The Pittsburgh Steelers somewhat surprisingly drafted a tackle during the 2018 NFL Draft and if that wasn’t enough, they used a third-round selection on Western Michigan product Chukwuma Okorafor. As a result of that selection one can easily speculate that the team’s fourth-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft, former LSU tackle Jerald Hawkins, is not a lock to make the 53-man roster in 2018.
Hawkins’ career so far in Pittsburgh has really been nondescript. For starters, his rookie season ended before it really even got started thanks to a shoulder injury that he reportedly suffered during the team’s first preseason game of 2016. The result of that misfortune was that he spent his entire rookie season on the Steelers Reserve/Injured list.
Last season, Hawkins stayed healthy. However, due to a crowded offensive line depth chart, he spent the first half of the 2017 regular season on the inactive list and even with starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert missing several of those contests due to injury. While Hawkins did ultimately dress for five of the Steelers final six regular season games of 2017, most of his nearly 50 total offensive snaps that he played in those contests included him serving as an extra offensive lineman on the end of the line of scrimmage after first reporting as an eligible receiver.
When the Steelers allowed offensive lineman Chris Hubbard to leave this past March for the Cleveland Browns via free agency, it appeared as though Hawkins was set to become his replacement and thus be the team’s swing tackle behind Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva. It’s worth noting, however, that Hubbard showed a lot of position versatility during his several seasons in Pittsburgh as not only did he play a lot at both tackle spots, he also logged snaps at guard and center as well. Hawkins, on the other hand, has yet to show the Steelers that he can become another Hubbard and he might just have to do that this summer in order to get a spot on the 53-man roster.
While it might have been just lip service at the time by now former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, it appeared as though the team believed that Hawkins could also potentially work some in the future as an interior offensive lineman just several weeks after he was drafted.
“Jerald Hawkins, that we got from LSU, is a good-looking tackle prospect, potentially a guard prospect,” said Haley during a June 2016 interview. “A guy that’s played at a high level. We are excited about him as a guy we all liked a bunch.”
Even Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak hinted that Hawkins could potentially become a very versatile offensive lineman for the team immediately following his selection.
“To find players who you feel can play the left tackle or right tackle spot and to have that versatility, a lot of times tackles, as you get later in the rounds, can play right tackle or go inside,” said Munchak of Hawkins not long after his selection.
Even last offseason, it appeared as though Hawkins might have a shot at working some in 2017 at an interior position as a result of him training with two former NFL centers and LSU alumni in Kevin Mawae and Todd McClure. However, as far as I can tell, Hawkins only practiced and played at tackle and as an extra blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage last season. If he did take any snaps inside during any of the team’s 2017 practices, it probably wasn’t many.
Will Hawkins now be given the opportunity to practice inside this summer in an effort to show he has some position flexibility? It’s really hard to answer that question right now, but with that said, there’s been no reports of that happening through three of the team’s concluded OTA practices. On top of that, its probably worth noting that offensive lineman Matt Feiler, who spent the entire 2017 season on the Steelers 53-man roster, is now reportedly trying his hand at center some during this year’s OTA practices. Last season, Feiler played sparingly at tackle and guard during the regular season and seemingly represented himself well when asked to do so.
With the recent drafting of Okorafor several weekends ago, it’s now evident that nothing is guaranteed for Hawkins this summer when it comes to a place on the 2018 53-man roster. In fact, he might just have to beat out Feiler this summer in order to make the final roster, assuming the team only keeps 8 offensive linemen in total.
Moving forward from today, it will be interesting to see if Hawkins receives any practice time at an interior position during OTA, and subsequently, training camp practices. If he doesn’t, he might ultimately be looking for employment come the first few weeks of September.