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How desperate is the Steelers need to upgrade at offensive tackle?

With offensive tackle a possible position to be taken high by the Steelers in the 2023 NFL draft, how urgent is it to spend a high pick on the position?

NFL: OCT 30 Steelers at Eagles Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 league year is well underway. With the 2023 NFL draft less than two weeks away, we’re going to look at a couple of positions the Steelers could take with their first selection and see how things looked last season. First up is offensive tackle, This is the subject for this week’s Steelers Vertex.

Let’s get a quick reminder of where this nerdiness is coming from.

Vertex- a single point where two or more lines cross.

Sometimes to make a great point, it takes two different systems of analysis to come together and build off each other in order to drawl a proper conclusion. In this case, the two methods are statistical analysis and film breakdown. Enter Dave Schofield (the stat geek) and Geoffrey Benedict (the film guru) to come together to prove a single point based on our two lines of thinking.

Here comes the breakdown from two different lines of analysis.

The Stats Line:

As usual, statistics when it comes to offensive lineman are quite limited. But when discussing the Steelers offensive tackles, the most notable numbers are the Dan Moore Jr. played all 1,160 offensive snaps in 2022 while Chuks Okorafor missed one snap and played 1,159. The previous season, Moore once again played one more snap than Okorafor with 1,080 snaps to Okorafor’s 1,079. But based on each player missing a game, it was only 92% of the teams offensive snaps.

Something else often looked at statistically with offensive linemen is how often they are called for penalties. Dan Moore Jr. had nine accepted penalties with one being either declined or offsetting. Of those penalties, four were for holding and four were for false starts. As for Chuks Okorafor, he had three accepted penalties with one being either declined or offsetting and only one time was he called for holding. It should also be noted that sometimes offensive tackles get credited for an illegal formation penalty for being the last player in the line of scrimmage where ultimately it is the fault of the receiver for not being lined up properly.

When it comes to allowing the quarterback to be pressured, there are some statistics that are not officially kept by the NFL. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Moore gave up 39 pressures in 2022 with 7 sacks, 10 hits, and 22 hurries. Chuks Okorafor has 41 pressures with 3 sacks, 5 hits, and 33 hurries.

The only other thing to look for when it comes to the Steelers offensive lineman is their scores from PFF whether you like them or not. The Steelers tackles had the lowest overall scores of the offensive linemen with Dan Moore Jr. scoring a 62.4 and Chuks Okorafor a 61.2. Dan Moore had a 56.1 run blocking score with a 67.3 pass blocking score which goes against the general narrative that he is a better run blocker. Chuks Okorafor had a 55.7 run blocking score and a 62.8 pass blocking score.

Looking at the PFF scores for the first half versus the second half of the season, Okorafor was the higher grade of the two over the Steelers first eight weeks with a 64.8 overall and a 68.3 pass blocking score with a 65.5 run blocking score. Dan Moore Jr. was on the bottom of the list as he had a 55.1 score with a 62.8 pass blocking score to 50.5 blocking score. But when looking at the final nine games following the bye for the Steelers in 2022 it tells a different story. Dan Moore was the highest ranking offensive lineman with a 67.8 overall score, a 70.8 pass blocking score, and 60.7 run blocking score. Chuks Okorafor was the worst score of the Steelers offensive lineman over the final nine games with a 57.9 overall score, 49.2 run blocking score, and 62.7 pass blocking score.

That’s enough with trying to come up with numbers, it’s time to check the film.

The Film Line:

If the Steelers don’t draft a tackle in the early rounds of the 2023 NFL Draft, they still have both tackles that started last season. While there is room for an upgrade at either tackle spot, the film from the second half of last season shows the Steelers could have confidence in their line without making a change.

Steelers vs. Saints, 1st quarter, 13:16

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

To start, look at both player’s feet. Dan Moore Jr. had poor footwork in his rookie season and it caused him a lot of trouble. The second half of his second season was a lot better, even if he isn’t on the same level as Okorafor. Okorafor has quick feet here while Moore Jr.’s feet are noticeably heavier, although much better than his rookie season.

