We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2019 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 15 primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed a number of them, those being Ramon Foster, Tyson Alualu, Anthony Chickillo, Daniel McCullers, and Jordan Berry. Significant unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Le’Veon Bell, Jesse James, and L.J. Fort. They re-signed seven exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly B.J. Finney, Matt Feiler, and Xavier Grimble, as they await Mike Hilton’s signing.
Also of note were the release of Morgan Burnett, the trades of Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert, and three significant signings in free agency, adding starters at cornerback, inside linebacker, and potentially wide receiver in Steven Nelson, Mark Barron, and Donte Moncrief, respectively. Maurkice Pouncey also received a two-year contract extension.
Total Positional Figure: 6
Offseason Additions: 0
Offseason Deletions: 1
Alejandro Villanueva: The only problem with Villanueva is that he’s going to be 31 this year. Now the second-oldest starter, however, he should still have more tread on his tires than most tackles in their 30s due to his late start. He flourished into a legitimate Pro Bowler last season. He can struggle with leverage, especially in the run game, due to his height, but that’s a minor knock when considering the total package.
Matt Feiler: Many were surprised by Feiler last season, but I don’t think the coaching staff was, which is why they gave him the chance to start after Gilbert was injured. He legitimately played starter-level football, so if he doesn’t win the starting job in 2019, it will only mean that one of his competitors was even better.
Chukwuma Okorafor: One of those competitors should have plenty of upside, and that would be Okorafor, last year’s third-round pick. At 21 years old and having only played offensive line for about six or seven years in total to date, you know he’s still learning, and he already handled himself well right out of the gate.
Jerald Hawkins: After spending two of his first three seasons on injured reserve, Hawkins has convinced himself that his bad luck is behind him, just in time—in a contract year—to compete for a starting job. Coaches and teammates were high on him entering 2018 before he went down all the way back in OTAs.
Zach Banner: Banner is one of the most interesting players on the roster to me. A 2017 fourth-round pick of the Colts, they gave up on him quickly and he ended up being signed by the Steelers in the middle of camp last year, playing in three preseason games. They liked his raw abilities enough that they carried him on the 53-man roster all year. He got some seasoning from Mike Munchak and now has Shaun Sarrett to complete the puzzle in 2019.
R.J. Prince: a 2018 college free agent, Prince is inside-outside capable and the coaches appear to be high on him. The tackle depth is too much for that to allow him to make the jump from the practice squad, but his versatility could help, especially if Feiler wins the job, as they takes an extra guard-capable player away outside of an emergency.
Players Added: N/A
Marcus Gilbert: The Steelers were comfortable enough in their depth that they were willing to trade Gilbert even though he is a better than average starter at right tackle—when healthy. His cap savings helped the team fuel its free agency signings.
Notes And Draft Outlook: Given what I just said above, it should be safe to assume that the Steelers don’t have any intention of addressing the position in the draft. They already have three players competing for the starting right tackle job, possibly four if they give Banner a chance, and that’s already enough for the full roster.