With the 2022 new league year, the questions will be plenty for quite a while, even as the Pittsburgh Steelers spend cash and cap space and use draft picks in an effort to find answers. We don’t know who the quarterback is going to be yet—even if we have a good idea. How will the offensive line be formulated? How will the secondary develop amid changes, including to the coaching staff? What does Teryl Austin bring to the table—and Brian Flores? What will Matt Canada’s offense look like absent Ben Roethlisberger?
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Chukwuma Okorafor will ultimately wind up at left tackle (whether this year or some other year).
Explanation: Although nearly all of his playing time in the NFL has come at right tackle, Okorafor spent most of his relatively short pre-NFL football life playing left tackle. The Steelers scouted him as a left-capable player, and have previously expressed the belief that his skill set profiles best to left tackle.
The biggest part of this conversation is what the Steelers think, and we already know that the Steelers think that Okorafor is a better left tackle than he is a right tackle. When talking about the 2020 competition between himself and Zach Banner, multiple representatives of the team said that they believed if the competition for the left tackle job, Okorafor would have won outright, and not Banner—because of Okorafor’s proficiency there, not Banner’s deficiency.
The real reason that the Steelers flipped Okorafor to right tackle before the start of last season is just because they didn’t have enough time to get Dan Moore Jr. up to speed at right tackle. They were breaking him in on that side, but they ran out of time. If they had a full offseason, they could get him ready to play right tackle, which would enable them to move Okorafor back to left tackle, as was the plan going into 2021.
This isn’t the first time we’ve had this conversation. Remember when the Steelers were going to move Marcus Gilbert over to left tackle, because that’s where he was better suited? They tried it out for a summer and then just scrapped the idea. Because it doesn’t always work out that way.
A key point in this conversation is the reality that the differences in responsibilities faced by left and right tackles have narrowed over the course of the past decade. The profile for a left tackle and a right tackle are no longer so far apart.
And frankly, Okorafor’s athletic traits that have always led people to believe that he is best suited to play on the left side really aren’t all that remarkable in the first place. Moore is their starter, and he is less likely to be able to flip over to the right side, anyway, so at least for the foreseeable future, it’s hard to figure out how he winds up there unless the lineup changes. And if it does, it’s probably because they bring in somebody better at left tackle.