The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Chukwuma Okorafor will start at right tackle this season.
Explanation: After trading Marcus Gilbert, the Steelers intend to have something of an open competition for the starting right tackle position this summer between Matt Feiler, second-year Chukwuma Okorafor, and Jerald Hawkins. Okorafor has the highest pedigree and ostensibly has the most talent.
Given the fact that he seemingly substantially exceeded expectations for his rookie season, it’s reasonable to assume that he will make a significant leap from year one to year two as well. Okorafor when drafted in the third round was regarded as raw, but he didn’t show it.
In fact, his performance in the preseason was the best that the Steelers have seen from a rookie offensive lineman for as long as I have been paying close attention. At least among tackles. He also performed ably when he started against the Los Angeles Chargers.
Having a season of not just learning but also playing under his belt will be a major boost for Okorafor heading into his second season. He has more talent and athletic ability than does Feiler, over whom the Steelers were already dressing him as the swing tackle when Gilbert was healthy.
While Okorafor represents potential, Feiler has already demonstrated the capability of being a proven full-time starter, doing so for 10 games in 2018 and playing at a high level. That alone means that the coaching staff is probably going to be hesitant to make a change unless there is a clear difference in performance.
And Feiler, while not young in terms of age, is still a developing player heading into his third NFL season (after spending three years prior to that on practice squads), where he will for the first time since being rostered get to focus more or less fully on playing tackler. He was even playing some center last season. In other words, Okorafor is going to get better, but Feiler is still, in theory, getting better too.