back to what works, and that’s spending high picks on the big men up front.
Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the 2022 regular season.