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: In the event of a long-term injury, Chukwuma Okorafor would be the right tackle over Zach Banner in 2020.
Explanation: As a rookie in 2018, Chukwuma Okorafor dressed as the swing tackle and played tackle-eligible, but when a starter was needed, he was passed over for Matt Feiler. This past season, he was inactive for most of the year, but started due to injury over the swing tackle, Zach Banner. The two will compete for their spot on the depth chart this offseason.
This is a tough one even to answer on a temporary basis. Okorafor did start for one game when Feiler was kicked inside to guard. But what if there was a three-game situation? Would they have given Banner the opportunity to start over a longer stretch? Did they only plug in Okorafor so as not to disrupt Banner’s rhythm as a tackle-eligible for such a temporary situation?
Regardless of the answer to that question, the expectation is for the former third-round pick to take a substantial step forward this offseason, especially considering he did not take the jump that was anticipated last year.
Changeover at the offensive line coach position could have played a factor in that, with things now normalizing. He’s also the more athletic option, which is the Steelers’ preference, and they’ve talked about being appreciative of his footwork. He’s still a young guy, just 22 right now I believe.
Banner is the rising star in terms of talent along the offensive line. He made the significant jump from 2018 to last year, and with the amount of playing time that he ended up getting just as a tackle-eligible, he will be ready to be broken in as that game-day replacement.
Remember the story he shared about Mike Tomlin going up to him his first year here and asking him how he can turn him into a franchise left tackle. That’s still what they see in him in terms of potential. If he shows hints of it, he’s going to be the one given any opportunity to crack his way in.