What stands out on this play is the hand work. Both come out to meet their man, then both initiate contact and hit with multiple strikes. This is how Pat Meyer wants his lineman to block. Notice how fast Okorafor’s hands move to counter the rusher and keep between his man and his quarterback. On the other side Dan Moore Jr. isn’t as fast with his hands, but instead uses his length and strength to hold the rusher off with his right hand and he keeps his left hand moving and striking. Moore Jr. uses his length and strength to drive the rusher behind his quarterback where he isn’t a threat.

Steelers vs. Saints, 2nd quarter, 4:13

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

You have to love seeing Chukwuma Okorafor keep the pocket intact, and then when his defender finally is able to get off the block finish his man by putting him on the ground. This is what most people saw lacking in Okorafor’s game, a bit of “nastiness” to put guys away instead of letting them come off the block cleanly.

Dan Moore Jr. improved in 2022 at being a help blocker, when he didn’t have someone straight up for him to block. Here Moore Jr. is uncovered and his job is to help his fellow linemates. He does a good job making sure Zach Gentry has the edge rusher controlled and then helps center Mason Cole. The defensive tackle is trying to attack Cole’s left shoulder, and one hand from Dan Moore Jr. puts an end to that. Moore Jr. is smart enough to give the help that is needed and then check to see if anyone else needs help.

Steelers vs. Saints, 2nd quarter, 2:26

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

Both tackles lose on this rep, and Dan Moore Jr. is credited with giving up a sack. I want you to compare Kevin Dotson on this play to James Daniels, and Dan Moore Jr. on the previous play. This sack is just as much (maybe more) about Kevin Dotson than it is Dan Moore Jr. To be honest I’d put more of a negative on Chukwuma Okorafor losing his block than Dan Moore Jr. getting double teamed. This is either a bad rep by Kevin Dotson, or a really dumb blocking scheme if Kevin Dotson is doing what he’s supposed to do.

Steelers vs. Colts, 1st quarter, 7:09

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

Chukwuma Okorafor shows he has long arms too here. Keeping his man at bay and even though he eventually loses control to the spin move, he gives his quarterback a good 3 seconds. Dan Moore Jr. actually misses his punch and that loses first contact, but Moore Jr. recovers and gets his hands inside and has Yannick Ngakoue controlled until Kenny Pickett’s escape route takes him right past Ngakoue for another sack credited to Dan Moore Jr. I am showing both of these sacks because while they aren’t perfect reps from Dan Moore Jr., they aren’t damning either. Consider that these two plays are two of the four sacks Dan Moore Jr. is credited with the last 9 games of the 2022 season.

Steelers @ Ravens, 2nd quarter, 8:46

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

On this zone run Chukwuma Okorafor is the backside tackle and his job is to keep the defensive lineman across from him out of the play. He does a good job. Dan Moore Jr. does a good job, too. With only a little help from Kevin Dotson, Moore Jr. has his man out of the way as well. The real stars of zone runs between the tackles are the guards, and you can see the job Kevin Dotson does here helping drive the end outside before getting upfield to take Roquan Smith completely out of the play.

Steelers @ Ravens, 1st quarter, 13:16

Chukwuma Okorafor (#76) is the right tackle, Dan Moore Jr. (#65) is the left tackle.

Here the roles are reversed and Dan Moore Jr. has to reach #91 and keep him behind the play while Chukwuma Okorafor needs to drive his man outside with help from James Daniels.

The Point:

Both of the Steelers tackles do their job. Neither are dominant, but more often than not the Steelers blocking schemes don’t ask a tackle to be dominant, they just ask them to be this good.

Dan Moore Jr. grew a lot as a lineman in his second season, and Chukwuma Okorafor is a solid right tackle. While the Steelers could significantly upgrade either spot with a top-tier talent, if they don’t the team will again look for solid play from their tackles while the guards will be asked to be the main players on the offensive line.