It should come as no surprise that the Pittsburgh Steelers are going through a transition of sorts along the offensive line this season. The team only returned one starter from a year ago in Chukwuma Okorafor and have relied on two rookie mid-round selections in Kendrick Green as well as Dan Moore Jr. to step in Day 1 to play at a starting level. Couple that with the addition of G Trai Turner and the expanded role of second-year G Kevin Dotson, and you piecemeal a unit together with very little experience and chemistry together hoping for good results.
While the play along the offensive line has improved from the beginning of the season, it’s easy to recognize that the unit isn’t where Pittsburgh wants it to be in terms of fielding a consistent running game headlined by rookie RB Najee Harris along with providing reliable pass protection for veteran QB Ben Roethlisberger. Both Okorafor and Turner will be free agents after the season, and the rookies haven’t exactly inspired confidence in being “the answer” at the LT and C spots for the next decade, respectfully.
Therefore, it’s fair to imagine Pittsburgh will have their eyes on the top prospects in this draft class in the trenches to potentially upgrade the room to help build an identity in the run game as well as protect the QB of the future.
Trevor Penning, OT, UNI
I have had a small love affair with Trevor Penning as a prospect since the summer, and now his name is starting to gain traction amongst scouts around the league. Penning is a mammoth of a man in his own right, standing over 6’7 and topping the scales at nearly 330lb. He has the arm length, wingspan, and hand size that scouts are looking for in bookend tackle prospects, suggesting his measurables won’t be the reason he doesn’t make it on the outside. His physical tools are also impressive combined with his physicality and nastiness as a run blocker as he routinely puts his opposition into the dirt.
While a dominant run blocker, Penning also holds his own well in pass protection, having the length to latch onto pass rushers to keep them away from his frame while also having the size and density to set an anchor against power rushers. He may have played against smaller competition, but his skillset and measurables transfer over the NFL as a better prospect that his former teammate Spencer Brown. Should Pittsburgh want a nasty S.O.B. that plays through the echo of the whistle, Penning should be highlighted on their board.
Kenyon Green, OL, Texas A&M
Kenyon Green is an athletic, physical blocker in the run game that can impose his will on defenders yet has the technical skills and mental capability to do well in pass protection. He was a highly touted recruit coming out of high school and elected to say at home in the state of Texas to play for the Aggies. Standing 6’4, 325lb and boasting a well-built frame, Green can be a road grader in the run game, using his strength and power to move grown men off their spot, clearing wide running lanes for the rushing attack.
Having graduated several starters along the offensive line a year ago and dealing with injuries upfront this season, Green has been asked to prove his talent and versatility, having logged starts LT, LG, RG, and RT in 2021 alone. He can struggle with pure speed off the edge when asked to play as a bookend tackle and can have trouble picking up blocks in space due to his size, but Green is as solid as they come, being able to start at tackle while having All-Pro potential as a guard at the next level. Should Pittsburgh look at Green in the similar light as David DeCastro or Maurkice Pouncey on the interior, look for them to pull the trigger if Green is on the board.
Evan Neal, OL, Alabama
When watching the tape on Evan Neal, one thing immediately sticks out: his size. Neal is a giant of a human being playing at a whopping 6’7, 350lb, having the height, size, and length to dwarf other men who are considered large themselves. This mass helps him generate a push upfront on the LOS. Despite his ridiculous size, Neal is a strong, explosive athlete, having the center of mass to displace defenders off their spot once he gets his feet moving.
Neal started his career at guard before kicking out to RT for the Crimson Tide’s 2020 National Championship Title run. He now mans the blindside for the Tide, using his long arms to take up space in the gaps and cover a lot of ground when tasked with pass protection. While there are plenty of highlights on his tape, Neal does have some inconsistencies that show up including allowing the counter rush and failing to sustain his blocks. His size, pedigree, and upside should have him drafted early on Day One, but he will need continued development to be a stalwart LT in the league, being potentially a better fit in the right side or a potentially dominant player on the inside.
Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
The Bulldogs have had a history of turning out NFL talent along the offensive line, and Charles Cross appears to be the next man up. The 6’5, 310lb redshirt sophomore is having a great season as the blindside protector for Mississippi St, logging five total pressures and zero sacks across 553 pass blocking snaps this season according to Pro Football Focus. Cross is extremely athletic and a fluid mover both in pass protection and in the run game, having the technique and hand timing/placement to neutralize even the best pass rushers in the SEC consistently.
Cross still needs to add strength and size to his frame to hold up better against power rushers and generate a stronger push upfront, but he only started playing football his junior year in high school, having added significant size and mass since then, causing him to vault up draft boards thanks to his talent and upside as a professional. Should Pittsburgh be looking for a young prospect that has his best football ahead of him to lock down the LT spot for years to come, Cross could be that player built in a similar mold of Ronnie Stanley or even possibly Tyron Smith coming out.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
If Mississippi State is known for turning out NFL talent along the offensive line, Iowa should be considered OL Headquarters. The next great offensive line prospect coming out for the Hawkeyes is none other than center Tyler Linderbaum, a local product from Solon, Iowa who I had the privilege to coach in the strength and conditioning department back in 2019. His feats of strength and explosiveness are incredible to see in a weight room, and that translates to the football field where he excels as a run blocker. He is fluid out in space, picking up blocks with ease at the second and third levels of the defense, regularly sustaining blocks to and through the whistle while burying defenders into the turf.
The 6’3, 290lb junior may be considered a tad undersized on the inside and may struggle with sheer size and power at the point of attack, but Linderbaum is incredibly dense and stout, carrying his weight well on his frame. He plays with a great base and hand placement are exceptional when asked to pass protect. Should Pittsburgh want to land a blue-chip center prospect that can anchor the interior for the next ten years, they could realistically target Linderbaum in Round One as Center #1 and potentially kick Kendrick Green out to guard.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line this season and going forward? Do you think Dan Moore Jr. and Kendrick Green will step up their play for the rest of the season and into 2022? What do you think of the names provided and their potential impact in Pittsburgh? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!