A report prior to the 2021 NFL Draft linked three names as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ likeliest first-round picks: Oklahoma State tackle Teven Jenkins, Alabama center Landon Dickerson, and Alabama running back Najee Harris. With all three on the board at 24th overall, the Steelers selected Harris.
That move (and bypassing tackle on Day 2 of the draft, as well) solidified Chukwuma Okorafor and Zach Banner as the team’s likely starters at tackle this coming season, Okorafor on the left and Banner on the right. During an OTA media session Thursday, Okorafor was asked about the team’s decision to pick Harris over a tackle.
“Honestly, I feel like even if it was a left tackle or right tackle in the first or second round, you still have to come in every day and show the team, show the guys, show everyone what you can do,” Okorafor said. “So I don’t really see it as, ‘Oh, we didn’t draft a tackle in the first round, so my job is somewhat safe.’ It’s still not safe.”
Okorafor’s answer reflects his status as a player who may be the front-runner to start at a crucial position, but still has to put the work in to prove he can hold down that role well. After an injury to Banner last season, Okorafor stepped in and started 15 of the Steelers’ games in the regular season at right tackle, but rated as one of the poorer tackles in the game and left considerable room for improvement. Prior to that season, he played only one game in 2019, and 13 (with three starts) in 2018.
With Banner healthy and former left tackle Alejandro Villanueva in Baltimore as a free agent loss, Okorafor is shifting to left tackle this season. It is where he played in college for Western Michigan, offering him a more familiar role. But it comes with increased responsibility — now, he is protecting the blindside of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, in Roethlisberger’s likely final season.
Pittsburgh felt confident enough in Okorafor’s performance in entrust him that role, and skip tackles on Days 1 and 2 of the draft. The Steelers did begin Day 3 with a tackle, Dan Moore Jr. out of Texas A&M, and that is Okorafor’s primary competition for the starting job this season. Also a new addition in camp is Joe Haeg, a free agent signing contending more for a swing tackle role than the starting LT.