Like a lot of Steelers’ fans, the people over at Pro Football Focus have plenty of reservations about the team’s offensive line. In their rankings of every offensive line unit in football, the Steelers finished out much closer to the bottom than the top coming in 29th place.
Here’s what author Steve Palazzolo said about the front five:
“With three new starters up front, Pittsburgh’s offensive line enters 2021 with its most question marks in years. The unit regressed to 17th in our final 2020 rankings after years of exemplifying the way offensive lines should be built — with solid starters and limited weaknesses in the starting lineup.”
The three departing starters are: left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who the Steelers had no interest in bringing back and wound up signing with the Baltimore Ravens, left guard Matt Feiler, who left to reunite with Shaun Sarrett and the Chargers, and center Maurkice Pouncey, who retired after a prolific career.
Replacing those three will be Chukwuma Okorafor at left tackle, Kevin Dotson at left guard, and BJ Finney/Kendrick Green at center. Okorafor and Dotson aren’t new to the starting lineup. Okorafor started 15 games at right tackle while Dotson logged four starts at guard and played 360 total offensive snaps as a rookie. If Finney wins the starting job, he won’t be new to the team either.
Palazzolo wrote the team’s tackles will need to take big leaps forward in order for the Steelers to have a successful offensive line.
“Chukwuma Okorafor moves from right to left tackle after grading out at 57.4 overall last season, ranking 74th out of 84 qualifying tackles…Banner has proven to be below average in pass protection during his limited time as a pro.”
There are just as man concerns along the interior too.
“J.C. Hassenauer and third-rounder Kendrick Green will compete for the starting spot. Hassenauer graded out at 57.7 overall on 303 snaps last season, while Green ranked near the top of the draft class in both positively and negatively graded run blocks over the past two years.”
It’s surprising to see the article include Hassenauer’s name but not Finney’s. Hassenauer logged his first NFL start last season and could be the 9th offensive lineman to make the team but it’s doubtful he’s in serious contention for the Week One job. Finney is the better option and the team is obviously high on Green.
PFF did praise Dotson’s rookie season but noted he graded out much better in pass protection than as a run blocker. That’s consistent with what his tape showed but a bit unexpected considering he was billed as a mauler in the run game coming out of college.
Palazzolo wrote the growth and development of this unit will determine if they can rise above that 29th overall ranking.
“The offensive line looks like a bottom-tier unit unless players develop across the board.”
The only units the Steelers were ahead of were the Miami Dolphins, Carolina Panthers, and New York Giants. The top ranked unit was an AFC North foe, the Cleveland Browns who have done a great job investing and developing their offensive line over the past two seasons.