It used to be the case that Pittsburgh Steelers rookies hardly saw the field unless they were part of special teams units. It’s much harder to not rely on rookie talents in today’s game, for multiple reasons, but they haven’t relied so heavily on a rookie class in a long time as they did during the 2021 season, with seven different players contributing significantly, including five starters.
Four of those starters were on offense. First-round running back Najee Harris has an outside shot of winning Offensive Rookie of the Year, while second-round tight end Pat Freiermuth tied a team rookie tight end touchdowns record with seven. Third-round center Kendrick Green started most of the year in spite of plenty of downs. Dan Moore Jr., the fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M, started 17 games at left tackle.
And perhaps none of the rookies had as much of a growth arc as he did from the start of the season to the finish. By year’s end, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was advocating for him and called him the team’s left tackle of the future—high praise.
When asked about those comments earlier this week, Moore responded as you would want him to. “Definitely, I take it as a challenge”, he said. “I take it as, I can’t get complacent. I need to come out here and do what I need to do this offseason and bring in that ‘wow’ factor next year to the coaching staff and to the team”.
Most assumed that Moore would spend the year as a healthy scratch, or at least as a reserve. That may well have happened had Zach Banner not had a setback in his rehab from a torn ACL. It appeared the Steelers were set to start the regular season with Chukwuma Okorafor at left tackle and Banner on the right side. But with the setback, Okorafor move back to the right side (where he started 16 games in 2020), and Moore, the rookie, was plugged in on the left side.
And to be sure, he took his lumps and then some early on. That shouldn’t be a surprise by any means, given how unstable the entire offensive line room’s situation was this year, including three starters who were entirely new to the team, and a new offensive line coach, blocking for a new running back in a new offensive system.
But he really did grow as the season progressed, and I agree with Roethlisberger’s assessment that he could be their left tackle of the future. He has a shot at it, anyway. He’s not going to become a perennial Pro Bowler, most likely, like an Andrew Whitworth or something like that, but is he a guy they can get by with on the blind side? If he continues to grow, I certainly think so, and he came in with the right attitude.