The Pittsburgh Steelers boast enviable stability along their offensive line, retaining all five starters for the third consecutive season, and for the majority of the past four seasons. That consistency has also helped them to become among the very best groups of linemen around the league, which is beginning to become more and more recognized.
That started with the team having three of the five starters along the line being voted into the Pro Bowl outright, with center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro having become regulars and left tackle Alejandro Villanueva making his first appearance. Left guard Ramon Foster was voted as an alternate. Marcus Gilbert likely would have gotten the votes to make it had he not missed the majority of the season.
Pro Football Focus posted its final offensive line rankings of the offseason as we head into the regular season, and the Steelers’ line moved up one spot, now listed as the third-best group in the league behind only the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons.
“2018 marks the third-straight season that the Steelers will have their starting five intact heading into the year”, Michael Renner wrote. “Expectations were ridiculously high for them heading into 2017, but an injury to Marcus Gilbert and an uncharacteristic down year from Ramon Foster hampered their effectiveness. Still, the entire starting five is 30 years old or younger and capable of recapturing their 2016 form”.
The last line is factually inaccurate, as Foster is actually 32. Gilbert is currently 30, while Villanueva will turn 30 in September. Pouncey is 29 and DeCastro is 28. They are building depth behind the starters with B.J. Finney (27 in October), Matt Feiler (26), Chukwuma Okorafor (21), Zach Banner (24), and Jerald Hawkins (25 in October) on injured reserve.
The reason for the Steelers (and others) moving up in the ranks was because of the Dallas Cowboys sliding, falling from the number two position to the fifth spot. That has a lot to do with the health of center Travis Frederick.
The question is how much longer this group will be together. Foster is in the final year of his contract. Whether or not he gets re-signed will obviously depend a lot on how he performs this year, especially with Finney and Feiler both waiting behind him.
The shelf-life at tackle is also a question mark as both starters hit or approach the age of 30, even if Villanueva has less tread on the tires. They lost out on retaining Chris Hubbard, but they have Hawkins, Okorafor, and now Banner developing. Getting even one quality starter out of that group would be a great start.