2021 Offseason Questions: Will Zach Banner Be A Long-Term Starter?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Will Zach Banner be a long-term starter?

It’s a tricky prospect projecting onto a player with one career start the ability to hold that role for a period of years, but that’s what the Steelers are hoping they will be able to get out of Zach Banner, the fifth-year tackle who tore his ACL last season one game after winning the starting right tackle job.

Signed to a two-year, $9.5 million deal this offseason, Banner has been brought back to compete for a starting job, most likely at right tackle, though possibly on the left side as well, with the expectation being that he will win. That hinges partly on what the team does in the draft.

The Steelers have been high on Banner’s potential since first signing him to their training camp roster in 2018, during which season he was a healthy scratch. He played the tackle-eligible role during the 2019 season with a fair amount of success, hoping to transition to a starting offensive lineman this past season.

He did, as mentioned, winning the right tackle job in training camp by beating out Chukwuma Okorafor, but he injured his knee late in the season opener. As a result, we still don’t know a whole lot about Banner as a starter in the NFL and what his long-term potential is.

There’s a high degree of likelihood that the Steelers come out of this draft with another tackle by not later than the middle rounds, and possibly as early as the first. They have not drafted a tackle earlier than the third round since 2012.

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