The Pittsburgh Steelers have been fortunate to have strong, reliable depth along the offensive line for the past few seasons, but even within that they still more often the not find an opportunity to address the position at some point in the draft. After all, it’s the area where you most consistently have the most players on the field.
Under Head Coach Mike Tomlin, who just completed his 13th draft process, the Steelers have now added at least one offensive linemen in 10 of his 13 classes, and that includes three of the past four years, with Jerald Hawkins in the fourth round in 2016 and Chukwuma Okorafor in the third round a year ago.
Now Derwin Gray, a big man out of Maryland, joins a deep group that also features a trio of Pro Bowlers in Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro, with Ramon Foster the other fixed starter.
The right tackle position is currently up for grabs, with Hawkins and Okorafor set to compete with Matt Feiler, who started 10 games in place of the injured Marcus Gilbert last year. B.J. Finney and Zach Banner round out the rostered depth, but returning practice squad players R.J. Prince and Patrick Morris are also highly thought of.
Unsurprisingly for a player entering such a deep position group, Gray’s best chance of making headway under new head offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett is to demonstrate his ability to play both inside and outside. The Steelers believe he is capable of doing it.
“Derwin is a big, thick guy”, General Manager Kevin Colbert said in describing the Maryland product during the team’s post-draft press conference. “He’s always been a tackle at the collegiate level. Coach can address it as well. But, he’ll start off at tackle for us. His body type means that he can probably move inside and be a guard”. Tomlin echoed those sentiments, saying that “he’s been a tackle but definitely has some guard, physical characteristics that we would be interested at looking as well”.
For his part, Gray told reporters during his conference call with the local media that he said he wasn’t sure where they were going to move him, “but I’m willing to play either one”. He acknowledged that he only played tackle at the collegiate level, but doubled down on expressing his openness to kicking inside.
Feiler and Prince are two players currently on the roster who only played tackle at the collegiate level but were able to move inside in the NFL. Prior players such as Chris Hubbard, Kelvin Beachum, and Willie Colon all did the same thing. So there is plenty of precedent for it.
Gray has tackle size at a listed 6’4”, 320 pounds, but that’s a body type more than capable of sliding inside as well. Pouncey if 6’4”, while both DeCastro and Foster are 6’5” and both are in the same weight range.