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The Optimist’s Take – Drafting A Left Tackle

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Should the Steelers be open to drafting an offensive tackle in the first round?

The Steelers have spent much of the past five seasons rebuilding their offensive line, and that labor finally seemed to bear fruit last season under new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

But that certainly doesn’t mean that the line is a finished product. While the center and right guard spots seem to be indefinitely solidified for the foreseeable future, one could make an argument for change at the other three spots if the right candidate comes along.

There seems to be some active discussion, for example, whether or not the Steelers should even consider drafting an offensive lineman that, in the long term, projects as a franchise left tackle, given the progress that Kelvin Beachum has made.

The fact that Beachum is due for a new contract this offseason—in addition to the fact that right tackle Marcus Gilbert already got one last offseason—has to be a part of the discussion. But so too does the fact that the Steelers have an immediate need for depth at tackle.

Mike Adams is the only other credible tackle currently on the roster, and he, like Beachum, is in the final year of his contract. Unlike Beachum, however, it doesn’t seem likely that he will be retained. So even with Beachum and Gilbert under contract, there will still be a need for a tackle on the roster, and there’s nothing saying that can’t be a high quality first-round talent.

Beachum has, for example, no doubt performed above expectations, but it seems unlikely that his ceiling reaches the Pro Bowl level. His less than ideal size and strength puts him at disadvantages he can’t always overcome, and he is often merely adequate as a run blocker in spite of his tenacity.

Another aspect of this conversation that must be considered is the infrequency with which good teams ever find themselves in a position to actually draft one of the better left tackles in a given draft. Whether or not the Steelers will be able to do so this year remains to be seen, but the rarity of the opportunity becomes part of the decision-making process, given the difficulty and expense of either developing or acquiring one through the later rounds of the draft or in free agency, respectively.

Should the Steelers end up drafting a tackle, he may not play at all as a rookie. Or, he could battle Gilbert to start on the right side, which is conceivable. Should he ultimately challenge Beachum at left tackle, the latter’s ability to play all five offensive line positions will ensure that he remains somewhere in the starting lineup, I would expect. And if moving him means having a shot at a Pro Bowl left tackle in the twilight years of a franchise quarterback, I would consider that a wise investment.

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