The biggest project for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2021, perhaps even more than integrating a revamped offensive system into the fold, is the remaking of the offensive line. They lost four starters from last season through retirement, free agency, and injury waivers, and have had to bring in new components via free agency and the draft.
As it stands, three players who were on the roster and started at least one game last season are projected to be in the starting lineup this year, though two of them have five combined career starts, and the other has never started where he is playing now. The others are a rookie and a veteran free agent.
The Steelers have a lot of talent up and down their roster, with a really exciting young wide receiver room, fresh high draft picks at running back and tight end, some blue-chip defenders at all three levels. There are a lot of things going right for them.
The offensive line may be the thing that kills everything for them, at least in the eyes of Pro Football Focus, who diagnose the reshuffling in the trenches as the team’s ‘fatal flaw’, or the one thing that may cause the entire season to unravel, as Michael Renner writes:
Big Ben was already in survival mode to a degree last year, recording the quickest time to throw of any starter in the NFL (2.14 seconds). Now, he’s lost his starting left tackle, center and right guard from a season ago and replaced them with Chukwuma Okorafor switching sides, a third-rounder in Kendrick Green and the second-lowest graded guard last year in Trai Turner. That doesn’t inspire too much confidence.
The starter that people seem to feel the best about is the one who had to earn back first-team reps, that being second-year guard Kevin Dotson. After starting four games as an injury fill-in last season, he is projected to start at left guard.
Rookie Kendrick Green is going to be next to him at center, while five-time Pro Bowler Trai Turner, signed in late June after they waived David DeCastro, will be at the other guard spot. Their tackles have the most history with the team.
Both Zach Banner and Chukwuma Okorafor have been with the Steelers since 2018. Banner has only started one game, that being the 2020 opener, at the end of which he tore his ACL. Okorafor played the rest of the season there at right tackle, but is now going to start at left tackle, where he hasn’t played in the NFL before.