Watching the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rebuilt offensive line in 2021 was quite the experience…and not in a good way.
After watching four of five starters from 2021 leave via free agency, retirement or being cut, the Steelers had to rebuild on the fly in the trenches. It didn’t work.
The Steelers’ offensive line allowed 38 sacks on the season, had the 29th-best rushing attack and graded out as the 30th-best offensive line in football, according to Pro Football Focus.
Knowing all of that, it’s paramount the Steelers address the offensive line early and often in either free agency or the 2022 NFL Draft. That’s exactly where Bleacher Report and CBS Sports went in their most recent first-round mock drafts, with both eyeing a massive, athletic human being at No. 20 overall for the Steelers that could change the trajectory of the offensive line rather quickly.
In both the Bleacher Report and CBS Sports mocks (Josh Edwards’ version), the Steelers grabbed Northern Iowa tackle Trevor Penning, passing over the likes of Texas A&M guard Kenyon Green and Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd in the process.
Here’s what Bleacher Report’s scouting staff had to say about the Penning selection.
“Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning has the size, length, natural power and demeanor of a longtime starting tackle in the NFL,” offensive line expert Brandon Thorn stated. “He has been able to largely bully competition at Northern Iowa, so how he performs at the Senior Bowl will be critical in his evaluation. He will need to learn to be more disciplined with his pad level and hands against higher competition, as the tape showed that he can get lackadaisical. His range on an island in protection is also merely solid, so being an elite pass protector is probably out of the question.
“Despite needing to prove himself a little bit more leading up to the draft, the tools are in place for him to become an above-average starter and potential impact run-blocker. It also helps that Penning is training with Duke Manyweather of OL Masterminds leading up to the draft, which increases the chances of him reaching his full potential.”
Penning has burst onto the scene this season and has really raised some eyebrows with his athleticism and work in the run game. Like Thorn writes though, there’s some concerns in pass protection, which should be enough to worry the Steelers if they’re drafting him in the first round, especially to be the left tackle of the future, shifting Dan Moore Jr. back to his more natural right side.
Edwards had this to say about the Penning selection in his latest mock draft for CBS Sports.
“I think Pittsburgh has a few interior players that are worth developing. I am more concerned with the offense tackle position,” Edwards writes. “Najee Harris had to feel as though he was slamming his head against a brick wall countless times this season, as he found few clear run lanes.”
Again, Penning is a really solid run blocker, one that moves people with ease and has some serious nastiness to his game. But the question remains whether he’s a left or a right tackle in the NFL due to his pass protection issues.
Add in the fact that Penning is a not only a non-Power 5 guy, but an Football Championship Series guy, history suggests the Steelers wouldn’t draft him in the first round as he doesn’t check certain boxes. That said, Penning will be at the Senior Bowl competing against the best of the best in the draft class, so a strong showing there could put him fully on the Steelers’ radar.
Regardless of how one feels about Penning at this point in time in the draft process, it’s very clear the direction the Steelers need to go in the first round in late April.