We all tend to have a pretty high opinion of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive line around here, and it is certainly not without reason. For starters, they have a pair of first-round draft picks up front, and another from the second round, so they have the pedigree. They just sent three linemen to the Pro Bowl, and two of them have been first-team All-Pros, either currently or in the recent past. Those are some solid bona fides.
It is fair to wonder, however, just how great the offensive line really is. For starters, they are a better pass-protecting unit than they are a run-blocking one. David DeCastro is both the most talented and most stable player on the line. Marcus Gilbert also performs at a high level, but is frequently not on the field.
As for Maurkice Pouncey, while he is still playing center at a capable level, a number of significant injuries would seem to have taken their toll on him. These past two years have not been his best, to be frank, since returning from a major leg injury.
Ramon Foster is still a stable starter, but is winding down his career, and continues to miss a handful of games per year with injuries. Alejandro Villanueva has flashed elite potential, but he never even rose to the level at which he ended the 2016 season in his play a year ago.
While I don’t agree with Pro Football Focus that the Steelers had just the 12th-best offensive line from a year ago, though, I am probably more in agreement with that assertion than most here, especially those who evoke the men up front to justify why Le’Veon Bell is not worth signing, because of course he would be nothing behind a worse offensive line.
Where did every offensive line rank in 2017? Who was each team’s best o-lineman?
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) March 13, 2018
“The Steelers’ offensive line was unable to live up to the expectations they themselves set with their strong performance in the playoffs during the 2016 season”, the article reads. “This unit was also hurt by injuries and suspensions while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva failed to take the next step that his play down the stretch in 2016 suggested he could take in 2017 and one that would have elevated him into the discussion about the best tackles in the NFL”.
As mentioned, Gilbert spent plenty of time on the sidelines, so much that Chris Hubbard actually played more snaps at right tackle than he did. B.J. Finney also started three games at left guard for Foster, though Villanueva, Pouncey, and DeCastro missed no games due to injury (only rest).
“Right guard David DeCastro was able to build on a strong 2016 season and put together an elite performance as he was the only member of this unit not to allow a sack all season”, the entry concludes. The six-year veteran made not just the Pro Bowl but the first-team All-Pro list.
DeCastro is the new face of the offensive line, and one that is getting older. Foster is 33, Gilbert is 30. Pouncey will turn 29 in the summer. Villanueva is already 30. Even DeCastro is already 28. Of course, he’s in his prime. The others? For some, definitely not. For others, it’s hard to say. I would hope that Villanueva, who will turn 31 in September, can play as well as he did at the end of the 2016 season again, but he never did that last year.