While the quarterback position is the 800-pound gorilla in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft room this offseason, the organization is also well aware that they are going to need at least a couple of elephants to put in front of that gorilla to provide protection.
It may be going too far to say that Steelers’ offensive line in 2021 was in shambles, but it rarely aspired to much more. Even while individuals across the group had their struggles, the greatest difficulty was getting them to play collectively.
So how do you address the offensive line? Well, certainly, talent is a factor. But NFL Draft expert Daniel Jeremiah rejects the notion that building the line has to always come at a premium cost in relation to your draft picks.
“You can build an offensive line without using all your first-round picks to do it”, he recently said during a draft conference call. “If you go back and look up the last five Super Bowl teams, that’s Super Bowl winning teams, that’s 25 starting offensive linemen. Of the 25 starting offensive linemen, three of them were home-grown first-round picks; four of them were day two picks; seven were day three picks; one was an undrafted free agent; and four were veterans that were acquired in free agency or via trade”.
Take the Los Angeles Rams as an example. Three of their five starting linemen this past season, who by the way missed a combined five games, were second- (Rob Havenstein), fourth- (Brian Allen), and fifth-round (David Edwards) draft picks. Their other two starters were acquired via free agency (former second-round pick Andrew Whitworth) or trade (former second-round pick Austin Corbett).
You can go through the rest of the recent Super Bowl winners and see similar results. Of course, it’s not always necessarily the case that the team that wins the Super Bowl has an offensive line that you would want to emulate.
But it does speak to the fact that there is a lot more to the offensive line than the pedigree of your constituent parts—and that it’s arguably more important how bad your worst starter is than how good your best is.
“I think it was just a few years ago when the Cowboys had the best offensive line in the league and it was all these first-round picks”, Jeremiah said, “Now, hey, your offensive line is as good as your worst player, so you don’t need five Tony Bosellis. You just can’t have any tomato cans out there”.
The question for the Steelers to figure out is how many soup cans they have on their shelves. Two of their starters along the offensive line are going to be unrestricted free agents in right guard Trai Turner and right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor. It’s far to say there has been some debate on whether or not either should be re-signed, and at what price.
But there is more than one way to build a room. A lot will fall upon the shoulders of new offensive line coach Pat Meyer this season, who will have even more eyes on him than normal from the crowd that hoped the Steelers would get Mike Munchak back—assuming he even wants to coach anymore.