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: If Najee Harris and a top offensive lineman are both available at 24 when the Steelers select in the first round next month, the wise move is going with the offensive lineman.
Explanation: While the Steelers’ running game struggled significantly last season, James Conner did have a modicum of success. But he is leaving in free agency. So, too, is Alejandro Villanueva, and quite possibly Matt Feiler as well, on top of Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement. But tackle depth is good this year and doesn’t have to be addressed in the first round, while center might not even see a player taken in the first round at all.
There are several ways to improve the run game, and the two easiest have to do with personnel: get a better running back, or get better offensive linemen. But it’s easier for a good offensive line to make a bad running back look good than the reverse, and a strong offensive line is much more beneficial to the more dominant passing game.
Running back is a fungible position, where starters are routinely found even in the later rounds. If you have a dominant offensive line, you can get away with lesser talent in the backfield. So go get that talent. Use two or three picks early on the line if you have to. It’s time for the Steelers to land a premium tackle. They haven’t drafted a tackle in the first round since 1996, although that could have worked out better.
While it’s widely recited that the running back is a fungible position, there are always the exceptions to the rule, and Najee Harris has the potential to be one of those exceptions. He has the skill set to be a central focus of an offense the way Derrick Henry is, or Aaron Jones, or Dalvin Cook.
The Steelers have options at tackle, including re-signing Matt Feiler. This is a deep class in which a starter doesn’t need to be found in the first round, and indeed it’s been decades since they’ve even had a first-round starter. And taking a center in the first round in this class might likely be a reach, especially relative to who else would probably remain available.